There's No Such Thing as a Race Card, LeSean McCoy Played Himself

Khalid Salaam@@MrKhalidSGuest ColumnistMay 11, 2015

USA Today

There’s at least one person happy about Deflategate, and that’s LeSean McCoy’s publicist. The controversy surrounding the New England Patriots will dominate NFL discussions for the next several news cycles, keeping McCoy’s recent comments—inflammatory accusations that paint his former head coach, Chip Kelly, as a racist—from reaching critical mass.

Maybe this will give the Bills' new running back time to recalibrate his thoughts.

In a recent interview with ESPN The Magazine's Mike Rodak, McCoy intimates that the reasons why he’s no longer on the Philadelphia Eagles are related to Kelly’s opinion on black players:

The relationship was never really great. I feel like I always respected him as a coach. I think that's the way he runs his team. He wants the full control. You see how fast he got rid of all the good players. Especially all the good black players. He got rid of them the fastest. That's the truth. There's a reason. ... It's hard to explain with him. But there's a reason he got rid of all the black players—the good ones—like that.

Really?

For most people, there’s zero upside to making false statements of this magnitude. There are certain accusations that sting more than others, and racist and/or preferential treatment at a job is one of them. Bridges are charred, lines in the sand are drawn and people hold grudges. Even with legitimate claims, it’s no walk in the park. Claims of bias—whether based on race, gender or religion—are never taken lightly by the accuser. Claimants risk their careers, and employers risk their reputations.

Of course, there are many people who think of terms such as “racial bias” as relics from a less enlightened era. That these sorts of things just don’t happen in workplaces anymore.

Of course, the actual truth says another thing. 

Every year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) deals with thousands of cases alleging racial bias and hostile workplaces. Here are a few recent ones.

In EEOC v. A.C. Widenhouse Inc., a jury in 2013 found in favor of two black employees of a North Carolina trucking company who spoke out against a hostile work environment. The company fired one of the men for speaking out. The EEOC found that, among the many heinous transgressions, one of the man’s co-workers once put out a noose and asked him if he would like to “hang from our family tree.”

In 2012, a black employee at a restaurant in Wisconsin was fired for complaining about his co-workers' racially charged language. He reported that his direct managers had “posted images of a noose, a Klan hood and other racist depictions, including a dollar bill that was defaced with a noose around the neck of a Black-faced George Washington, swastikas, and the image of a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood” at the job site. The EEOC sued the restaurant.

In 2005, the EEOC obtained a half million-dollar settlement for plaintiffs in a case alleging violations at a nursing facility in Washington State. Among the charges were managers referring to a black nurse as a “slave,” preferential treatment in shift assignments and segregating lunchtime and lunchrooms based on race.

Again, this isn’t stuff from some archived PBS documentary. These things are happening in the present day. Most people just grin and bear it. Others fight back and risk their livelihood. Nobody is alleging the Eagles organization did anything of this sort, only that accusations of bias and discrimination shouldn’t be ignored on face value. Some situations are legitimate and serious, and McCoy’s seemingly fraudulent assertions should be looked at as an outlier and not the norm.

LeSean McCoy's claims of discrimination on Kelly's part have come into question.
LeSean McCoy's claims of discrimination on Kelly's part have come into question.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

When you come across claims such as the one McCoy has levied at Kelly, the first course of action is to look for a pattern. As for Kelly’s Eagles, their offseason moves have been equal-opportunity bizarre—several head-scratchers but nothing that seems untoward. You also look for supporting voices. Surely, if McCoy’s sentiment has merit, others will rally to co-sign. I have no idea if McCoy’s smoke stems from an actual fire, but it’s telling that others aren’t chiming in with similar opinions on the matter.

There were several players jettisoned by Kelly this offseason, any of whom could speak to a culture of race-based personnel decisions with the specificity that those of us outside the NovaCare Complex cannot.

Former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin left on his own accord for a bigger deal with Kansas City and hasn’t said anything resembling McCoy’s comments. Nothing from cornerback Cary Williams, who signed with Seattle. The closest we’ve come to any sign of corroboration of McCoy’s charge is linebacker Trent Cole tweeting out "no respect" after his release in March and guard Todd Herremans responding on Twitter to a follower questioning if Kelly has racist ways tweeted, “I feel he is equally racist to all races … which I guess would make him … not racist.”

Both Cole and Herremans were salary-cap casualties and not part of some bigger conspiracy. Also, Herremans is white, so there’s that.

McCoy’s trade (which brought back linebacker Kiko Alonso, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year who missed all of last season with a torn ACL) was one of a truckload of moves the Eagles have made in the offseason. Here’s the thing, though: Most of the new players brought in have been black, including last year’s rushing leader DeMarco Murray and former Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

So it raises the question: Where is McCoy going with this?

In his initial response after being traded, he didn’t mention race at all. In an April interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer (h/t Pro Football Talk), he voiced his displeasure by hinting that Kelly values his system over players or that it’s an ego issue.

Now, though, he saying it’s a racial issue. Kelly is a guy who had 1968 Olympian John Carlos speak to his team when he coached at the University of Oregon. Carlos isn’t Ben Carson—it would seem unlikely Carlos is the guy speaking to your team if you have any genuine racial animus.

Whatever McCoy is doing, it smells like an afternoon at a seafood loading dock. Meanwhile, there’s no adhesive holding this claim together.

It’s a serious issue and therefore not easy to shoulder-shrug any allegations. And yet, that’s exactly the Eagles’ and public’s overall response to McCoy’s assertion.

His comments are wildly inflammatory as is, but they're made worse because of the people involved. Kelly is human click-bait for sports news purveyors and consumers, due to his recent decision-making that has had many, even the most nuanced football minds, scratching their heads (he actually signed Tim Tebow).

In an ironic twist, McCoy's careless rhetoric is making Kelly a sympathetic figure. Now, instead of the narrative focusing on his personnel decisions, it’s centered on his being unfairly attacked by what some might dismiss as a hothead black football player.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Over the last five seasons, McCoy has turned himself into one of the best running backs in the game. Twice named to the NFL first team, Shady is a devastating talent who has only missed five games in his career. His 6,792 career rushing-yardage total is the highest in team history. If you put together an all-time Eagles team, it’s his name slotted in the starting running back position. It’s reasonable that he looked at his numbers and thought he was safe, but, alas, he wasn’t.

The Eagles' counter is that he’s not Kelly’s preferred type of back. That his jagged running style is susceptible to negative-yardage plays. Kelly prefers backs who hit the line of scrimmage, blast through the hole and get on with it. That’s a fine argument and, as the coach, a totally reasonable position to take.

It’s a cruel business, but that doesn’t give anyone the license to make reckless assertions of racism.

McCoy has now painted himself into a corner—one that his new hometown fans likely notice. He’s become red meat for the “I’m tired of players who get paid millions to play a kid’s game” segment of our society. Somehow, sports are the final straw for these types, folks who complain about making an honest living on talk radio and then go to their local cineplex and watch Kevin James fat-shame himself to the tune of a eight-figure payload.

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

McCoy has re-energized the set that enjoys subverting progressive debate, and the term you’re hearing from fans and some people in the media (Jim Rome, for example) is “race card.” This term is used by the same people who believe in Bigfoot and trickle-down economics. It’s used by cowards and the cognitive lessers among our ranks, to try to bury legitimate discriminatory situations. These types love McCoy right now because he gives their counterpoints wood to burn on. He is their new poster boy.

The folly here, however, is to scrutinize McCoy for crying wolf and to assume that his baseless claims muddy up the discussion landscape and make it harder for legitimate gripes of discrimination to the see light of day. 

But this is not that.

McCoy’s comments are casting McCoy in an unsavory light and making McCoy look bad—to a new fanbase, at that. Certainly, this is not the way you want to start out—by introducing yourself as a loser to a fanbase starving for a winner. It’s likely McCoy will regret these comments, especially when reporters bring them up continuously over the summer.

How it plays out from here is anyone’s guess, but the smart play is to issue some sort of apology. If there’s proof, let it out, but if not, take responsibility for this failure of rhetorical judgment—simple and plain. The "race card" is a myth, but McCoy surely seems to be playing himself.

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