The story involving Buffalo Bills running LeSean McCoy and his criticism of his former head coach Chip Kelly has died down some, making this a good time to revisit the conversation now that time has passed and hopefully emotions have been tempered.
Whenever the conversation of race or racism is bought up, there are usually two types of emotions that are in play: anger and aggravation. However, no matter what emotion you feel or what side of the fence you're on, it makes it extremely difficult to have a clear and unbiased opinion given those external factors. Usually, the anger stems from historical - and, in some cases, present-day - injustices, and the aggravation stems from fatigue of the topic. Either way, when the word racism or the notion of it is thrown out there, it puts people in a certain frame of mind - and unfortunately, that place doesn't allow people to see things clearly. In the case of McCoy's criticisms of Kelly, we missed the underlying message.
This post isn't about racism. It is about McCoy - and, in my opinion, his inability or refusal to articulate his thoughts on a situation in Philadelphia with the Eagles that is common in our society. These opinions are mine alone, and they don't represent the Buffalo Rumblings staff, the Buffalo Rumblings community at large, or the members of the African-American community. This is solely based on my experience as an African-American male, as an athlete who played several organized sports, and my conversations with other college and professional athletes. I challenge those that will be leaving comments not to "hijack" the ensuing discussion with conversations about racism, but instead focus on the underlying message that will be discussed shortly.
When I read McCoy's interview with an ESPN reporter for the first time, I cringed - and when I saw that he was unwilling to clarify his statements, I was disappointed. McCoy missed out on a golden opportunity to discuss a topic in sports, and in our community, that is often overlooked. McCoy made a mistake by insinuating that Kelly was a racist, and should have clarified his statements, especially if that wasn't what he meant.
I highly doubt that McCoy considers Kelly racist, because he often says that he respects him in the same breath - and I doubt that any player, black or white, would be playing for a coach that is genuinely racist. What I believe McCoy was trying to convey was that Kelly's decision to trade or release certain players was racially - or, perhaps more so, culturally - driven. That's the underlying message, and that is what we should be discussing.
The below graphic comes from an unofficial NFL census study done
It shows race distribution by every NFL team. As you will notice, the Eagles have the least amount of minority players with 28. Perhaps this is a coincidence, but maybe it isn't. This is the underlying message that McCoy may have been referring to. Is this racism? Probably not. However, this breakdown could be driven by a coach who prefers players that he can racially or culturally relate to.
In a league where 72 percent of its players are non-white, and 18 percent of its coaches are non-white, it's very easy to have situations where coaches prefer or feel more comfortable with players that they can relate to. When McCoy makes a statement like "he (Kelly) got rid of all the good black players," McCoy could be referring to players that look like him, play like him, act like him, and share the same viewpoints as him, in contrast to those of his head coach. This can easily be seen as racial, but it isn’t necessarily racism.
We all know McCoy is a different kind of guy. He marches to the beat of his own drum. He says what he wants, when he wants, has never been shy to share his opinion, and is an individual in every sense of the word. That sort of personality can be hard to manage at times, and it takes a unique coach to handle that sort of player.
Some coaches are better at relating to players than others. They embrace individuality from their players, and foster an environment that encourages a player to be themselves. Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks is a good example of that type of coach. In contrast, you have other coaches who would rather work with a certain "type of player," one that does what they are told, doesn't challenge authority, and is a team player in the image of the coach.
Without fully knowing the culture in the Buffalo Bills' locker room over the past two seasons, one can assume that Doug Marrone wasn't one of those coaches that knows how, is good at, or prefers coaching players that didn't fit whatever cultural goals he's trying to establish. We saw him trade the enigmatic Stevie Johnson, bench the outspoken Mike Williams, and engage in a shouting match with the never-shy Jerry Hughes. In comes Rex Ryan, the polar opposite of Marrone, saying he will embrace individuality and will never tell a player what he can or cannot say.
If the message that McCoy was trying to convey, was that Kelly moved players that he couldn't relate to, coach, manage, or control, and that the reason was primarily driven by their inability to relate due to racial and cultural differences, I guess we all will pretty much understand where he was coming from. The inability to relate racially or culturally isn't a good thing or a bad thing, it's just a thing. We shouldn't pretend, or be naive enough, to think that we all relate to one another the same way, whether we're looking through the lens race, age, or sex. We all have a lot to learn from one another, and the better we are at it, the more understanding and compassionate we'll become. Coaches are no different. The great coaches always seem to find a way to relate to all of their players, and at the very least strike a balance. The player also has a responsibility to be a professional, a leader, and help the coach bridge the gap between the front office and the locker room. There should be a level of accountability by all parties involved.
I wish McCoy would have never hinted that racism was involved in his departure, especially if it wasn't what he meant. I wish he would have at least explained himself, either way. Instead, we're stuck with opinion pieces like this one trying to make sense of a pretty ugly situation.