Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy blew an opportunity to break open a long run and drive a national conversation about racism in professional, opting instead to hide behind an inflammatory, yet vague comment he made last month about Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly to ESPN The Magazine. Sitting before media today at the Bills training facility, McCoy refused to answer questions from no fewer than three reporters as a rebuttal to Kelly’s response to the initial comments last week. Instead of engaging the media in a meaningful dialogue on the dynamics of race and sports, or further explaining his first comments, McCoy turned into a bully, threatening to cancel the session if questions about the Bills weren’t asked of him. At one point McCoy directly challenged a reporter after a follow-up question, tersely responding, “”Did you just hear what I just said here? Then why did you … I just told you, I’m not talking no more about Chip Kelly or the Eagles. So I’m done with that. You can ask me about the Bills.”
He’s far less talkative than he was during the ESPN interview when he made the following statement: “I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that’s the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That’s the truth. There’s a reason. . . .” The words, loaded with implied racism in wake of his trade, the decision to let Jeremy Maclin walk last year’s outright release of DeSean Jackson and other questionable offseason moves set the table for the much-needed discussion, but instead, Shady dropped the ball.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith came under fire for saying Kelly makes decisions that makes Black players and fans “uncomfortable”, once again, racism was implied, but not overtly discussed. Smith didn’t back off of his words, but he didn’t elaborate either. A veteran of the Philly sports scene, Smith knows the racial climate of the city as well as any. The Kelly/racist narrative has its root in his handling of former star receiver Jackson’s release last year for alleged gang ties, innuendos, rumors, relationships and other unfounded fodder. Conversely, Riley Cooper was videotaped the previous summer yelling a racial slur and remains on the roster, even collecting an $8 million signing bonus in the season following his outburst. Cap-ologists and apologists alike will tell you that Cooper is on the waiting list to be released after a subpar season, but we’re a few days into June and he’s still an Eagle.
To quote my favorite scene from Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, “Maybe it’s not racism. Maybe it’s just placism. A brother needs to know his place.” Chip Kelly has made the leap from the NCAA to the NFL where the rules are slightly different. In college, the coaches are king and kingmakers; they make the money from the institutions and sneaker companies, recruit kids for their program and often receive blind loyalty from their fan bases. But the game is tilted in the other direction in the pros, players routinely make double or triple the salary of the head coach and more than one has caused a coach to lose his job. However, Kelly’s innovative offense took the league by storm and he’s been branded a genius, allowing his arrogance to believe that it’s his system, not the players in the jerseys that have secured success throughout his first two NFL seasons and he seems intent on proving that by remaking the team through the draft and free agency this year.
The Eagles won the NFC East in Kelly’s first season with a surprising 10-6 record, before being bounced from the playoffs by the New Orleans Saints in a home loss. Then, Jackson was released amid controversy and the team missed the playoffs last season after finishing with the same record, but the wide receiver’s loss was felt as the team lacked a true deep threat. McCoy also felt the impact, as his stats took a hit, leading to his trade this offseason. On paper, these are purely football moves, but you factor in the star power of both players, along with their salaries and you see the Kelly power play. Next, take a look at the assistant coaches and you see only one “true” assistant, one that is completely in charge of his unit and that’s running backs coach Duce Staley. Tra Thomas, who spent time with the team as an assistant through an internship with The Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship, had a few words to share on his way out the door. He offered, “One of the things that you’re seeing right now, and these are the things that you have heard from the locker room from different players is that … they feel like there is a hint of racism. Yeah, you have seven assistant Black coaches but only one Black coach is over the segment. The other guys are assistants to the assistant coaches. Duce Staley is the only guy that’s head over his segment who is gonna be in charge of his group. The other guys are just assistants to an assistant coach.” The mere fact that The Bill Walsh NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship or a Rooney Rule exists points to a problem in the NFL that goes beyond the game played on the field.
The Philadelphia media would be quick to point to the Black players drafted or brought in via free agency as testament to Kelly’s liberal spirit, as if the presence of Blackness is enough to negate racism and white privilege, though it helps with perception. But I live here. I listen to the fans who call in to sports media and hear what’s said at the games and in Walmart.
Philadelphia has a real race problem.
The complicated history of race in Philadelphia goes back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, extends through race riots, housing discrimination, police brutality, the 1985 MOVE bombing, Frank Rizzo and the current state of the public school system. The city is 45% white, 44% African-American, but the dichotomy is much wider, perception wise. A scan of the arenas and stadiums, find largely white audience rooting on their beloved home teams (and often bullying the visitors), making patron saints of the scrappy, while remaining harsh towards Donovan McNabb, arguably the Eagles all-time player. McNabb was infamously booed after his selection was announced, because Eagles fans wanted Rickey Williams (imagine that) and went on to have an excellent, yet unappreciated career in Philadelphia.
At the bottom of the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art sits a bronze statue of Rocky Balboa, brought to life by Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movie franchise, is representative of the fighting spirit of the city. Balboa, an underdog finds himself in an unlikely fight against Apollo Creed and barely loses a split decision, but goes on to defeat Creed in Rocky II and ultimately takes over the world from there. Great fiction. However, it really isn’t. Rocky’s story is a rip-off of real life Philadelphia boxing legend Joe Frazier, who pounded meat in the freezer, fought and conquered Muhammad Ali, but didn’t live long enough to see a statue in his image find its home in Philadelphia. In fact, Philadelphia castigated its own hero in favor of Ali and later Balboa, never given him the proper respect he was due.
This is a city whose real heroes are ostracized and booed, unless it’s the rare case of Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, whose grace and street savvy captivated the city or a Brian Dawkins who did things the “right” way in the eyes of the franchise and its acolytes from Broad Street to the Northeast. Chip Kelly showed up with a genius tag that hasn’t been bestowed upon Tony Dungy or Mike Tomlin, but the city has bought in, hook, line and sinker. LeSean McCoy did himself, the city of Philadelphia and the next “good Black player” on the Eagles roster a disservice by not furthering his part of the conversation. Leaving Malcolm Jenkins and others to make comments like, “Chip has been very, very transparent on what he’s evaluating us on,” Jenkins said, via CSNPhilly.com. “That’s not only what we do on the field, but what we do in our assessments and how disciplined we are with our nutrition and all the sports science stuff. I haven’t seen him make a move outside of those parameters. I don’t think anybody in the locker room now thinks we have an issue with race. I don’t see that being a problem in the future. I don’t think there’s any need for Chip to address it.”
Perhaps DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy snacked too much in the offseason for Kelly’s liking. I suppose “beating up every nigger” in a stadium is more closely aligned with sports science.