The international uprising in response to George Floyd’s murder, police brutally beating protesters in every city and backlash from NFL players suddenly has Roger Goodell, NFL owners, executives, and coaches racing to see who can raise the Black Lives Matter Fists in the air the highest. Responses have ranged from horrible (Drew Brees Take 1), fake, blistering (Martellus Bennett), and genuine.
One of the most impressive responses came from an unlikely source, Kyle Shanahan, the son of former NFL coach Mike Shanahan, who was last publicly seen in 2016 campaign-stumping for Donald Trump’s “high character.” Son Kyle seemed less enamored with Donald.
First off, apologies to my editor as I told him I would body slam Kyle Shanahan after reading a few select quotes of his out of context. Afterwards, I listened to his entire 30-minute press conference where he used 90 percent of that time to address policing and white privilege, to praise Kaepernick, and condemn the lack of black coaches in the NFL.
Kyle seemed sincere, forceful, and said the word “white” or “black” 44 times, while addressing white privilege, policing, and NFL discrimination against black coaches. After a full listen, it is hard to deny his sincerity. But only Shanahan’s future actions will verify that.
At the same time, Colin Kaepernick is still blackballed, former Kaepernick teammate and fellow kneeler Eric Reid remains unsigned, and Kyle was involved in both men’s employment status (more on that later). If sincere, it seems logical that any genuine attempt to confront police brutality would begin with re-employing the players who have been fighting it the longest.
Despite Kyle’s gap between present words and past actions, we should explore them anyway. He is an imperfect messenger but has a message other white NFL coaches should hear. Ideally, white coaches would already be inspired by Miami coach Brian Flores, and other black athletes imploring white voices to speak up, but the results so far have been underwhelming..
Shanahan had several Zoom meetings with his players the last two weeks on George Floyd. Let’s take a look at some of Shanahan’s strongest statements
1. Kyle on Hearing Black Voices
Some Quick hits:
- “Black people are fed up and we’re all, I know I’m fed up with seeing this. How do we stop it?”
- “What they’re screaming for is for people to listen because they’re trying to educate them.”
- “Just listen to what almost every black person I’ve ever met has been complaining about.”
- “This is the cry for help that they’ve been giving for a long time and people don’t totally listen. I think everyone’s at fault for that. I’m not saying black people are because they’re the ones who have been screaming and I think everyone’s at fault for not totally listening.”
Shanahan wants white people to hear the screams.
2. Kyle on Racism and White Privilege:
“White people have to acknowledge… what’s going on with the police force,” says Shanahan. “The numbers say it. Also, the life experiences of all black people say it. That’s something that isn’t debatable. That’s a fact. It’s gone on way too long and I think now, I think white people are listening more than I’ve ever heard before, which is good. That’s the starting point. I don’t want to debate it anymore. No one does. Open your eyes.”
Whether racism, or racist policing, Shanahan reiterated that they weren’t debatable.
- “Racism is a big deal in our country right now. That’s a fact. That’s not debatable. It’s always been a big deal. It is today just like it was a hundred years ago. I don’t think all white people realize that.”
- “Racism’s all over. This is what black people deal with every day. White people are very sheltered to that and ignorant.”
- “There was a difference between the black friend who was scared [of police] and me who actually wasn’t, because I thought I had rights. That’s a white privilege that not everyone realizes, and people need to know, just because you don’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.
So why the change now?
“It’s embarrassing to say, probably, but I think white people are more passionate about it now than then. That’s our ignorance and that’s what upsets black people. They have every right to be upset because they haven’t just been telling us this the last few weeks. They’ve been telling us this since our grandparents and I’ve been hearing it from every one of my friends since I was 14. Whatever’s got to get changed, let’s do it.”
3. Kyle on Discrimination of Black Coaches
Kyle issued a strong forceful commendable statement on discrimination of black coaches.
“How the heck are there only four black coaches out of 32 head coaches? How are there only two GMs.,” says Shanahan. “I mean, we’re in a predominantly [black league], the majority of our players are black. So, the fact that there’s that few, that’s not debatable.”
It’s really not. And former NFL tight end Martellus Bennet agrees and tweeted: “You [can’t] tell me (new Giants head coach) Joe Judge is more primed and ready to lead a team to championship than (Chiefs offensive coordinator) Eric Bieniemy.”
Perhaps The Onion had the best analysis with: “NFL Reminds Black Coaches They’ll Get Their Chance Once League Runs Out Of Grudens And Shanahans“
One way to increase black coaches is to reduce the nepotism that helped Shanahan get into the NFL through his father’s connections before becoming his dad’s Offensive Coordinator for four seasons in DC. His father Mike would get fired as head coach, but not before securing work for Kyle who had the 25th, 26th, and 23rd ranked offense in three of his first four years. No matter how good Kyle might be now, it was nepotism that provided his access and training wheels no black coach could dream of.
The Nepotism Football League is one of several white coach pipelines that leads to head-coaching jobs. Shanahan says, “I think they’re trying to address it.”
But the lack of self-awareness of Kyle’s own advantages is troubling.
Jim Caldwell, twice the coach as his Lions successor Matt Patricia, disagrees. Despite Caldwell going to the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning; winning one with Joe Flacco as offensive coordinator; and improving the production of Matthew Stafford, the “quarterback genius” label often applied to Shanahan somehow escaped Caldwell’s incredible production as coach.
Kyle says, “Hell yeah, we want to fix,” it. And in fairness to him, he is one of the few white head coaches this side of Bruce Arians to provide multiple management opportunities beyond white men. Tight ends guru Jon Embree is also Shanahan’s assistant head coach and Richard Hightower is Special Teams Coordinator. Embree and Hightower are African-American. Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh is Muslim, and the team’s Offensive Assistant Katie Sowers is a woman.
That said, bank on 49ers Pass Game Coordinator Mike Lefleur to be fast-tracked to a head coaching job like his brother Matt Lefleur, Green Bay Head Coach.
4. Kyle on Protests
“I’m all for protests. I’m all for change. I hope the protests cause change. I hope whatever we’ve got to do to get the change, I’m for it and I know our organization is. I know [CEO] Jed [York] is, I know our players are. We always have been.”
Saying Jed York and the organization “always have been supporting players” is like Drew Brees saying he “was always an ally.” York issued an empty statement on what’s going on around the country, and Eric Reid wasn’t having it.
Eric Reid says that York “begged him not to kneel.”
Shanahan and 49ers GM John Lynch need to be questioned, too. During the middle of Eric Reid’s contract year, he was moved to linebacker, a position he hadn’t played in years, and then was cut at the end of the 2017 season. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said the decisions came from above his pay grade.
As of this writing, ESPN ranks Eric Reid as the best free agent safety available, and depth at safety as the 49ers’ biggest weakness.
“The 49ers were the only team in the NFL last season whose safeties failed to record an interception,” writes Football Outsiders, “and they were in the bottom five in tackles at the position too.” In other news, Reid was 2nd in the NFL in tackles by a safety last year. He also knows the 49ers system.
If Kyle or Jed wants their words to have value, they know Eric’s number.
5. Shanahan on Colin Kaepernick:
“What Colin was protesting was something that should be respected by all humans. That did take a lot of courage. It is something that is 1000-percent wrong in what he was trying to fix and bring light to. And gosh, it was hard to bring light to the whole country because people didn’t want to totally hear it. It got diluted with so much different stuff… So, the whole debate on all the other stuff, the flag, everything, people don’t want to hear that. What he was doing was a big deal and the reason, whether you disagree with how he did it or not, it doesn’t matter. Colin did it the strongest out of anyone and people should respect him a ton for that and admire that.”
This sounds absolutely beautiful in June 2020. But in 2017, an incoming Shanahan publicly stated that as a dual threat QB, Kaepernick wasn’t a good fit in his offensive system. So Kap was cut mid-contract (was technically an “opt-out”, but he was told he would be cut), and Kyle moved forward with quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard, whose nuanced mastery of Kyle’s system produced a combined 1-15 record over the next two seasons.
If true, Shanahan’s “system” itself is white privilege.
It denied a superior QB a job due to Kyle’s shortcomings and inflexibility as a rookie head coach. But if John Harbaugh could make a midseason switch from Joe Flacco to Lamar Jackson, I trust an alleged QB genius like Kyle could figure it out. That is, unless of course, it was owner Jed York who ordered the Code Red, the same guy Reid says begged him not to kneel.
Either way, both Jed and Kyle are making 2020 statements that lack 2017 receipts. If they are truly sincere, their next step is to fight to get Kaepernick and Eric Reid back on NFL rosters.
Sorry, you don’t get to arrive four years late to the justice party, and kick out the hosts who organized it.
Kap and Reid don’t have a father as head coach in the league to get them access. Kyle could start by paying his white privilege forward and being the leading public voice to change that, through his team or the coaching network. In his 30-minute press conference, Kyle did a great job of drawing up various plays. Now it’s time to execute.