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Vince Lombardi - Progressive Liberal Catholic
May 7, 2013 - John Stack
We all know a lot of the story about Vince Lombardi. Loud. Meticulous. Didn’t treat players differently, he treated them all like dogs. In every conversation about the greatest NFL coach (or coach of any team) of all time. These are the things most people know and remember about Coach Lombardi. But that only tells half the story. Lombardi was called ‘The Pope’ in Green Bay after his first season, in which he led the team to the NFL Championship game. This was due not only because of his incredible turnaround of a once proud franchise, but because of his dedication to the Catholic Church. He even studied to become a priest. He went to mass daily. His devotion to the church was matched only by his devotion to coaching. What is a great coach though? They win a lot? That may be true, but its usually through personal integrity which is the cornerstone of their greatness. Its said that Lombardi was the original coach who completely believed in the meritocracy of the players. In other words, if you play good enough and hard enough, and with integrity, you could play or work for him. When he took over in Green Bay, the color barrier in pro football was still recently broken, and there was still teams that were nearly all white and one that was all white. Lombardi once said he didn’t see black and white. He only say Green Bay Green. He once pulled his team out of a hotel at midnight when the owner asked Lombardi to get the blacks on his team other accommodations. He let his team and the city of Green bay know that if blacks and whites alike were not accepted at their establishments, all Packers players and personnel were banned from the place. In his first year in Green Bay, some veterans brought to his attention that a black player was to marry a white woman. The next day before practice, Lombardi (he a victim of racial prejudice as a dark skinned Italian) told his players that if any of them displayed any racism at all, they would be kicked off the team. In and of itself, his intolerance of racism at a very volatile time in the civil rights movement would solidify Lombardi as a great man. But, he was further ahead than you know.
Lombardi took over as Washington Redskins coach in 1969. In training camp, he had a marginal player, Ray McDonald. Lombardi knew McDonald was gay, as did the coaches. Lombardi told his coaches to get on McDonald, and work him, and work him hard. Seems normal enough. But, the Lombardi told them “and if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground”. Lombardi also had other players he knew were homosexual, such as Jerry Smith, who Lombardi turned into an all protight end. He told Smith that his sexuality would never be an issue as long as Vince coached the team.
Lombardi also invited numerous players he knew to be gay to try out for his teams. This flies in the face of a lot of the talk surrounding Jason Collins coming out as the first major sports player to be gay. Many coaches who have been in the game for decades claimed they never knew of a gay player. Current football players still say they don’t know a gay football player. Many still question if a football player could actually come out and it not hurt the team or their career. Come on! Almost 50 years ago when sexual orientation acceptance was somewhere between the dark ages and the Spanish Inquisition as it related to pro sports! Lombardi knew a number of gay players and actually encouraged them to play for him if they could make the team. Not because they were gay, but that they were good players and good people. Thank you Jason Collins for moving tolerance forward in this day and age. Mostly, thank you Vince Lombardi. For showing that racism and homophobia have no place in our society, and that acceptance and understanding are not opposed forces to manliness, toughness and integrity.
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