By Ken Reed

Don Shula was an old school football coach but he was a progressive thinker in many ways, and not just from a football strategy perspective.

When it came to treating female reporters as equals, he was on the right side of history long before his peers.

In the early 1980s, NFL teams made female reporters wait outside the locker rooms for players to be brought to them after they had spoken with the male reporters inside. In 1981, Shula had his players wear robes in the locker room because there was now a female reporter covering the team, Christine Brennan. Shula wanted to make sure women had the same access as men did. It was four years later, in 1985, before NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made equal locker room access mandatory for every team. Here we are in 2020, and some of today’s macho sexist football coaches still resist treating women reporters equally. Shula was doing it nearly 40 years ago.

At times, Shula was an irascible old school football coach like many of his peers. Nevertheless, Shula, the only coach in NFL history to lead a team to a perfect season (17-0 in 1972) was known throughout his career as a class act. He preached sportsmanship and he and his teams exhibited it. Shula’s teams were usually among the least penalized in the league.

“The key is having respect for the people you’re competing against,” said Shula when asked to define sportsmanship in 2002.

“As the head coach, I always tried to convey to the people I was responsible for that winning certainly was the ultimate goal, but we always wanted to be a team that was known as being good sportsmen and winning within the rules and doing things the right way.”

Ted Hendricks, the Raiders Hall of Famer, once called Shula “the most honest man in the U.S.” Basketball coaching legend and current Miami Heat president Pat Riley says there has been no better man or coach in the history of the profession than Don Shula.

Above all, above the 347 wins, most in NFL history, Don Shula was a man of integrity.

“If I’m remembered for anything, I hope it’s for playing within the rules,” said Shula. “I also hope it will be said that my teams showed class and dignity in victory or defeat.”

Let it be said.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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