The fact that I even have to write this column, or even ask the question in the headline above, is infuriating at most, exhausting at minimum.
But here we are. Just days before the Kansas City Chiefs, powered by one of the most exciting and explosive offenses the NFL has ever seen, play in their second consecutive Super Bowl. And their offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, will be “at work” on Sunday, again, while white men with lesser resumes and accomplishments will be watching the Big Game from their new teams’ facilities, after being recently hired to fill head coaching vacancies.
On Tuesday, the Chiefs’ assistant coaches will be available to the media, and I can guarantee you that Bieniemy will be asked about why he keeps getting passed over, as he’s been interviewed 13 times over the last few years. The Bucs, Dolphins, Bengals, Browns, Giants, Panthers, Jaguars, Chargers, Falcons, Lions, Texans, and Jets (twice) have all said, “thanks, but no thanks.” And when those questions are asked, Bieniemy will more than likely take the high road as he’s done in the past.
“I’ll just say this: Anybody who works in any organization or any job, they want to be rewarded for the right reasons,” Bieniemy recently told USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell:
When somebody wants to hire me, that will be the best job that has found me and that will be the best job that I have found. Because we connected. So, when it comes to hiring, I can’t control what goes on in the owner’s head. I can’t force them to make the decision. My job is to make sure that when I’m in there giving that interview, I’m being my most authentic self. They get to see me, feel me for who I am and what I’m about. ...
But on top of that, if they don’t see all the things that will help them grow as an organization, that’s okay. Because guess what? I have an opportunity here to work with a Hall of Fame head coach [in Andy Reid], we’ve got some great people here who happen to be great football players and we’ve had a great deal of success. I enjoy what I do.
Those are the words of a 51-year-old Black man who understands how the world works. We’re told to keep our heads down, do our jobs, and never complain, even when we should. Because when you’re Black in this country, getting upset about the way you’ve been treated will quickly get you labeled an “angry Black man” or and “Angry Black woman.” That’s why Bieniemy’s quote embodies Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high.” But always being the bigger person is strenuous activity, especially when the evidence is on your side.
A 2019 report from ESPN revealed that minority coaches led winning teams more often than white coaches, while also landing on the hot seat more often than their white counterparts.
Watching everybody else get a chance at something you’ve proven you deserve would infuriate even the most passive person. Unfortunately, it’s an experience Black people endure daily. Bieniemy being passed over is just one end of the spectrum that Black coaches deal with in the NFL, while the Texans’ hiring of David Culley — making him the only African-American hired to fill one of the league’s seven head-coaching vacancies — is at the other.
From every viewpoint, it’s easy to see that the system is rigged, unfair, and discriminating. This brings me back to the question that’s posed in the headline. Because what would happen if Eric Bieniemy, or any other Black coach in the NFL, decided that they’d reached their breaking point and unapologetically opened up about their experiences and shared their feelings in a brutally honest way?
I have no idea. But if it did happen, would you “hear” what they had to say, or would you actually listen?