Diversity in Major League Soccer
In Major League Soccer it is easy to spot diversity. Every team has players from around the world and many different walks of life. However, Dennis Hamlett stands alone at the top as the only black Latino head coach in MLS.
Dennis Hamlett Suffers a Stroke of Destiny
In the preseason of the 1997, Dennis Hamlett was preparing for the second ever MLS season. His first season had been full of promise. Hamlett played all but one game of the inaugural MLS season and was named Colorado’s 1996 Defender of the Year.
It happened innocuously; the play seemed like hundreds of others Hamlett had made in preseason training. The ball was thrust through the air and into Colorado’s box. Pushing off from the ground and leaping slightly backwards, Hamlett soared through the air and headed the ball away. Like any good defender he had mounted a successful challenge and continued onward without fanfare.
This challenge changed Hamlett’s destiny. While he lay down to take a nap, the carotid artery in his neck seeped blood. Hamlett awoke with a “massive headache.” The leaking carotid artery had given the 28 year old Hamlett a stroke.
After recovering from the stroke Hamlett found his intensity and drive were gone. He still loved soccer and every aspect surrounding the game but his ability to passionately play the game had been severely diminished. Despite playing for Colorado, Hamlett received the care and attention he deserved from MLS. They were not ready to give up on Hamlett’s talented brain. Instead of casting him aside they tried to find him a job. Peter Wilt, Chicago Fire's first president, was happy to welcome Hamlett into the fold as an assistant coach.
Paying Penance to the Fire
Hamlett spent five years under Bob Bradley, the winningist coach in MLS history. Hamlett was beside Bradley while Chicago won a MLS Championship and two Open Cups. When Bradley moved on, Hamlett was passed over. Hamlett had learned from the best, but his hard work and brilliant soccer mind was not enough for Chicago.
Instead Chicago decided to bring in Dave Sarachan who Hamlett helped to gain two more Open Cup titles. While the Fire were not interested in Hamlett for the head coaching position, Hamlett was determined to lead from more than an assistant’s position. He continued his hard work with Chicago, but interview for head coaching positions around the league.
Hamlett’s time was coming, but one head coach later than he hoped. When Sarachan moved on, Hamlett again tried for the head coaching job only to be passed over for Juan Carlos Osorio. Only after Osorio resigned was Hamlett finally given his chance.
Ten years after suffering a stroke, Hamlett was back on top.
Alone at the Top
Hamlett stands as one of the few black coach’s in all of soccer. His dedication, commitment, and love for soccer and the Chicago Fire has held him in good steed. Hamlett’s dream has been realized and today on Martin Luther King Jr. day we should celebrate his accomplishments.
Don’t judge Dennis Hamlett by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. Today, we celebrate Hamlett’s character. The character that lead him through strokes, ten years of assistant coaching, and to the top of Major League Soccer.