Sunday, June 7, 2020
Bronco's Coach Fangio, Racism, Discrimination, & the problem of not seeing color.
Many White Americans were raised with the idea of "not seeing color" as the way to combat racism and prejudice. By pledging to "judge people on the content of their character" as MLK had dreamed of, we believed were being anti-racist.
But we weren't. And that's a problem.
When Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said he dreamed of a day when his children would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character," he was not hoping or asking that people ignore race and color. It was not a call for society to be color blind. In fact, being color blind in contemporary American society can lead many white Americans to inadvertently condone racism and discrimination, or to at the very least lose the ability to recognize it, call it out, and work toward correcting injustice. That unfortunate blindspot is what led Denver Bronco's head coach Vic Fangio to make a careless, ignorant, and harmful comment on race this week. Specifically, in response to the ongoing protests against police brutality, the death of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement, Fangio said:
"I think our problems in the NFL along those lines are minimal. We're a league of meritocracy. You earn what you get, you get what you earn. I don't see racism at all in the NFL, I don't see discrimination in the NFL," Fangio told reporters Tuesday when asked about his experiences in the league over the past four decades. "We all live together, joined as one, for one common goal, and we all intermingle and mix tremendously. If society reflected an NFL team, we'd all be great."
Here's my response, published in the Denver Post today:
The Broncos aren’t ready for the season, and training camp won’t help.
The problem is they have a blindspot, and it’s not an issue at left tackle.
The blindspot is a head coach who can’t see, and it’s not because he’s in his sixties and in need of a new glasses.
Vic Fangio believes the NFL has “no racism at all.” He claims there’s no discrimination in the NFL’s meritocracy. Yet, it’s shocking to believe Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job because his athletic skills don’t merit one. It’s equally shocking to imply few Black men have worked hard enough to “merit” a coaching position.
Coach Fangio quickly issued an apology after social media erupted in criticism over the insensitive remarks. Yet an apology doesn’t change his mindset. And the words he used simply reiterated his ignorance: Fangio said there is “no color in the locker room.” But his locker room is filled with color, and players can’t just take off their skin color like they do a uniform. For a leader to refuse to see his players’ racial identity means he also refuses to acknowledge the challenges Black men face every day.
Athletes know strength and change come through hard work and training. A team meeting won’t fix coach’s ignorance. Pledging to “listen” to players won’t change his mindset when he refuses to see their racial identity. Diversity and equity training is now every bit as important for the Broncos as sprints and out routes.
Fangio may be a veteran in the NFL, but he still has much to learn about the league. His players and the Broncos will benefit from his education.
Racism and discrimination are real and persistent threats in contemporary society, and it is not enough to not be racist -- we must be anti-racist. And we must see and acknowledge the presence of race and color in our lives. For white people that includes moving past the belief in a colorblind society to an acknowledgment of systemic, or institutional, racism, and the existence of White Privilege. Diversity and equity training is a valuable, if not indispensable, part of being anti-racist and taking an active role in breaking down the history of injustice based on race. I have benefited and grown through my profession taking an active role in working with people like Glenn Singleton and the Pacific Education Group to learn about the issue and to "do the work," which includes a willingness to have courageous conversations.
If you are interested in engaging with this topic, a good place to start is this book: