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.