Vic Fangio said something in the morning on one day and Drew Brees showed it wasn’t true on the afternoon of the next.
Whether it was minimizing the presence of racism or prescribing how it should be dealt with, both exhibited behaviour that — no matter their intentions — fell well short of allyship. That’s because the first step for an ally is acknowledging that there is an issue.
Fangio, the head coach of the Denver Broncos, was asked Tuesday about racism and discrimination in the NFL in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death. Problem is Fangio doesn’t see race as an issue in the league.
“I think our problems in the NFL along those lines are minimal. We’re a league of meritocracy. You earn what you get, you get what you earn. I don’t see racism at all in the NFL. I don’t see discrimination in the NFL,” Fangio told reporters.
“We all live together, joined as one, for one common goal, and we all intermingle and mix tremendously. If society reflected an NFL team, we’d all be great.”
What’s not great is there have been 20 NFL head coach openings in the last three years, but only three have gone to people who weren’t white. Entering the 2020 season, the league will only have four minority head coaches. The NFL has only two African-American general managers, and has never had a black team president or owner. Yet, 29 of the 32 men drafted in the first round this year were black.
If it’s a meritocracy, does he believe that black men have the merit to play on the field but not the merit required to lead teams? They just don’t have the capability to be successful enough to own them? Are they inherently incapable of rising to those positions even though over 70 per cent of the players on the field are black?
Or, conversely, would it be more plausible that something systemic as it comes to race is involved?
Fangio’s comments are just weeks removed from radical ideas being presented to augment the Rooney Rule to promote coaching diversity. Some as radical as giving draft picks to teams who hire black coaches. That’s a level of affirmative action even black people found too far. But that’s how desperate the situation has become.
So, to say the NFL doesn’t have a race issue is not just a bad take — it is factually incorrect.
On Wednesday afternoon, Fangio apologized: “After reflecting on my comments yesterday and listening to the players this morning, I realize what I said regarding racism and discrimination in the NFL was wrong.”
It’s not that Fangio is destructive on race — he is just in a privileged position and doesn’t understand race’s complexities. And he could start the learning process by looking at the recent history of his own team.
In the 2016 season, then-Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall sided with Colin Kaepernick and took a knee during the anthem.
For his part, as he recently told Complex, Marshall received a letter containing serious threats and racial slurs, endured someone coming to his facility to burn his jersey, and lost endorsements.
Yes, race is still an issue in the NFL.
Which is why what was said Wednesday afternoon was even more frustrating. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees still believes that NFL players protesting during the national anthem are disrespecting the United States of America.
Speaking to Daniel Roberts of Yahoo Finance, Brees said he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country” when asked about the possibility of players again taking a knee during the anthem when the 2020 NFL season begins.
Four years removed from Kaepernick’s stance and we are still moving the conversation away from police brutality.
After immediate backlash — which included responses and rebukes from teammates Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as Aaron Rodgers and LeBron James — Brees attempted to clarify his statements by making a comment to ESPN’s Mike Triplett.
“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” he said in response to ESPN. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”
Did Brees’s two grandfathers fight for freedom of speech? For the right to peaceful protest? For the civil liberty that everybody would be treated equal under the law?
The reasons any of our grandfathers went to war are exactly why Kaepernick and others kneeled. People are angry in the streets now because the world they were fighting for currently doesn’t exist.
Some black Saints players and fans inevitably have grandfathers who came back from war and still had to drink from a different water fountain and sit at the back of the bus.
No, Drew, you don’t stand with them. To our public knowledge, you haven’t marched. You haven’t protested. You haven’t donated. You haven’t done anything other than post a black box on #BlackOutTuesday saying that you were going to be silent and listen. But yet on Wednesday you were once again talking — telling black players what to do and how to do it.
Over the course of the initial Yahoo Finance interview, Brees said “I” and “me” a bunch and talked about what he envisions when he hears the anthem and what brings him to tears. Yet, he wasn’t contemplating what black people envision and what brings them to tears.
Brees has many black teammates who have helped him throughout his career. He has had many black teammates who have protected him. All his black teammates ask in return is he that he does his part to help and protect them.
To his credit, Brees hasn’t stopped trying to make amends. Thursday morning he released a long statement on his Instagram account apologizing and making it clear where he stood on racial-equality issues. He was clear in why he was sorry and why he had regret. The message was thorough and came off to me as sincere.
Here is the issue: he still doesn’t seem to understand why many people were upset; he’s just addressing the fact that they were. He also didn’t re-address the original question about the potential resumption of NFL players kneeling in the coming 2020 season.
The thing that Brees doesn’t seem to understand is that if he truly wants to be an ally to black NFL players, he needs to put his feelings aside for a moment. This conversation isn’t about him, and he can’t decide for the protesters what they are protesting or how they protest.
Nobody is asking him to kneel. They’re just asking him to try to understand those who chose to do so.
The fact is, in 2016, a group of the players he claims to support kneeled during the anthem as a last resort to get attention for a subject nobody had been willing to talk about it. And on Wednesday, in a moment the world is finally talking about it, Brees again distorted and misrepresented the message they were trying to send.
Kaepernick was clear and intentional about what he was protesting and why. Not the flag, not the military. The police brutality.
Now thousands in the streets are doing the same.
In order to solve a problem, you have to acknowledge there is a problem. In their apologies, Fangio and Brees have started down this path, but there is still work to be done — for them and many others in the league.
And no matter how Brees feels about it, whenever football is played again, I guarantee you there will be a bunch of NFL players who are kneeling for the anthem. In solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. In memory of George Floyd. In recognition that racial issues do exist. And it will have nothing to do with the flag.