INDIANAPOLIS — Bengals president Mike Brown would rather go to the dentist than accept an award, and on Friday night he had an appointment with the Fritz Pollard Alliance to accept its Game Ball for 2011.
But it turned out to be Brown's kind of show. He was able to share the dais with other award winners, as well as his father and daughter when the diversity group honored him for his contributions to leveling the playing field for minorities in the ranks of coaching and front office.
It helped, too, that former Raiders coach John Madden was on hand to present the Tank Younger Award to Raiders owner Mark Davis in memory of his late father Al. Not only that, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and many of his assistants were in the audience.
"I'm going to ask Mike if he's got any draft picks," Davis joked of the October trade the Raiders sent their first-round pick for Carson Palmer.
But Brown was quite serious when daughter Katie Blackburn presented him with the award after a brief video detailing how her grandfather and Mike's father Paul Brown helped integrate pro football as coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Noting that Blackburn is a member of the NFL's diversity committee, Brown observed, "All my life I've stood in the shadow of a tall tree. Now I'm in the shadow of another tree. That's where I am. My father in front of me, my daughter behind me."
That's where Brown wants to be. But he's uncomfortable with talk about leveling the playing field. He considers it just another day at the office. He said his father simply did his job with the attitude that everyone deserves a chance.
"We just go to work every day trying to do what's best for the team," Brown said after the ceremony. "It's an award for the entire team. We've got a lot of people involved. Marvin has been very instrumental. (Diversity) is something he feels very strongly about and that's important in how we perceive it as well."
Lewis has been a long-time confidant of John Wooten, chairman of the Alliance, going back to when Wooten scouted for the Ravens. He knows how Wooten admires Brown for sticking with him after the 4-12 season and how it paid off in a playoff berth. But Lewis also gets it that Brown didn't think he was doing anything out of the ordinary.
"He sees it as an everyday thing; as part of what he does," Lewis said. "It's a huge award. It's good recognition for Mike and his family. I think long-time NFL people recognized his steady hand this year and how he handled the entire situation and how things ended up."
One of Lewis's staffers, running backs coach Jim Anderson, is one of the last links to Paul Brown. Anderson became the club's first African-American assistant coach in 1984 when Paul was president and general manager.
"It's rightfully deserved," said Anderson, a Pollard Alliance board member. "Mike's done a good job throughout the league and his father historically did as well."
Brown couldn't resist starting his short acceptance speech by correcting his father's greatest player. Former running back Jim Brown said on the video that everyone was afraid of Paul Brown.
"Jim Brown," said Mike Brown "was not afraid of my father."
And Mike Brown, it turns out, isn't afraid of trees.