Thursday, April 24, 2003

Bengals' Lewis addresses NAACP



By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis made it clear to the people of Cincinnati on Wednesday that his No. 1 priority was to win football games, not solve the city's race relations problems.

Lewis told an audience of about 70 at a meeting of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP that he would encourage his players to be visibly involved in the community and work to make the environment around Paul Brown Stadium inviting to everyone. But his main focus, he said, must be on the Bengals.

Lewis is the first African-American head coach in the Bengals' 35-year history. Some community leaders hailed his hiring in January as a major coup for a city that has struggled with race relations.

"My job is to win football games," Lewis said. "I believe that when you have something, you should focus and do the best with what you have and good things will happen for you down the road."

Lewis briefly stopped by the meeting while preparing for the NFL draft Saturday in which the Bengals hold the first pick. He expressed his gratitude for the overwhelming support that he's received from people since arriving in Cincinnati.

Lewis said he became aware of the racial problems in Cincinnati while he was pursuing the job. But he said it really hit home for him recently when he was listening to a local radio personality discussing his upcoming speech to the NAACP. Lewis said the host was saying that he should take his time, keep his mind on football and not try to do too much.

"Marvin is taking care of his football team," Lewis said. "You don't ever have to worry about that."

Lewis said he wants to build a team and coaching staff filled with people who can be role models.

"It is important to me that our guys get out and give back," he said. "They need something to do along with football ... to grow as people and see how fortunate they are."

Dr. Calvert Smith, president of the Cincinnati NAACP, said Lewis was invited to speak because the organization wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of a fellow African-American.

"He's one of our own, and we wanted to tell him that when times get rough, there is always a place for him to go," Smith said.

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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