Welcome to the Family
“The NFL draft was a needed distraction from the coronavirus pandemic. It was fun to see coaches and[IT1] team executives make decisions for their respective teams from their living rooms or home offices, and in Bill Belichick’s case, his kitchen.
There was, however, a stark reminder from the images being displayed — a lack of diversity when it comes to head coaches and team executives in the NFL.”
I watched the 2021 NFL draft. It was unlike the draft during the pandemic in 2020, referenced in the quote above, where we saw coaches at home. In this draft, we were back to the “war room” concept. In most war rooms, there were 10-12 people. My estimate was that these rooms were 95 to 98 percent white. Some war rooms were 100% white. I was surprised that the Raiders' war room was 100% white--at least during the period when I saw them on the screen. Is it any wonder why there aren’t more black coaches and front office personnel in the NFL if the “brain trust” of the organization is almost exclusively white?
As I thought about this more, I realized that for many teams, the NFL is a family business. In the case of the Raiders, they are owned by Mark Davis. So it may make more sense that many of the leaders in the family business are white because front office hiring decisions aren’t just about allowing you to join our team but to become a part of “our family.” I’m a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. The Cowboys' war room was very similar to the Raiders. Most of the people in the room were family. Like many war rooms, there was one black person, Vice President of Player Personnel, Will McClay.
“Will McClay, an African-American, is the Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel. He’s in charge of putting the draft board together, and while he doesn’t get the face time of Jerry Jones and Stephen Jones, he’s the glue for what makes the Cowboys’ draft process work.
As much as I would like for Will to ascend to a GM position there in Dallas, I fully understand that that’s the role that Jerry Jones has and would likely not relinquish,” said Rod Graves, the executive director for the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which tracks hiring and supplies a list of qualified candidates of color to the NFL. “But the role that Will plays is very much like that of a general manager when it comes to running that personnel department. He enjoys that role and he’s recognized across the league as a top personnel man and I’m happy for him.”
For most black men, the path to the NFL front office starts in the player ranks vs. some genealogical connection. Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall “paved the way for African Americans in professional football.” Fritz Pollard “became the first African American head coach in the NFL as well.”
“Statista.com broke down the NFL African Americans in the National Football League in 2019. The percentages are broken down by role. As of 2019, 58.9% of African Americans in the NFL were the players themselves. This number has now grown to 70% in 2020[IT4] [IT5] . The NFL assistant coaches are the second highest, with 29.6% of them being African American. Numbers fall tremendously after the assistant coaches positions. Senior Administrator is the final role on the list that is in double digits sitting at 10.7%.
Head coaching positions come in at 9.4%, Proffessional staff checks in at 8.8%, Vice presidents are at 7.1% and General Managers are the lowest sitting at 6.3%.”
…Roger Goodell spoke on how he felt about recent hires in the NFL. Goodell was not happy with the number of African-American coaches that were overlooked for head coaching jobs. The NFL commissioner may say he is upset about the number of coaches that were overlooked, but he is not doing anything about it.
I understand that he cannot make NFL franchises hire African American coaches, but he can talk with the teams about adding more diversity to their teams.”
To some degree, in its not too distant past, the Air Force, too, in the senior leadership ranks, was a family business. Along those lines, it was harder for black men and women to break into the family business because they didn’t have to just prove that they belonged in the organization, but they had to prove that they deserved a higher position than a member of the family or a friend of the family. Here is an excerpt from a chapter in “Black Ceiling” entitled “Don’t Step on My Coattails”:
“I was in a Commander’s Call at Langley Air Force Base, and at the time, the Commander was Gen. John P. Jumper. He said something during the Commander’s Call that I will never forget. He was musing aloud about being an Air Force brat and how many of his childhood friends grew up to be generals and astronauts. I don’t think the significance of what he said dawned on him. Gen. Jumper’s dad eventually became a general.
To me, it was no surprise that the sons of generals grow up to be generals and astronauts. I didn’t know at the time if I should feel saddened at the seemingly narrow group of people that led the Air Force or just sad that my commander didn’t understand that it made the Air Force seem, just for an instant, like ‘a good-ole-boy’ system, almost a divine-right-of-kings type of reigning order into which you have to be born.
As I was doing research for this book, I found a similar quote from Gen. Jumper at a speech that he gave at a Senior NCO Academy graduation ceremony at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, 27 June 2001:
‘My first memory is when I was two years old sitting in my Dad’s lap in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang. He was a second lieutenant just after WWII. We were stationed at a small base near Tokyo during the occupation of Japan. His job was to take fighter planes that had arrived by barge, and after all the preservatives were removed, to test fly them and ferry them inland to their permanent bases. Before I was 3 years old I had time in all the great WWII fighters: P-51, P-43, P-38, and British Spitfire. I just wish I could remember more about them than the noise they made. I grew up in an era of heroes; my Dad’s contemporaries were all heroes, like Chuck Yeager who was the first to fly faster than the speed of sound. My Dad commanded an F-106 interceptor squadron at Langley AFB, Virginia and we lived on Eagan Avenue. On the same street were several of the Mercury 7 astronauts. I was captured in the world of flying, and heroes from an early age. They were larger than life …’ (Jumper, 2001)
The general’s quote is the perfect example of the concept of ‘coattails.’ We all understand the concept of coattails in a political sense. When one party wins the presidential election, there are usually coattails that dramatically affect the congressional landscape. The same is true in the military, but the effects are generational. Coattails not only serve to open doors for successors but to set up role models to those that follow as an example of what can be done.”
Here are few more excerpts from “Black Ceiling” chapters “Does the Cream Always Rise to the Top” and “Go Find Me a Major,” respectively, that further illustrate the point that I am trying to make about the influence of family in the senior leadership ranks in the military:
“Kenneth Ray Young, in his biography on Arthur MacArthur, The General’s General, wrote:
‘Douglas’s success in the army can partially be attributed to his father’s influence. D. Clayton James suggests that Arthur MacArthur’s ‘most significant legacy to his son was the talented gathering of young officers who served under him in the Philippines. These officers did not forget … when Gen. MacArthur’s son served under them in future years. Talented as he was, Douglas would enjoy a meteoric rise due in no small measure to the special interest of officers who were beholden to his father. The name McArthur meant something to them, and when Douglas’s name appeared on the promotion lists, he always had a number of mentors to aid and abet his career because they felt an obligation to his father.”
“I have studied the biographical profiles of the Air Force Chiefs of Staff (CSAF) and former Commanders of TAC/ACC. In the following table, I have listed the CSAFs from Gen. John Ryan, to the present, but my focus was CSAFs during the ‘Creech era.’ I have already shared in the chapter on Gen. Creech how his system selectively identified non-minorities for grooming, mentoring, and developmental assignments. As I studied the paths of the Creech protégés, the officers who became CSAFs as part of his system, the thing that stood out to me the most was how relatively junior officers were identified for selection to key jobs on the TAC or in particular the HQ USAF staff.
I wondered how does a senior captain or junior major come to be known as a shiny penny, an up-and-comer? In the case of the CSAFs, I could see that three of them had fathers that were general officers, and one, our current CSAF, had a dad who was a Colonel fighter pilot. Was there a good old boy network? What about the others?”
I mentioned that I studied all the biographical profiles of the “Creech era” CSAFs. I pointed out that three of the officers that became CSAF during this period “had fathers that were general officers.” What I did not point out was that one of them, General Michael E. Ryan, was the son of the first CSAF on my list, General John “Jack” D. Ryan. Was the MacArthur principle in effect? I’m not saying that General Mike Ryan wasn’t an exceptional officer worthy of the highest office in the Air Force. I’m just saying that the ride might have been smoother along the way.
In the “Don’t Step on My Coattails” chapter, I point out that the “Army’s first black general was Benjamin O. Davis” and that the “Air Force’s first black general was Benjamin O. Davis Jr.” General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. was the Air Force’s first black four-star. His son Daniel James III became “the first African-American to hold the post of Director of the Air National Guard. He assumed that command in 2002 following a flying career that included more than 300 combat missions in Southeast Asia and 4,000 flying hours.”
Many of my Air Force Academy classmates have sent their sons and daughters to the Academy into “the family business.” When I began to research the previous Chief of Staff, David L. Goldfein, I discovered that he and his two brothers went to the Air Force Academy.
I have always been curious about the Goldfein family. I remember hearing the buzz that one of them would likely become Chief of Staff. As I can recall, this was when David Goldfein and his older brother Stephen M. Goldfein were a Colonel and a Brigadier General (select) respectively. In “Black Ceiling,” I wrote that I served under Stephen M. Goldfien and found him to be an excellent officer and that I believed that he would have become CSAF if he had not gotten entangled in a controversial contracting issue. The contracting issue caused his career to be derailed at Major General. But his younger brother David still became CSAF despite the fact that his career path was not as outstanding. David Goldfein’s career was stellar but compared to the path of his brother’s and compared to the path of all the CSAFs I had studied; it just wasn’t as outstanding. But obviously, the buzz was true. But what was the source behind “the buzz” that they were on the fast track to attaining the Air Force’s highest rank?
The answer is found by taking a look into the life of the father of these two Goldfein brothers. Their father was an Air Force fighter pilot named William “Goldie” Goldfein:
“Goldfein joined the Naval Reserve the day after he graduated from high school in June 1949. He was 17. After flying in the Navy’s version of the T-6 Texan, “I was so impressed with flying that I knew I had to become a pilot,” but without a college degree he couldn’t qualify for naval flight training, he told “Chronicles of Courage — Stories of Wartime and Innovation,” a project of NBC News and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions.
So he entered the Air Force as a guided missile technician, in time starting flight training under a program that allowed high school grads to become pilots as the Korean War raged. He got his wings as a second lieutenant as the war ended. Initially placed in interceptors, he volunteered to fly reconnaissance planes.
He became a T-37 Tweet instructor at Reese AFB in Lubbock on his way to a career that would see him earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and fly a variety of aircraft, including the C-47, C-54, VB-17G, RF-84F, RF-86, RF-101 and F-4, racking up an estimated 5,500 hours[IT6] .
…The family’s tradition of flying perhaps took root with Goldfein’s storytelling and grew on days when he flew his kids in rented airplanes.”
In the previous quotes, you can see that Goldie Goldfein helped pass along the “family” tradition of flying and the love of flying. In the following quotes, you can see that he also passed on the tradition of becoming an Air Force fighter pilot and flying in combat:
“He also had the opportunity to fly many aircraft over his USAF career that spanned 33 years including: the RF-84F, RF-86F, F-100, RF-101, T-37, and F-4 aircraft accumulating more than 5,500 flying hours to include 400 combat hours in Southeast Asia during 216 combat missions…During his time of service, he held various levels of command and staff. Additionally, he attended the USAF Air War College in 1974, while simultaneously receiving his Masters Degree from Troy State University. He retired in 1982 from Nellis AFB, Nevada as the Air Warfare Center's Chief of Staff. “
“He flew the F-4 in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 in the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, known as the Triple Nickel, David Goldfein said. “And then all of us spent time flying in the Triple Nickel. So my older brother flew it when it was F-15s, my younger brother flew it in F-16s and I got to command it and take it to Kosovo, Serbia, so a lot of history with that squadron.”
The thing that jumped out to me in General David Goldfein’s quote was that all three fighter pilots brothers got to fly in the same fighter squadron that their father got to fly in overseas even though they were several years apart in age and despite the fact that Stephen flew F-15s and David and his younger brother flew F-16s. This made me think of the MacArthur principle, but I wondered as a Colonel, could Goldie Goldfein have had that much “pull” over his sons’ assignments in the Air Force?
A closer look at the previous quote shows that Goldie Goldfein was the Chief of Staff at the Air Warfare Center in 1982. “The U. S. Air Force Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., reports directly to the Air Combat Command. The Center was founded Sept. 1, 1966, as the U.S. Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons Center. It was later renamed the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center in October 2005.” I researched the list of Tactical Fighter Weapons Center Commanders and found out that General Jack Gregory was the commander from 1981 to 1983 when Goldie Goldfein was the Chief of Staff. General Gregory went onto become a four-star general, commander of the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF).
“In June 1981 General Gregory transferred to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., as commander of the U.S. Air Force Tactical Fighter Weapons Center. While there, he converted the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds, to F-16s. He also was responsible for the U.S. Air Force Fighter Weapons School, the Aggressors, Red Flag exercises, fighter testing and tactics development programs, and the operations of A-10s, F-15s, F-16s, F-4s, F-111s, F-5s, A-7s and T-38s.”
Even the fact that Goldie Goldfein worked in a place and for a man that might have a lot of influence in the assignments of fighter pilots, it wasn’t enough to convince me that as a Colonel, Goldie Goldfein could have that much influence to affect all three of his sons’ assignments. That was until I read the excerpts from the interview below:
I am interviewing William Goldfein. Date of Birth: November 26, 1931. He served in the air force, highest rank achieved was a colonel. Date and place of this interview is February 24, 2010, in San Antonio, Texas. I am conducting this interview for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress…
…I served as staff officer in two headquarters, a number of air force headquarters as well as a command headquarters in Europe for the air force. I also served as the chief of staff of the tactical fighter war center at Nellis Air Force Base prior to retirement, and also served in maintenance but I consider that front line work also not wartime front line, but principle of work and of course my principle mission and principle jobs would be as a pilot and I remained in the cockpit my entire career after completing flying school.
That's impressive. Ok could you say you formed friends like any best friends? During this time, of the war.
Oh yes, every organization I took pride in the fact that I never left a second-rate outfit they were always the top organization in the unit. I work very hard to make it so, and I found it very simple to make friends. I don't think I left, I really can't think of any enemies I left, people I haven't gotten along with.
Do you have any particular person that you still have ties from now?
Oh yes, my squadron commanders that I worked for and with throughout my careers still remain the closest of friends, we've lost some because they were obviously somewhat older than I was back when, I was young pilot and also the commanders of the various headquarters that I worked in I had complete respect for them coupled with a need to do what I was responsible for my job. I felt I was a part of a mission and I never let any of these people down. People I still correspond with after all these years.
I play golf, not very well, it's an evasive game I enjoy that, and the comradely of the people whom I play, and I live in a retirement community of like-minded people who have interest identical to mine and I belong to several organizations that are pilot oriented as well as military-oriented and we continue to pursue the same interest we did all through our lives and careers and will continue to do as long as were physically able to.
That's good to hear. And where were you when the war ended?
When it ended, I was I had just been promoted, no I was Lieutenant Cornel when the Southeast Asia war ended which was in 1973 and, I came out in the year following, I made Cornel, while I was going to Air War College and very lucky to have been in class of 1974. Which was the same class that the returning prisoners of war from Southeast Asia attended and those who were eligible to go to War College and it was the most momentous years of my life knowing all of these people they were so super!
That's good ok, and I know you said you were in some Veteran's Organization's, so your still in contact with the people you were served in war with?
Yes, do you need the names of those organizations?
If you want to provide them.
Sure, "The River Valley Fighters Pilots Occasion," we call the “Red River Valley Occasion," or "River Rats," the nickname. "The Order of Daedalians,” which is a military paternity of military pilots that began immediately at end of World War I, I'm also a member of the American Legion and the V.F.W although, I do not participate actively in those organizations. But I also remain a very strong member of the organizations that flew the aircraft that I flew way back when I attend reunions every single year with those people.”
Though Goldie Goldfein didn’t have the rank of an Arthur MacArthur or General John Ryan to help his sons, I believe he maintained connections to enough of the right people to have as much as influence as a general officer. The results speak for themselves.
I’m not saying that Goldie Goldfein wasn’t an exceptional officer or that two of his sons did not deserve to be considered for the Air Force’s most senior positions. Goldie Goldfein had over 5,500 flying hours and flew 216 combat missions. By all accounts, he was a “badass,” if you allow me to use slang. I’ve already mentioned that I served under Stephen M. Goldfein as a member of the 1st Fighter Wing staff. He was an exceptionally polished and talented officer.
I had the great privilege of speaking briefly with David Goldfein on a morale call he made during a recruiting event. As Air Force Chief of Staff, David Goldfein told a potential recruit that he would briefly chat on the phone with anyone that the recruit chose. The recruit, a mentee of mine, chose me! I got to speak with him for a few moments, and he was extremely gracious and even told me that he had a copy of my book “Black Ceiling.” What a twist of fate! David Goldfein, like his dad, was known for his heroism in combat:
“High above Serbia, Lt. Col. Dave Goldfein’s F-16 has just been hit by a surface-to-air missile. His breathing accelerates as warning alerts blare, but with an even voice he informs his wingmen of his trajectory as the Fighting Falcon goes down.
Only a brief, frustrated expletive betrays the pressure Goldfein feels in that moment. And just as quickly, his voice regains its edge as he tells his fellow pilots that he’s going to glide as long as he can before he bails out.
Then he issues a call:
“Start finding me, boys.”
And with that, the mad dash to save the life of a U.S. Air Force pilot was on.
Now, 20 years later, that pilot is chief of staff of the Air Force. But he still vividly remembers everything that happened that day — and the men who saved him.
The rescue of Hammer 34 — Goldfein’s call sign on that May 2, 1999, mission — has since become part of Air Force lore. In Operation Allied Force, NATO pilots began bombing targets in Serbia March 24, 1999, to force Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic — who had led an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovar Albanians — to withdraw his troops from Kosovo. The first phase of the air campaign focused on taking out Serbian air defense systems.
That was Goldfein’s mission the night he was shot down, on the 39th day of the campaign. At the time, he was the commander of the 555th Fighter Squadron at Aviano Air Base in Italy — the storied ‘Triple Nickel.’”
The article says that the shooting down and rescue of David Goldfein became part of “Air Force lore.” But is it possible that the reason he was there was that his father had served there and had already helped his brother to serve there before him? It is impossible to separate the family element from the trajectory of these great men.
As large as the Air Force is, it apparently is small enough in its upper echelons to be a “family business.” Being a member of the family gives you an edge in finding a place for your talent to shine, to perhaps get a boost in consideration for key jobs in the family business. It doesn’t make you a shoo-in, nor does it guarantee you success, but it does get you off to a great start.
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