Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was the keynote speaker at the 2012 African American Heritage Sports Luncheon hosted by the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday at PNC Park.
"I am simply a football coach and my job is to win in a manner to make you proud," said Tomlin. "Because I am African-American I hope that inspires others, I hope that creates opportunity for others, because that is important. I embrace that."
Tomlin addressed the crowd about his love of sports and the pride he takes in being a part of not just the Pittsburgh sports community, but the entire Pittsburgh community. He talked about how sports serves as a bonding time for families, including moments he has shared with his own sons while watching Pirates games.
He lauded the Pirates for hosting the luncheon, which is part of a weekend celebration, and encouraging others to seek new heights in diversity, as well as the Rooney family for their role in giving everyone an opportunity. Tomlin said he is often referred to as "the walking example of the Rooney Rule," which requires team's interview minority candidates for coaching positions, but he looks at it differently.
"I have grown to reject that because of the education Ambassador (Dan) Rooney has given me regarding the rule," said Tomlin. "The rule is not about the hiring of minorities, but slowing down the hiring process to make sure everyone is given an opportunity to show what they are capable of. It doesn't speak to the hiring; it speaks to the hiring process. That is something I embrace. If the legitimate definition of the rule is understood, yes I embrace that.
"Ambassador Rooney believes in doing business a certain way. He believes in giving every man an opportunity. And if me doing my job on a day to day basis exemplifies that, I embrace that."
Tomlin also talked about how important sports were for him growing up in Newport News, Virginia and how sports can take you to new levels. He encouraged others to try to reach for those same levels as well.
"All we are called to do is be examples for the generations of people that follow us so they can see they can do things," said Tomlin. "My charge is to show people they can do things in any endeavor. Sport just happens to be mine. We are all complex people. We all have different facets of our lives. For me, this vehicle of the sport of football I ride, I enjoy. I am blessed to be a part of it.
"I have been encouraged, I want to continue to encourage, I challenge you to encourage. Let's keep up the fight on and off the field."