Chip Kelly needs to address racism talk
Issue continues to fester because the Eagles coach avoids talking about it.
AS IT TURNS OUT, it really is about creating a culture; an inclusive culture.
Unless it's on his terms, Chip Kelly doesn't seem interested in that.
Over the past five months, an astounding amount of energy has been spent trying to disprove the observations of three Eagles who, at the risk of their own ruin, said they believe Chip Kelly has a problem with black men.
Predictably, what each of them said was amplified by the sensitive nature of the subject. Predictably, there was a massive rush to disprove it, and thereby make everyone's life less prickly.
All of the proofs were nonsensical.
All of the accusations left two facts abundantly clear.
First: Validly or not, at least some of Kelly's players feel marginalized.
Second: Kelly refuses to even acknowledge the issue.
His responses: If they feel that way, too bad.
Not a hint of culpability. Not a whiff of empathy.
Think about that.
If the CEO of any other high-profile, billion-dollar company repeatedly was linked to racism by three former outstanding employees, all of whom risked being blackballed; and if that employer dismissed it by saying the employees were angry they were displaced; know what you would have?
What is most astounding about the situation is that Kelly, who will change the team's shoelace supplier to increase aerodynamics, will not do anything about this. Astounding, and disturbing.
If three former players told reporters that coconut water in smoothies upset their stomachs, Kelly would examine the chemical composition of coconuts from each continent.
Examine himself for imperfections?
Apparently, that's a waste of time.
It is incredible, really, that Kelly will allow this perception of him to spread - and spread it will. Certainly, players in Pittsburgh and Buffalo will ask Brandon Boykin and LeSean McCoy questions about Kelly. Don't be surprised if guys in Seattle get an earful from Cary Williams, or if New England players are enlightened by Bradley Fletcher.
McCoy, after his trade to the Bills in March, said Kelly rid himself of all of the best black players. Well, with the exception of left tackle Jason Peters, the best black player, that's true.
Kelly's response: McCoy was stung by the trade.
Former left tackle Tra Thomas, after a two-year stint on the coaching staff, said Kelly's locker room was populated by players who think Kelly might be racist. Well, after what McCoy and Boykin said, that, too, has been proved true.
Kelly's response: We gave Thomas a chance to coach.
Now, after his trade to Pittsburgh last week, Boykin sent a carefully worded text message to a black Comcast SportsNet reporter that read, in part: "[Kelly is] uncomfortable around grown men of our culture . . . [Kelly] can't relate and that makes him uncomfortable." Boykin stressed that he and his teammates in the locker room often discussed the atmosphere that Kelly created.
Kelly's response: Boykin was "disappointed" that he was traded.
After the first two incidents, Kelly said he was not concerned. That answer changed last week, when Kelly said the repeated assertions did, in fact, bother him . . . but, really, Kelly seemed more annoyed than troubled.
He should be troubled.
It should be noted that McCoy, Boykin and Thomas had nothing to gain. Kelly is a pioneer; pioneers are granted monstrous power. Consider Kelly's coup in January that left him with full control of the franchise after only two NFL seasons and zero playoff wins.
McCoy, Boykin and Thomas also are former Eagles; a status that, in the Jeffrey Lurie era, carries privilege and inclusion matched by few other franchises. Each is an excellent former Eagle; even Boykin, despite his short, three-year run. McCoy, a running back, and Thomas, a left tackle, are among the top three Eagles at their positions. Each has a birthright to be celebrated as such for the rest of their lives.
Each jeopardized that birthright with these comments.
So why make them?
The popular and lazy explanation is that they were bitter they were let go.
That is illogical. Each had too much to lose.
The more sensible explanation: They simply spoke what they believed to be true.
Anyone who spent any time around any of them knows that each of them is strongly principled; even McCoy, in a weird, warped way. Each is passionate about doing the right thing; at least, the right thing in their eyes.
All three were dispatched, on the face of it, with good reason.
McCoy ran both the football and his mouth with little discipline. Thomas was never more than an aspiring assistant with no coaching credentials. Boykin is shorter than the cornerback template Kelly wants.
Several other players, coaches and scouts, both black and white, have been similarly dispatched. None has echoed these sentiments; not yet, anyway.
Perhaps they believe Kelly treated them fairly.
Or, perhaps they understand this sort of talk can ruin them in the NFL.
As far as we know, most of this angst stems from the Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson incidents and the way Kelly, Lurie and Howie Roseman handled them.
Cooper, a white receiver, was caught on video directing the N-word toward a black security guard in an alcohol-fueled rage during a country music concert in the summer of 2013, Kelly's first season. Cooper took a brief leave from training camp, then rejoined the team.
Jackson, a black receiver, enjoyed a career season in 2013 . . . then was cut a few months later. He also was subjected to a smear campaign that, to any sensible observer, was engineered (clumsily) by the team. Meanwhile, Cooper's fine 2013 season earned him a lucrative extension.
Beyond Boykin's implication that Kelly is not totally colorblind, it should have been equally disturbing that Boykin, in his clarification statements, said that Kelly routinely ignored players:
"There would be times where he just wouldn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway and he wouldn't talk to you."
This seems bizarrely dysfunctional, at the very least. But it might explain, if not validate, what McCoy and Thomas saw and felt.
Consider, too, the "grown men" phrase Boykin used. Boykin was careful to delineate between Kelly's dominion over his college players at Oregon, a powerless group with virtually no recourse against Kelly's whim; vs. "grown men" in the NFL whose futures Kelly has less power to determine.
Kelly remains stubbornly resistant to addressing what could become an even more toxic issue. Fairly or not, he has been painted by three men as a leader who, at best, is insensitive to his environment; at most, as a leader who unfairly leads.
This is stunning, because Kelly's willingness to implement his innovations have cast him as a genius. Moreover, Kelly preaches culture over scheme.
Still, he refuses to adjust, and that allows a malignant culture to fester in his own building.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch