Racism in Sports: A Look at Willie Randolph and Other New York Coaches

Mackenzie KraemerSenior Analyst IJune 3, 2008

Two weeks ago yesterday, an article by Ian O'Connor became the No. 1 topic of conversation in New York's sports world, and it firmly placed New York Mets manager Willie Randolph on the hot seat.

In it, he used race as a potential reason for the negative portrayal of him, former New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, and former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas (by the way, Knicks fans, isn't it great to see the word "former" there now?).

When asked if he believes black managers are held to different standards, he said: "Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah [Thomas] didn't do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good."

Is there something to this? Let's take a look at Randolph, Edwards, and Thomas, and how the media has portrayed each one since they've been here.


Willie Randolph

Randolph was hired as manager before the 2005 season.

When he was hired, most fans and media members felt that it was time that he got a job after being a Yankees base and bench coach for the previous 11 years. He had been interviewed for several jobs in those years, a few of which he was considered one of the finalists for, but he never got his first managerial job until the Mets hired him.

The general consensus by the media when he was hired was that he was a smart baseball man who deserved his chance. Many media members touched on the fact that he was the first African-American New York baseball manager, but with a Hispanic general manager in Omar Minaya, Randolph’s race wasn’t supposed to be an issue.

He led the Mets to a 12-game improvement to 83-79 in 2005, with new, big-name additions like Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez complementing rising stars David Wright and Jose Reyes. The next season, Minaya added Carlos Delgado, Paul LoDuca, and Billy Wagner, and the Mets coasted to their first division title in 18 years with a 97-65 record.

The Mets were heavy favorites to win the National League in 2006 heading into the playoffs, and their sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers only reaffirmed that. The St. Louis Cardinals snuck into the playoffs at 83-79, and most thought they had no chance against the Mets.

The Cardinals apparently had not read the press clipping, as they stretched the Mets out to a seven-game series and eventually won Game Seven on a Yadier Molina home run. The Mets were stunned, but they were ready to be even better the next season with the addition of Moises Alou.

They started off the 2007 season 34-18, showing no ill effects from their NLCS defeat. For the last 110 games, they struggled around the .500 mark, but they still remained seven games ahead of the second place Philadelphia Phillies with 17 games to go.

In one of the most shocking collapses in the history of baseball, they became the first team to blow such a big lead with so few games remaining, missing the playoffs, and firmly putting Randolph on the hot seat. 

While many had disagreed with the way he handled some pitchers and the lineup, most people believed he had done a fair job as manager until the collapse. Fans were disappointed that the seemingly inferior Cardinals had defeated the Mets in 2006, but fans were absolutely livid about blowing the division. There was a large outcry for him to be fired, but Minaya chose to give him another year.

The Mets struggled around the .500 mark again for the beginning of the 2008 season, and his seat was hotter than ever. Every day, sportswriters and fans clamored for Willie to be fired.

While Randolph thinks it might be racial (and listening to New York sports talk radio, some of it is, but more towards Minaya and the high amount of Hispanics on the team), but it's really for the lack of performance late in the last two seasons with a seemingly talented team. Many people considered the Mets the most talented team in the National League the last two seasons, and they are certainly the team with the highest payroll.

Ending the previous two seasons the way he had was unacceptable for a team like that.

If there has been an issue out of Randolph's control that he has had to deal with, it's not that he is black. It's that he was a New York Yankee, and many Mets fans have an inferiority complex, not wanting a Yankee to be their manager. That, not race, is the non-baseball fact that Randolph has to deal with, and his performance with the highest payroll in the National League has not lived up to the high expectations placed on him the last few seasons.

Besides, no manager could survive such a collapse. When the California Angels collapsed in 1995, Marcel Lachemann resigned next August. When the Yankees collapsed in 2004, Joe Torre never fully recovered, and he had won four World Series titles. Randolph will be no different.


Herman Edwards

After Bill Parcells, Bill Bellichick, and Al Groh all resigned as HC of the NYJ, the New York Jets were looking for a breath of fresh air. Edwards was perfect for that role. He was the polar opposite of the previous coaches, with a new player-friendly, media-friendly demeanor that was a 180-degree turn. The media treated him wonderfully because he was always available and always quotable.

And for a few years, the results followed.

He took over in 2001, leading the Jets to a 10-6 record, with John Hall drilling a 53-yard field goal in the last week of the season against the Oakland Raiders to send the team to the playoffs. The Raiders returned the favor by beating the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, so the season wasn't a great success, but it was viewed as a step forward.

The Jets went into 2002 hoping to take another step forward, but a 1-4 start and a minor injury spelled the end of the Vinny Testaverde era, and the beginning of the Chad Pennington era. Pennington proceeded to throw 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions, and they recovered from a 2-5 start to miraculously win the AFC East at 9-7 on the final day of the regular season.

A 41-0 blowout of the Indianapolis Colts followed, but once again the Raiders foiled the Jets plans, figuring out how to exploit Pennington's average arm strength, beating the Jets 30-10.

In 2003, Pennington suffered an injury, and the Jets got off to yet another slow start. This time, they could not recover, finishing 6-10.

In 2004, Edwards put an emphasis on working a little harder in the offseason, as he had been criticized for being soft during training camp, leading to slow starts. With an easy early schedule, the Jets jumped to a 5-0 start, but they ended up only 10-6. In the first round of the playoffs, the Jets played a memorable game against San Diego, beating them on the road in overtime after Nate Kaeding missed a field goal in overtime, allowing Doug Brien to win it for the Jets.

While the media and fans had been relatively light on Herm until now, his poor clock management and in-game strategies became hard to ignore in the AFC Divisional Round against the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. Brien had missed a 47-yard field goal off the crossbar earlier, but when a David Barrett interception gave the Jets another chance to score, Edwards conservatively played for the field goal, running the ball and taking a knee, leading to another Brien missed field goal, this one from 43 yards. When Pittsburgh won in overtime, the fans and media were all over Herm for good reason.

In 2005, injuries set the tone for the season, with Pennington, backup quarterback Jay Fiedler, Wayne Chrebet, Curtis Martin, Chris Baker, Kevin Mawae, and Jason Fabini among others all suffering season-ending injuries.

Herm was left with little talent, but rumors were swirling towards the end of the season and into the offseason that Kansas City president Carl Peterson wanted to hire him to replace the retiring Dick Vermeil.

Edwards attempted to get a pay raise from the Jets, using Kansas City as leverage, but the Jets weren't too happy with him. After all, each of the last few seasons had ended on frustrating notes, and his weaknesses were becoming more and more clear. The fans had turned on him, and both the Jets' brass and the media had begun to turn on him, so he left for Kansas City in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick (used to take Leon Washington).

Edwards is a terrible example by Randolph because there were plenty of reasons to not like the work he did, and the media still loved him for a long time. His inexperience as a coach or coordinator was blatantly obvious at times, and there were plenty of examples that point to his being outcoached in games.

Then he tried to stab the Jets in the back by openly conspiring to leave with Kansas City, and he got his wish. So Willie, where exactly did the media treat him incorrectly? He barely made the playoffs a few times, and the media adored him. His problems were based on inexperience, ineptitude, and inability to be aggressive.


Isiah Thomas

Do I really need to explain this one? Let's just look at some of the moves he made as coach and president.

  • Was involved in the hiring, firing, and buyout of Larry Brown as coach
  • Went 56-108 as head coach.
  • Missed playoffs each of last four seasons.
  • Still owes an unprotected 2010 first round pick to the Jazz (via Phoenix) from the awful Stephon Marbury trade.
  • Gave $30 million to Jerome James.
  • Traded two, lottery draft-picks in exchange for Eddy Curry.
  • Gave mid-level exception to Jared Jeffries.
  • Allegedly helped instigate Knicks-Denver Nuggets brawl in 2006.
  • Defendant in sexual harassment case involving Knicks front office.
  • Traded for Zach Randolph.
  • Accepted multiple other bad contracts in trades (Malik Rose, Jalen Rose, Steve Francis, Penny Hardaway, Jerome Williams, Maurice Taylor).

Scott Layden left him an awful situation, and while he did make the playoffs at 39-43 in his first season as president, the Knicks were swept out of the playoffs by the New Jersey Nets. After that, his reign of terror was simply a long sequence of disaster after disaster. The media was all over Isiah, but the Knicks have been the laughingstock not only of the NBA, but also of all of professional sports. The Knicks have symbolized ineptitude, with the highest payroll and one of the lowest win totals in the 21st century.


Willie, racism is a factor in America and across the world. It's a sad fact of life, but it is not going to go away anytime soon. But the sports world is a meritocracy. If you want to get the media off your back, first get above .500, and then make up for 2006 and 2007 by getting to the World Series. Until then, white or black, the media has every right to criticize coaches when the results do not meet expectations.


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