The Guilty Admission: I rooted for Tomlin because he’s Black.



Is it wrong that I rooted for Mike Tomlin because he’s Black?

Here’s the thing: I know nothing about football. Less than nothing. Considering I was a cheerleader for three years, this is a bit pathetic. All I know is that a “first and ten” is good, a touchdown is six points, (possibly seven?) and sometimes all the guys will huddle around the ball and watch it wobble for some reason. (What is that about?!)

I don’t have a favorite football team. I guess if I had to root for a team, I would go with the home team. But what is the home team for New Jersey? We don’t have a football team. Right? The Giants are a New York team. But they play in Jersey? I truly don’t know.

For the Superbowl, it’s no fun to watch if you’re not going to root for somebody. I was already leaning towards the Steerlers ’cause they’re on the east coast. And because Arizona is McCain country.

Then, in the days leading up to the game, I caught a few pre-game interviews with Mike Tomlin, the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Within thirty seconds, I was sold. The Steelers had to win. Tomlin is young, cute, intelligent, well-spoken and…he’s got that other thing going on. That thing I fully support. You know what I’m talking about…

He’s Black.

I was brought up in a militant, pro-Black household. My parents were members of the Nation of Islam for some time. And my bedtime stories were books like Before The Mayflower. (I read the whole book, cover-to-cover, in the third grade).  I watched Eyes On The Prize with my dad, my hands over my eyes for some parts. I sobbed at the images of Emmett Till in his casket and marveled at his mother’s strength. I grew up with a very firm understanding of my history as a Black woman in this country. And all that Black folks had endured just to be here, living and breathing.

In my house, we rooted for Black people with no apologies.

I can remember my mom yelling up to my room:

“Hey Lee! Come downstairs quick! There’s a Black woman on Jeopardy!”

A woman named Claudia Perry, (who was a journalist at a Newark paper!), made mincemeat out of her opponents everyday for a week.


This woman was no joke! And we were jumping and down and celebrating for her in our living room. I think we were particularly proud of Ms. Perry because Jeopardy is not a game of chance. You have to know your stuff. And she did.

(I ended up meeting Ms. Perry many years later, backstage at a Big Pun concert at Newark Symphony Hall. I heard her introduce herself to someone. And my sister and I looked at each other and said in unison: Claudia Perry?! I introduced myself to her and said, “I remember you from Jeopardy! We were so happy for you!” She laughed and gave me a hug.)

In my house, we cheered for Debi Thomas at the Olympics. We screamed out loud when Suzette Charles, a Black woman who was Miss New Jersey, was named second runner up. I remember my mom saying, “Wow! Second runner up! That’s huge!”

And then, they had the nerve to announce Vanessa Williams as Miss America.  My mom actually cried. I mean real tears, streaming down her face. She had her hand over her mouth and just shook her head back and forth. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it…” she kept saying over and over.

We wanted to see people who looked like us do well.

Is this wrong? I don’t know. But re-read this post so far and pretend it’s a white person saying they cheer on white folks, just because.

Now you see why I felt a tinge of something I couldn’t name as I silently rooted for Tomlin’s team to win.

My upbringing followed me to college. When Randall Pinkett was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, the whole Black community at Rutgers cheered collectively. Now, I didn’t know Randall personally. But he was Black. And the award was internationally reknown and he was making us all look good.

So you can imagine how I felt when he ended up being a contestant on The Apprentice. I didn’t watch the show that often. But I was pulling for him to win. And when he did win, there was definitely some fist-pumping and “terrorist fist jabs” being exchanged at my house.

I’ve always felt like it was natural and normal to cheer on my people. Why wouldn’t it be? We’ve been through so much in five generations. Has it really been that long since June 2, 1938, when Black folks spilled into the streets to celebrate Joe Louis’ victory over Max Schmelling?

But still. I felt weird about pulling for Tomlin.

I could come up with lots of ancillary reasons to root for him: Obama was rooting for the Steelers too. Franco Harris, one of TheHusband’s heroes, played for The Steelers.

But for me, it kept coming back to race.

I watched Tomlin in interviews, to see if there was anything that I could use to not root him on. Was he cocky? Arrogant? Didn’t seem to be. Was he a regular Black man? Or was he a Tiger Woods-type, don’t-label-me-Black man?

Nope. He was one of us. His father went to Hampton! He pledged a Black fraternity! What more did I need to know?

And then I got this email from a friend:

By the way, about Mike Tomlin(Black Head Coach of the Steelers for you ‘only-watch-the-Super-Bowl’ football fans..hey, I’m just sayin’), I did extensive research and found he is married to a…(whew)Black woman, Kiya Winston,  native of Morristown NJ no doubt. so it’s officially safe to cheer him on, my peoples.

Married to a Black woman?! From Jersey?! I look her up and she’s cute but not over-the-top groupie-cute. They were college sweethearts. Have three children. Here she is at a charity event for the Steelers…

So, yeah. I needed Tomlin to win. And he did. And I cheered.

But I can’t front. Something about cheering on the Black coach with the Black wife and the three Black kids, (one of whom shares a name with my own kid!), does not sit well with me.

Again, it’s the Obama effect. I didn’t vote for Obama because he’s Black. (Really, I didn’t.) I voted because I believe in his vision. If the election had turned out to be Hilary Clinton versus Colin Powell or Michael Steele or Condoleeza Rice, Hilary would have had my vote.

But things like The Superbowl or game shows are different. There’s no real harm on cheering for either team. And my support won’t affect the outcome. But I still think it’s wrong. I don’t want TG and Tog to grow up rooting for people because they’re Black.

I try to keep myself from asking TG about the ethnicity of her friends. She attends a school that is predominately white. And I’m nervous about her self-identity. So when she mentions a new friend, the first thing I want to say is, “Is she Black?” But I bite my tongue. (And pray that she is making Black friends.)

And when I drop off Tog at daycare in the morning, my eyes sweep across the room and I always notice that she’s the only little Black girl there. And she’s chilling with her girls Addison and Reagan and having a great time. And I have to remind myself, this is fine. You chose the best schools for both girls. They will still understand their heritage and be self-actualized as Black women. Or so I hope.

Yes, I’d love a color-blind world. But is that what I really want? Do I really want to get to a place where we don’t instinctively cheer for our own?

I’ve been thinking about this word I keep seeing in the media: Post-Racial.

If you Google it, you’ll get a half-million hits. But I can’t find a definitive definition for it anywhere. But I know what it implies. We’re supposed to be moving into a period in which color doesn’t matter. My president is Black. Whoo-hoo.

I think, according to the concept of a post-racial America, I’m supposed to stop cheering for Black people just because. And I’m not supposed to trip over my daughters both attending predominately white schools.

After the game last night, the commentator asked Tomlin how it felt to be the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl.

TheHusband said, “And the Blackest!! How come they didn’t ask him that!!?”

TheHusband was actually mistaken. Tony Dungy was the first Black coach to win the Superbowl, when the Colts beat the Bears last year.

But still, Tomlin’s Blackness did feel like it was surrounding everything last night. I think I half expected the commentator to somehow work in Tomlin’s race in his questioning. Something like….

“So, you’re the youngest to win it. And um, you’re Black too. Which is great! Because, y’know, the Black. And all that. Good time to be Black, eh?”

My president is Black. And so is my SuperBowl coach. And that makes me want to cheer.

Dear Readers, is this wrong? Shouldn’t we be moving away from this mentality? I want to hear from everybody. Black folks, did you grow up cheering on our people, just because? Do you think we need to move away from this now? White folks, what do you make of this? And where do you stand?

I’d love to hear from you…

P.S. When I searched in Google images for the word “post-racial” the first thing that popped up was this. Interesting.



27 Responses to “The Guilty Admission: I rooted for Tomlin because he’s Black.”

  1. MarcArthur St. Juste Says:

    Love reading your stories. Keep them coming. Do you write any stories pertaining to urban gospel?

  2. kaia zawadi Says:

    ahem, um no ur not wrong! dang we think alike. te hee hee. real talk, the only reason why i wanted the steelers to win also is b/c it’s east coast/borderline midwest. anyway, besides that does the song by p.e.-by the time i get to arizona comes to mind here? for some reason i agree with everything u wrote. arizona is one state that i can’t see visiting any time soon or in the near future for that matter. i am the same way, i will root for the team with the blk coach, blk whatever…..i’m down as long as they’re not a pedophile, murderer, woman beater etc. why feel guilty about loving u and loving ur own….pls keep more stuff coming, i enjoy commenting.

  3. Aliya S. King Says:

    @marcarthur: thank you! and I’m not too well-versed in gospel…but y’never know!
    @kaia: right, right. I can’t forget P.E.’s thoughts on Arizona. But when do we let it go? Never? We don’t want our kids to grow up with these same feelings and issues. Do we? Things ARE changing. I think. For the better…

  4. kaia zawadi Says:

    nope, i wouldn’t want my kids growing up like that but at the same time i will teach them to use their third eye, to see things the way they used to be. it’s one thing to let it go, but neva forget also…great post. the p.e. song was just a joke i used yesterday to get the arizona fans riled up. te, hee, hee, hee.

  5. Hanif Says:

    That is generally my rule of thumb. Always bet on black! I had no team in the super bowl but I was happy as hell when the steelers won precisely cause Tomlin is black. Either the coach or the quarterback makes my decision. I don’t think anything is wrong with that. I think we have to become a little more diverse in our thinking, but at the end of the day Black Pride is alive and well and should be.

    I don’t think you husband was wrong, he probably meant light-skinned v. dark skinned another post racial identity marker we need to address.

  6. Aliya S. King Says:

    Hanif, if TheHusband was implying that somehow we should be MORE proud of Tomlin because he’s dark, I’d smack the bejeesus out of him.

  7. Portia Says:

    I was rooting for AZ (ducks and cover head) but only because I lived there for a year. Also I had no idea until this post that the Steelers coach was black! Oh. And I didn’t watch one bit of the superbowl last night.

  8. Portia Says:

    @ Kaia: You should really visit one day…it is absolutely beautiful there, you’ll see beauty like you’ve never seen before…forget all the mcCain BS and go…Oh…and there are actually black people that live there too. :-)

  9. Kim Woods Says:

    LOL@Aliya and the smacking comment… Man, I had no alliance in the game either… I just went with the Steelers because of (1) my cousin went to some college in PA (2) because Tomlin’s black, and (3) his good looks never hurt anything either…But to answer your question, I don’t think it’s wrong to want to see individuals succeed in their endeavors and to also represent their African-American culture/history. I suppose it’s only human nature to want to have a point of reference of what success looks like and means for your own particular race.

  10. Dani B Says:

    i readily admit that i am not a football fan. but because i grew up in a cowboys household, i know who to cheer for at the end of the day (and sometimes the eagles to appease my brother). so for yesterday’s game… i too was hoping the steelers would win primarily because the coach is black. because i wasn’t overly invested, though, i found myself cheering for both sides at different points in the game. i mean, didn’t we all feel a little bad for larry fitzgerald in the end?

  11. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Kaia: Portia’s right. AZ *is* beautiful. I can’t front.
    @Portia: I’m not surprised you didn’t know the coach was Black. You have always been post-racial. Ever since you were rocking Bass Weejuns in high school. Like you didn’t know we lived IN THE HOOD. lol.
    @Kim: it is human nature, I think. But it still makes me feel..weird. Not sure why. Lots of things are human nature that aren’t necessarily good. Y’know?
    @Dani: wait! Is Larry Fitzgerald the one with all the hair flowing out of the back of the helmet? Is he Black?! um, not that it matters…

  12. Paula Johnson Says:

    WOW…I thought I was the only one thinking this way. I couldn’t admit it out loud to anyone. He’s like that tough little brother that looked out for his older sister…hehehe I was also routing for Kurt Warrner and Fitzgerald. Warrner used to play for the RAMS …that’s my team. I would have loved to see him get another ring. They played the game hard. I’m a little sad for the both of ’em.

    Glad to read that I’m not the only one that was routing for Tomlin.

    Oh and yes, he has dreads with his sexy self….

    Thanks Aliya for the blog. (Scottie Dawg)

  13. Aliya S. King Says:

    @paula: nope, you weren’t the only for cheering for that cutie pie. With his dimples!

  14. Timothy Says:

    ha your funny…but yes that is definitely being pro-black…and pro-black or pro-anything is borderline racist or at least it can be argued…dont get me wrong…its natural and most people think that way…but most won’t admit it…white people will never admit it…but we all know it exists.

    Conversely, if your black and dont even notice the black coach…then thats a problem too…so you cant really win..and its hard to find a middle ground

  15. la negrita Says:

    Ut oh! This is another subject where my views can get me in some trouble. There was a loooong discussion about a similar subject on a forum I frequent. Some people took offense because others were happy to see President Obama happily married to a black woman. And the people who were offended are BLACK people! Something is very wrong with that, IMO.

    I have to get ready to jet, but my take is this. For over 400+ years, Black people in this country have been told and have been made to feel less than. Heeeeck no, there is NOTHING wrong with Black pride. NOTHING. If folks wanna take issue with that, it’s their problem, and dare I say…they feel threatened. We need a helluva lot more of that pride if you ask me.

    Root on, Aliya!

  16. Jovi Says:

    I did not watch the game and had no idea the Steelers coach was black until Monday morning while watching the Today show. Nothing wrong with betting Black. Dave was hoping Arizona won because now the Steelers have more superbowl wins then the Cowboys.

    I too ask my girls about the color of their friends. On our block there are no elementary aged black kids but our fam is large so they get their color in on the weekends.

  17. carlito machete Says:

    @ asking: errr… you not only don’t know football, but your U.S. geography could use a refresher too.

    Pittsburgh is so fkn far from the east coast it’s damn near another time zone. I think b’cuz it’s in PA, we associate it with Philly (which, by the way, is also NOT on the coast, but you can’t tell Philly heads that shit ’cause they’re not trying to hear it), but the drive from Philly to Pitt might run you a good six, seven hours.

    Steel City, my love, is considered the Midwest, believe it or not.

    But enough with my Cliff Claven of Hip Hop moment, and on to the post itself…

    Your question(s) in a nutshell, was/were directed at Black folks and then you asked white people to weigh in. WITHOUT getting into a “Black is Black no matter where they dropped us off” debate, I HAVE to ask:

    Do my Latino brethren not count? Won’t be too long before we “outnumber” everybody out this piece…!


    Wait. Just in case, here are my ground rules to the “…where they dropped us off” debate. Methinks, we’d get a lot closer to understanding if we define terms. Is Black a racial indicator? Or is it a cultural/ethnic one?

    In the US, the race-based so-called one-drop rule STILL persists, as evidenced by the flack Tiger Woods gets for not wanting to exclude his mother when being racially classified. But as implied by the term “African American,” if we applied it based on culture/ethnicity, then what does that make our President, who was raised by his white mother and her family, and whose pops, though quite African did not share the common history of American Black folk in the US?

    Tough one, huh? You ask me, colonialism and slavery in the Western Hemisphere fucked us ALL up but good.

    Nevertheless, as a sports fan with some semblance of social awareness, race and nationality can sometimes put me at odds. Sometimes. Not always. I dunno. I guess I choose my battles and don’t trip as much as I used to.

    Take baseball. In NYC, loyalties are divided between the Muts, er, I mean “Mets” and the Greatest Sports Franchise in the History of the Universe aka the Yankees aka the Bronx Bombers aka the muthafuckin’ Yanks. (I’ll let you guess who I root for). Believe it or not, this rivalry has had class implications since before the Muts were formed from the ashes of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who relocated to sunny California in 1957.

    To the world and haters, especially, the Yankees have always represented money and status, while the Mets… I mean, Muts and the Brooklyn Dodgers before them, have stood for the blue-collar working stiffs that keep (once kept?) America strong and all that. As a kid, that always cracked me up, as I grew up in the shadows of The Stadium (no need to specify which one, as there’s only ONE stadium in all of sports simply known as The Stadium), and my ‘hood was nothing BUT ‘hood. Meanwhile, I had cousins who grew up within walking distance of Shea (home of the Muts) in Flushing, Queens, which made me think I had rich relatives whenever we took the 7 train out there to visit.

    Over the last ten or fifteen years, an upstart crop of knucklehead Dominicans (my peoples, to be sure) have taken to rockin’ ugly-ass Boston Red Sux paraphernalia simply b’cuz of Big Papi Ortiz and Manny Ramirez (who now plays — or might be playing once his contract gets worked out — for the LA Dodgers). No matter that some of these “fans” had never set foot in Boston or even DR, for that matter, as long as Ortiz and Manny were on that team, they were Red Sux loyalists.

    Me, I’m like, “Hey, I’m proud of my countrymen and all that, but fuck ’em; they’re wearing the wrong gattdamn uniform.”

    I take my games very seriously, as you can see.

    With regards to Tomlin, et al, I wasn’t quite so torn, as the Giants aka the G-Men aka the Best Team in the NFL got knocked off early in the playoffs by the bum-ass Sillydelphia Ea-girls, so I ultimately didn’t care who won.

    Kinda. See, as a fan of a team who’s won three Bowls (that’s two less than the Niners and the Cowboys, and now THREE less than the Steelers), I didn’t want Pittsburgh to get another ring. Would’ve also been cool to see Arizona (better yet, the Cardinals franchise, which originated in Chicago, then spent a million years in St. Louis before heading west to Phoenix in 88) finally get that monkey off their back (they’re second to baseball’s Chicago Cubs for teams with the longest championship drought. The Cubs haven’t won a championship in ONE HUNDRED YEARS, so their fans have been suffering for a good four, five generations).

    Got all that?

    So… Yeah, it’s cool that Tomlin, a Black coach, got that. Also cool that he also became the YOUNGEST head coach to ever win one (mu’fucka’s younger than me and whatnot, but that’s not saying much these days). But best believe had they been playing the Giants, I would’ve been persona non grata at my local NAACP chapter.

    Then again, the majority of players in the NFL are…

    Well, you know the rest.


  18. carlito machete Says:

    ps. My comments to your posts are so fkn long, they might as well be blog posts themselves.

    I need to stop bullshittin’…


  19. carlito machete Says:

    one more thing:

    @ Jovi: LMFAO @ “…get their color in on weekends…”

    THAT’S hot!!

  20. carlito machete Says:

    actually, one more “one more thing.”

    the auto editor gave me an unintended smiley above.

    *…Phoenix in 88…

    (guess it’s bcuz an 8 next to a close parenthesis gives you 8) )

  21. Aliya S. King Says:

    @carlito: first of all, do you want to be a guest blogger on this joint? seriously. give it some thought. and y’know, I feel you on Pittsburgh not being east coast. But it’s more east coast than Arizona, right? Kinda? And Philly is not the east coast? Get outta here!! What is it? The South?!
    And my Latino brethren are always included! Though I will admit, when I wrote this post, and thought about Tomlin, I was thinking black vs. white for some reason.
    So let me ask you this, (and DAMN you just gave me a history lesson for REAL up in this piece)…
    If the coach for the Steelers had been Dominican. Maybe 1/2 Dominican, 1/2 Cuban… Then who would you have been rooting for?

  22. The Week In Review: February 7, 2009. « Aliya S. King Says:

    […] started out the week by admitting that I’m not yet color-blind. I rooted for Steeler’s coach Mike Tomlin mostly because he’s a young Black man. Since I wasn’t invested in the game in any other […]

  23. carlito Says:

    @ asking: if the Steelers were playing the Cardinals, then more than likely, I’d ride with the Cuban/Dominican coach of the Steelers. (not likely to happen any time soon, but hey, one can dream, right?)

    if they were playing the G-Men aka Big Blue aka the New York Muthafuckin’ Football Giants, then I’d be making my Cubinican peoples reeeeeeeeally mad at me.

  24. carlito Says:

    @ asking: almost forgot… re: Philly, wasn’t the Mason/Dixon line a few miles from here, near the border of Maryland or some shit? so, yeah, shit might as well be the South, far as I’m concerned.

    tell C-Wild I said that! heh, heh, heh!!

  25. Aliya S. King Says:

    You are so right Cee… But I’m not telling WIlder that. He will freak OUT.

  26. Mia Says:

    I’m an FBI (full blooded Italian), aka WHITE – with an olive complexion. Anyway, I’ve always thought Mike Tomlin was GORGEOUS. Those dimples make me melt ! Too bad he’s married. I live in Steeler country. Forget the players – I watch the games to watch him.

  27. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Mia: Ha! I love it!

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