If you were to ask me this question in a bar, I wouldn’t hesitate to answer. If the Eagles were playing on Sunday and we were sharing a pitcher of beer (or two), I would respond immediately. I would tell you that I think Chip Kelly is a racist.
We are not, however, in a bar. And, talking about racism and systemic inequality in America is tough. It requires much more self-awareness and intellectual engagement than usually exists in a sports bar.
Thank god for the Internet.
Over the last year, Kelly has traded or cut four talented black players. DeSean Jackson, LeSean "Shady" McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and Brandon Boykin once were Eagles, and now they aren't.
The story goes that Chip has gotten rid of these players to institute a strong team “culture” and prioritizing players with “character.” Forbes profiled the Chip and praised his "culture of dignity."
His players disagree.
Kelly responded, but didn’t necessarily help himself. At a 2015 May press conference, Kelly was asked to respond to the implications that he has cut some players from his team, in part, because those guys are black:
In this quote, Chip concocts a cocktail equal parts white privilege and Orwellian doublespeak.
White folks hear “culture and factors” and nod approvingly. Black people don’t. Stephen A. Smith certainly isn’t buying what Chip is selling. He quit Hot Takes for long enough to use his ESPN platform to challenge Kelly: "Chip Kelly makes decisions over the last couple of years that, dare I say, leave a few brothers feeling uncomfortable." Stephen A. gets a lot wrong, but he gets this right.
Smith isn’t saying that Kelly is definitely a racist, but he isn’t going the other way either. Stephan A. tries to remind America that racism isn’t easy to talk about, and it deserves sincere thought and conversation.
Shady McCoy also understands how nuanced racism is, and how racists aren’t necessary bad dudes. Shady implied that Chip was a racist, and then called him a genius in the next interview. Racism and genius are not mutually exclusive character traits. McCoy didn’t contradict himself. He gave mindful feedback to an industry leader and former boss.
Writers who rationalize Kelly’s actions and defend his racism need to dig deeper.
Yes, Kelly has signed black free agents. He has drafted black players.
Having a black friend, however, no longer insulates you from racist allegations. Adding black players doesn’t mean Chip Kelly isn’t a racist. Especially when 67 percent of the league is black. Racists can have black friends. Racist coaches can draft black players.
It doesn’t matter how many black players Kelly adds to the team. It doesn’t matter how many white players he cuts.
DeSean Jackson’s voice matters. The words of Shady McCoy matter. Brandon Boykin’s story matters.
Black voices matter in the NFL. They matter in America. Stop dismissing their words.
White privilege will continue to protect Coach Kelly, and will continue to plague black Eagles as long as sports journalists permit it.
Just because this story doesn’t involve X’s and O’s or free agent signings doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Forcing Chip Kelly to consider his racial identity, and the racial identities of his players isn’t “nonsense” or “ridiculousness.”
Let’s get folks in bars across America start talking about racism, privilege, and inequality. It won’t ruin football, I promise.
Let’s get Chip some diversity training. It might just help the Eagles win some football games. That’s all that matters, right?