Vic Fangio Comments Exemplify NFL's Continuing Failure With Race

Pete Smith

In an NFL that is woefully behind when it comes to racial equality in coaching and front office hires, Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio exemplifies the problem.

"I don't see racism at all in the NFL, I don't see discrimination in the NFL," Fangio told reporters on Tuesday.

In an environment where most NFL teams are putting out milquetoast statements addressing the racial issues in this country sparked by the murder of George Floyd, often without mentioning his name, the issues with law enforcement or systematic racism, Vangio's comments are in line with their unwillingness to truly address the problem.

So much of what has been voiced throughout the protests and the fallout from the murder of Floyd and then the shooting death of David McAtee in Louisville is the fact that so many are simply ignorant of the inequality in this country.

"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."

By Fangio's logic, Mike Tomlin, Anthony Lynn, Brian Flores and presumably the retired Tony Dungy are the only African Americans that merit head coaching jobs in the NFL. Andrew Berry and Chris Grier are the only ones that merit general manager positions. The NFL is so bad on this topic that the concept of inducements was raised to encourage owners to hire minorities in these positions.

Black head coaches take longer to get hired and are quicker to get fired than their white counterparts. There are just two black offensive coordinators in the NFL - Byron Leftwich in Arizona and Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City, only Leftwich calls plays for his team. Lynn, the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers was never hired as an offensive coordinator. He took over as interim head coach with the Buffalo Bills and gave himself the title.

Meanwhile, the NFL is constantly looking for the next young, hot shot, white offensive playcaller. Kliff Kingsbury, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay. And that's not a criticism of their ability or acumen, but it's impossible not to see how challenging it is for black candidates to get offensive coordinator jobs, which is where the head coaching jobs have been going for the past two decades.

When Kevin Stefanski was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, 37 years old and white, he specifically made a point about hiring diverse candidates on the offensive side of the ball for this exact reason. 

“I am glad you asked that because it is important, and I am going to do everything in my power and my role to affect change there. It is something that I brought up when I met with Dee and Jimmy last year, and it is important to me that we develop minority coaches, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Last year in Minnesota, we hired two African American quality control coaches on the offensive side of the ball because it is important to develop young coaches in that area. That is the way that I can affect that change.”

Fangio had to wait a long time to get a head coaching job. He's 61 years old and has been coaching in the NFL since 1986. So his perspective is from someone that had to scratch and claw to finally get his shot to be a head coach after 33 years as an assistant.

Perhaps these comments can be blamed on his tunnel vision from that standpoint, not being able to acknowledge anything outside of his own struggle, but he's been in the league since 1986. He has 34 years of experience to see what the NFL has gotten wrong when it comes to race. To pretend the issues in the NFL are minimal is unacceptable, especially now.

The comments are even worse considering Fangio was the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2014. That year the 49ers drafted Colin Kaepernick and the two spent four years together in San Francisco, including the year the team went to the Super Bowl with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback. Fangio was in the league coaching, defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears, when Kaepernick protested and was then subsequently blackballed by the NFL. Even Joe Lockhart, the NFL's former vice president of communications came out and admitted it this past week.

Tone deaf. Lacking self awareness. Those are the kindest ways to explain how wrong Fangio got this issue. He has his head coaching job with the Broncos. Fangio's speaking as if simply admitting there's a problem in the NFL will result in someone taking the job from him and giving it to a minority candidate.

Fangio should know better. And whether it comes from within the Broncos organization or media pressing him on the issue, it's important that he acknowledges that fact and learns from this gross misstep. If not for himself, then for the minority players he's going to ask to play for him in that locker room. That is, after all, the point of these protests. Raising awareness and influencing change in society. Fangio needs to change.

If this is allowed to slide, it only goes to help explain why these protests are relevant, because there are too many people who simply don't understand what minorities, particularly black Americans, deal with this in terms of institutional racism. The NFL has failed to lead on civil rights and social justice or they would use this opportunity to own the fact were wrong when it came to their treatment of Kaepernick.

UPDATE: Vic Fangio, by way of the Denver Broncos official Twitter account released the following statement.

It's a step in the right direction. More needs to be done, but this is in essence what the protests have been about - getting people to understand the situation.

Comments (15)
No. 1-8
Jakeyell
Jakeyell

Passing judgment on an individual for his opinion on a construct outside of traditional society is just about as bad as the alledged faux pas. In general, shaming someone for expressing their views (which are not pejorative, merely outdated) is not going to render the result you seek. If you want a dialogue that educates, perhaps you may want to engage, not lecture? My two cents...

tedu24la
tedu24la

Very well written. It was important to note his long journey within the coaching ranks. I am just a fan who never played any football. One of the things I love about the sport is that it is one part of America where all the players accept and support one another. I never think about racism when I watch football. Thus, I am sad to hear that may not be the case in the coaching ranks. When everyone agrees that winning is the goal, it seems obvious that you simply want to hire the best person for the job. If you think I am defending him, I don't think I am. I'm merely stating that being a racist makes no sense. I believe Martin Luther King would agree that being color blind would get you more wins.

EchoChamber
EchoChamber

Fangio has a blind spot yet I think he was speaking in a different context. This article however makes it sound like he's a Klansman. My word. Every day, new this person is so wrong! I just wish we could examine the lives under the microscope of media and social trolls. Guaranteed skeletons would come out of 99 percent of them.

DallasSteve
DallasSteve

If the NFL turns this season into a protest against injustice in the US political statement, I won't be watching their games.

photorockies
photorockies

Reactions like this one to Fangio's statement are not unexpected but miss the context of the statement. Listening to the entire conversation on the radio, Fangio was responding to a question about his reaction to one of his player's protest of Floyd's killing. Fangio gave an honest and forthright answer supporting his player and condemning the killing. He went on to add that he wished the world was more like the NFL where race is not an issue. I thought at the time he meant NFL locker rooms and not NFL front offices (so did a local reporter who asked the question and Fangio later clarified his statement limiting his comments to his experience in the locker room and the football field). This is a common refrain made by players that racism and other societal ills do not play a part in locker rooms where players judge each other on their actions, not their skin color or their backgrounds. Yes, Fangio should have been more precise in his language but to his credit he is a refreshingly honest head coach and speaks off the cuff (sometimes to a fault). While Fangio's comments were not a model of clarity, they should not be taken as a symbol of the NFL's tone deafness on racial issues.

Jefro83
Jefro83

With such a high rate of black players and so few coaches or general managers how can they even try to defend themselves. Coach sees it as normal that why he doesn't see it. The apology was forced, written by the team. The refereeing is now controlled by the "officials" in New York and it's very obvious it's fixed,ask the saints the year before. It's impossible to watch anymore. The coach wrote what is normal to him. But it's wrong. NFL lost a longtime fan here. And I had Eagles season tickets for 25 years. Not one more game on my TV.

Pete Smith
Pete Smith

Editor

Thank you.

Dopeitsparish
Dopeitsparish

Great article about his statement


Featured Content

FEATURED
COMMUNITY