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  • Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL by Jeremi N. Duru
  • Thomas M. Hunt
Duru, N. Jeremi. Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. 224. Foreword by Tony Dungy, notes, and index. $24.95 pb.

Advancing the Ball by Temple University Professor of Law N. Jeremi Duru recounts the drive that took place in the last decade to reverse the longstanding inequitable treatment by the National Football League (NFL) of African-American coaching candidates. The process by which success was attained on the matter, the book shows, involved a small coalition of African-American athletes and civil rights lawyers. In tracing their efforts to produce a paradigm shift in the NFL’s employment practices, Duru places three individuals at the center of his narrative: former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman John Wotten and prominent attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri. The end result is a brisk overview of a key occurrence in the recent history of race relations in American sport. Readers will leave with a strong sense of the incredible effort that it took to reverse decades of discrimination by NFL leaders as well as some feeling for how coaching equality in football fits within the larger history of race relations in the United States.

It is clear from the beginning that Duru is writing for an audience of general sporting enthusiasts—and I expect that Advancing the Ball will attract considerable interest among many members of that group. His prose is clear, and the subject that he examines is certainly compelling. Nevertheless, scholars considering the work for purchase should note the severe limits imposed by the book’s popular orientation. In point of fact, the narrative does little to untangle the myriad legal complexities that so affected the history of race relations in American sport. In light of Duru’s pedigree as a Harvard Law School graduate and his prestigious clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, I must say that the absence of such an examination was for me a particular disappointment.

To be fair, several sections of Advancing the Ball do feature thoughtful observations that deserve scholarly attention. In a noteworthy passage in this regard, Duru postulates that biases created consequent to the complexity of American football may have led the NFL to trail the other major U.S. professional sports leagues in opening coaching and administrative opportunities to minorities. But the want of a full assessment of this possibility is representative of the general level of analysis in Advancing the Ball. Given his legal knowledge and obvious talents as a writer, Duru is certainly capable of a far richer study. I look forward to reading the result. [End Page 537]

Thomas M. Hunt
University of Texas at Austin


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