Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Eagles’

Lesean McCoy, Chip Kelly and the Trivialization of Racism – posted 5/17/2015 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/20/2015

May 17, 2015 4 comments

This piece appeared in the Concord Monitor on May 20, 2015 under the title “The Racism Game”.

The obsessive Deflategate scandal aside, probably no story in the football offseason was more surprising than the trade of Lesean McCoy. The Philadelphia Eagles traded McCoy, a star running back, to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonzo. In 2013, McCoy was the leading rusher in the NFL and in 2014 he finished third.

The whole episode would not be worthy of much discussion if not for McCoy’s public comments since the trade.

McCoy accused the Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly (former New Hampshire guy, by the way) of racism for making the trade. He said Kelly did not like or respect stars and he felt Kelly was getting rid of all the good Black players. In this connection he mentioned Desean Jackson, a former Eagle, who was a star wide receiver. Kelly had released Jackson the previous season. Jackson signed with the Redskins.

Others in the media like Stephen A. Smith of ESPN also accused Kelly of racism. He pointed to Kelly’s handling of wide receiver Riley Cooper after Cooper’s drunken, racist comments at a Kenny Chesney concert. Kelly let Cooper stay on the team. He gave Cooper a chance to make amends.

Since there may be no worse accusation than being called a racist, what is the evidence behind McCoy’s accusation of racism?

It appears to be that Kelly traded him. The Eagles did not want to pay the many millions McCoy wanted. The Bills signed McCoy to a 5 year, $40 million contract that includes $26.5 million in guaranteed money.

But what about McCoy’s accusation that Kelly is getting rid of all the good Black players? In free agency in 2015, the Eagles signed, among others, linebacker Brad Jones, cornerback Byron Maxwell, cornerback Walter Thurmond, running back Ryan Matthews, running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Miles Austin. In the draft, they took wide receiver Nelson Agholor and cornerback Eric Rowe. All are Black.

As for the rest of the team, Darren Sproles, Demeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox and Jordan Matthews are all fine players. Maybe not stars like McCoy but very good football players. They are also Black.

I think McCoy’s accusation of Kelly being racist was utterly unfounded. He was sliming a reputation out of anger because he was traded. But even worse, McCoy was unintentionally trivializing the meaning of racism.

False accusations rebound to the detriment of the accuser. They also are confusing because they point in the wrong direction. They do not direct attention to the real racism that does exist.

What McCoy said presents an unfair view of Kelly and his approach to coaching. Although McCoy is a great football player, he appears to be a narcissistic, self-centered multi-millionaire. I would guess that along with the salary cap McCoy’s exit from the Eagles had more to do with his not buying into Kelly’s system. Kelly is putting together his own team that has almost no leftovers from the Andy Reid era.

The most insightful article I have seen about Kelly’s unique approach to football coaching was from Philadelphia Daily News reporter, Paul Domowitch. In a piece wriiten on May 8, Domowitch argues that what Kelly wants has nothing to do with race or color.

“It is about work ethic and intelligence and commitment. It is about wanting smart players who, regardless of race, creed or salary-cap number, will buy into the Chip Kelly Plan and have an unquenchable desire to get better, no matter how much success they’ve already achieved.”

Domowitch cites a book by a Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck, as important to Kelly. The book is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dweck contrasts what she calls a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. Domowitch says Kelly wants players with a growth mindset. That is players who believe they can expand their potential through years of passion, hard work and training.

Kelly is a sports science guy. He very carefully looks at things like sleep regimen and nutrition. The team creates personalized performance smoothies for each player. Players wear sleep monitors so that coaches can correct poor performance due to lack of sleep. Kelly and the Eagles have invested heavily in strength and conditioning coaches. To quote Domowitch:

“Kelly wants players with a growth mindset who believe the harder they work the better they will continue to get. Contrary to what McCoy believes, he has absolutely no problem coaching stars. He just doesn’t care much for coaching players with star mentalities, black or white.”

When I heard about McCoy’s comments, I recalled another story I had read about Kelly from Dave Zirin, a sportswriter I respect. In 2011, Zirin was touring the country with Dr. John Carlos, a former Olympian and anti-racist campaigner. Carlos was one of the two Black athletes who had raised a clenched fist on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. That was an iconic and electrifying moment that galvanized anti-racists world-wide.

Zirin wrote how on the 2011 tour they were trying to speak to student-athletes in big-time NCAA football and basketball programs but overwhelmingly they got no response or a negative response from these programs. Only one coach from a big university sports program asked Carlos to come and speak to his team. That was Chip Kelly at Oregon.

In the piece, Zirin says he called John Carlos to get his recollections of the experience with Kelly. Carlos recalled that Kelly introduced him to his players as a person of principle and resolve and Kelly said that any successful team needed to share those kind of principles if they wanted to rise above being ordinary. Carlos remembered Kelly being passionate in having his players know the history of 1968 and the sacrifices made by Dr. Carlos and his generation of Black athletes.

Now does that sound like someone who is a racist?

I would suggest that trying to read in racist motivation to a football trade is a waste of time.

Most people seem to think of racism as something bad that someone says. While it certainly can be that, I would suggest quite a different understanding.

Racism is institutionalized in America. It is deeply embedded in our social structure with roots going back to slavery. We have ghettos in every major city; discrimination in housing, employment, health care and education; mass incarceration of young Black men; and, blatant police misconduct directed at minorities.

Racism is not about an unhappy football-playing multi-millionaire. We should be looking at the living and working conditions of the millions of everyday people who are struggling with little or no financial security. It is those conditions that need to be addressed.

Even with some good initiatives, the ascendance of the Obama presidency has not changed much for the masses of Black people in America (this is also true for poor and middle income people of all races). Obama’s presidency has been important symbolically but on issues like income inequality, it is hard to argue poor and middle income people have gained ground.

In surveying the field of potential Presidential candidates for 2016, I would say no candidate has distinguished him or herself by staking out a strong anti-racist platform. We remain in a dishonest period of denial and unconscious racism. We still pretend to phony colorblindness.

Accusations like McCoy’s do a disservice to the real struggle against racism. We need some truth tellers in the political arena and right now, they are lacking.

Desean Jackson, the Eagles and Racism – posted 4/13/2014

April 13, 2014 1 comment

As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, it was painful to watch the Eagles cut Desean Jackson. Not much to feel good about there. Your team loses an extremely talented wide receiver and they get nada. Plus they take a $6,000,000 salary cap hit.

Jackson is a special player. It is not just the fact that he had 82 catches last season. Eagles’ fans will always remember that punt return against the Giants at the end of the game in 2010. I was watching at a sports bar in Anchorage Alaska that was full of Giants fans. I remember all the Giants fans filing silently out of the bar after that punt return. Earlier in the game they had been raucous. It was an exhilarating moment to be an Eagles fan.

Jackson’s speed, his swagger, his big play ability and his sheer talent put him in a unique category. The Eagles have not had players like that. I am certainly not surprised the Redskins signed him. I expect there are some Eagles players who wonder about this move as well. Witness Lesean McCoy in the Philly paper today.

After the Eagles cut him, I was surprised by much of the media speculation. Just to recap: there was the story about his gang ties. Then there was the Richard Sherman piece in Sports Illustrated that contrasted the fact the Eagles re-signed Riley Cooper, infamous for his racist video, with their handling of Jackson. Some speculated that the Eagles timed the cut to coincide with the gang story. The implication was the Eagles slimed Jackson on the way out to make this contentious move easier for the fan base to swallow. Eagles’ management knew it would be unpopular.

Dave Zirin, a sports columnist I generally admire, chimed in with his own defense of Richard Sherman and Jackson.

There were also other stories about how Desean has been lost since his father Bill died of pancreatic cancer in May 2009. That loss was, by all accounts, devastating to Desean. Bill Jackson had been a sports coach as well as a critical positive influence. Michael Vick and Jason Avant had been two players on the Eagles who had mentored Jackson and they are now gone.

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has announced they are going to investigate how the Eagles released Jackson in light of the strange coincidence of the story coming out right before his release.The investigation will look at whether the Eagles smeared Jackson.

In his piece, Richard Sherman spent time talking about how he and Desean grew up together in Los Angeles, played sports, and hung with people from their neighborhood, some of whom went to jail or were accused of crimes. He thought it was unfair Desean was being judged by the company he kept.

I like Richard Sherman and I admire his bravado and I like to hear what he has to say. He might be the best corner on the planet. Still, i think his piece on Jackson and most of the media speculation are way off. I think, in this instance, accusations of racism against Chip Kelly or the Eagles are rubbish.

When the Eagles cut Jackson, they said nothing except that they were parting ways. As a new coach, developing a new system, Kelly has a right to decide who he wants on the team and who he thinks gives him the best chance to win.

Kelly did not want Jackson. Kelly is a smart guy and he knew what he had in Jackson. Still he did not want him. My best guess is that Jackson was a royal pain and Kelly was tired of it. Joseph Santoliquito of CBS Sports wrote that Jackson was “blatantly insubordinate” to Kelly and cursed him out several times in front of the team. Jackson had a history of missing team meetings.

Jason Whitlock of ESPN wrote that Jackson was “a massive headache for a coaching staff”. Many wide receivers are divas and Jackson was the latest Philadelphia incarnation. He is following in the T.O. tradition.

The story said, in part:

“…sources close to Jackson and within the Eagles organization say, it originally was Jackson’s off-field behavior that concerned the front office. A bad attitude, an inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with head coach Chip Kelly were the original reasons for his fall from grace.”

Whitlock argues that the Eagles had legitimate reasons for cutting Jackson. His selfishness, his unreliability and his difficulty committing to a team concept were likely factors. Whitlock wrote that Jackson was uninterested in practicing hard. He also mentioned Jackson coasting through an entire season because he did not want to risk injury in a contract year.

For those who were watching, there was that sideline incident with the Eagles wide receiver coach. The Eagles have a very young team and coaches may have worried about Jackson influencing other players especially at a time the coach has made dramatic changes and is trying to get all players to buy into his system.

Based on the evidence, I agree with Whitlock that it is irresponsible to paint the Eagles as racist in their dealings with Jackson. It did not work out and the Eagles decided to move on.

Raising the spectre of racism on this set of facts trivializes the issue. Racism remains an urgent problem in the United States. We still have our ghettos in every major city. In spite of making huge strides, African-Americans are discriminated against in employment, housing, education and health care. Racism is institutionalized and we have far to go as a society in addressing it.

When I was in Alaska, I read Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow”. That book focused on the mass incarceration of young black men. I think the book is the best introduction to how racism is currently functioning in the United States. It deserves far more attention than it has received.

Desean Jackson is a multi-millionaire. His deal with the Redskins gives him $16 million guaranteed. I am not feeling sorry for him. If we are going to talk about racism, how about focus on the millions of minority people who are living in poverty in no limelight. Where are the advocates for them? Our system continues to fail poor people whether they are black, Latino, other minority or white. That is a class issue as well as a race issue.

I did want to say one other thing about Riley Cooper since he was injected into the Jackson story. What Riley Cooper said was moronic and racist. Hopefully he has learned from that hugely embarrassing experience. We need to allow room for people who say racist stuff to learn from the error of their ways.

I honestly do not know what Cooper has learned but maybe he did learn that racism is evil. Maybe he will grow from that awful experience and become a better person. I do not like the holier than thou, self-righteousness of people who act like they have never said stupid things.

After taking an Eagles team that was 4-12 and turning it around in one year, I give credit to Chip Kelly and I remain optimistic that he has a vision and knows exactly what he is doing. Time will tell.

Lament of a Philadelphia Eagles Fan – posted 9/29/2013

September 29, 2013 3 comments

It is not easy being a Philadelphia Eagles fan while living in New England. You are definitely part of a minority group: a leper in Patriotland. I know there are some geographical transplants who successfully make the transition to rooting for the Patriots. This is harder when you come from Philadelphia and grew up as an Eagles fan.

Patriot fans are passionate but Eagles fans are rabid. I went to my first Eagles game in 1956 when I was 6 years old. The Eagles played the Detroit Lions at the old Shibe Park also known as Connie Mack Stadium. The Lions were led by legendary quarterback Bobby Layne.

The Eagles lost that day and I remember that I cried. It was the first of many losses to come that I witnessed. The Eagles are one of those NFL teams who have never won a Super Bowl, a fact never far from the minds of Eagles fans. In the Philadelphia mind, whatever our success in the Andy Reid era, we are still in sports hell.

I learned about football from my parents. Both were sports nuts. They were hardcore Philadelphia fans, especially the Eagles and Phillies. My dad got season’s tickets to Eagles’ games starting in the late 50’s. He and I used to park far away and schlep across the often freezing bridge to Franklin Field, the University of Pennsylvania stadium, where the Eagles played before they moved to the Vet.

I do want to mention the year 1960. There are some happy Philadelphia football memories. 1960 was the last time the Eagles won the NFL championship. It was in the era before Super Bowls. I was there with my dad, watching the Eagles beat the Packers 17-13.

Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, nicknamed the Dutchman, led the Eagles. I went to Friends Central School with Van Brocklin’s daughter, Karen. Norm seemed like a really nice guy. When he came to school in the afternoon to pick up Karen, he went to the school playground and he threw the football around with us kids. How cool was that! He also punted to a small army of students who wanted to receive his kicks. Van Brocklin actually was the Eagles punter, something you would never see today. I do not believe there are any pro quarterbacks who double as punters now.

Van Brocklin was surrounded by some great players. I would mention Chuck Bednarik who played both ways, center and middle linebacker; Tommy McDonald,a small, speedy and gifted wide receiver; and tight end Pete Retzlaff, a 5 time pro bowler. The Packers had Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. Ray Nitschke anchored their defense. That was a great win with Buck Shaw besting Vince Lombardi.

However, as I noted, it has not been duplicated. Not that it matters but I do not think Patriot fans can understand the feelings of Eagles fans because of all the Patriots success. Patriot fans are spoiled. It is not just the Patriots. In the last decade, Boston has had the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins all win as well. Before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, it had been 25 years since any Philly team won a major sports championship. We are talking the 1983 Sixers with Doctor J and Moses Malone as the last winners. That qualifies as a sports drought.

After the 1960’s, I admit I lost interest in football for a long time. I was not at Franklin Field in 1968 when that famous episode in Eagles history happened: the booing of Santa Claus. It was December 15, 1968. The Eagles were 2-11 at the time. They had started the season 0-11. Still, 54,000 loyal Eagles fans showed up. The weather was miserable that day, snowing and sleeting. It was biting cold with a whipping wind chill. Fans had to clear their seats of three inches of snow and slush.

The half time show was supposed to feature Santa making an entrance on an ornate sleigh dragged by eight life-sized fiberglass reindeer. The sleigh float quickly got stuck in the field which had turned to muck. That necessitated the entrance of Santa by foot. The other problem was that the Santa who had been hired for that day was a no-show. Not clear whether Bad Santa was drunk but he did not appear. As a result, the Eagles entertainment director approached a young fan, Frank Olivo, who, in the holiday spirit, had dressed in a red corduroy Santa outfit. Olivo was recruited on the spot to step in and play Santa.

As the 50 piece brass band played “Here Comes Santa Claus”, Olivo entered the field between two columns of Eaglette cheerleaders who were dressed as elves. Olivo recalled what happened next:

“That’s when the booing started (when the band played “Here Comes Santa Claus”). At first, I was scared because it was so loud. But then I figured, hey, it was just good-natured teasing. I’m a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny…
When I hit the end zone and the snow balls started, I was waving my finger at the crowd, saying, “You’re not getting anything for Christmas.”

Olivo says he was actually hit by several dozen snowballs. Maybe 100 were thrown. People joked that some of the people sitting in the upper deck were more accurate passers than the Eagles quarterback. Olivo commented that he was thankful for the snow. When the Eagles entertainment director asked if he wanted to play Santa the next year, he declined. “I told him, no way. If it doesn’t snow, they’ll probably throw beer bottles”.

I know the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl in 1981 under Dick Vermeil although ultimately they lost to the Raiders. I came back to football in the late 80’s/early 90’s. The names Randall Cunningham, Buddy Ryan and Reggie White come to mind. I remember the Fog Bowl in Chicago but not that much else about the team. I did go to a few games at the Vet. The Vet itself deserves a bit of comment. It was famous for its concrete-like turf and its court in the basement.

I never saw the Eagles Court. They were full service: starting in 1998, the Eagles had a court, a judge, and a jail at the stadium. Apparently, justice was dispensed quickly for drunk or unruly fans. Penalties included forcing offenders to give up season’s tickets, pay a $400 fine and sit in jail for the rest of the game. There is no Eagles Court at the Linc.

Philadelphia had so many lean years. All the losing seasons, bad coaches and bad teams are a blur to me. I do remember the name Joe Kuharich which I associate with multiple 2-12 years. Football got somewhat redefined during those years. A good year was not about making the playoffs. A good year would be defined as a year when the Eagles beat the Cowboys or Giants. To some extent, that is still true.

Then along came the Jeff Lurie/Andy Reid era. That changed the Eagles’ fortunes. From being a team of perennial losers, Reid turned the franchise around. Eagles’ fans became used to winning. For almost a decade, the Eagles were contenders and usually they were the best team in the NFC East.

While Eagles fans are typically critical of Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb for not winning a Super Bowl, by any rational standard, this was a special time in Eagles history. They never won so consistently for so long. They made it to 5 conference championship games and 1 Super Bowl.

If I have any criticism, it was the failure of Reid to surround Donovan with quality wide receivers. With the exception of 2004 and the acquisition of T.O. (admittedly a mixed blessing) the Eagles almost inexplicably failed to give Donovan receivers who were difference-makers. That might have gotten them over the hump.

In his early years, Donovan was a genuinely exciting player. Besides having a great arm, he was a running threat. Repeated injuries took their toll on him but he was a tough guy. I remember him playing in 2002 against the Cardinals and throwing 4 TDs while playing on a broken ankle. Eagles fans tend to remember all the wormburners and the alleged throwing up in the Super Bowl. That is very uncharitable. It was nice to see Donovan and Reid get honored at the recent game against the Chiefs. They both deserved the honor.

My dad used to call me on the phone multiple times during Eagles games to report on developments. That went on through almost the whole Andy Reid time in Philly until my dad died. It was a little before the NFL package came into existence so my dad kept me informed. My dad was a big Donovan fan. We had some wonderful times following those games and the team. I knew a lot without watching myself because of my dad’s reports.

I am not going to say much about the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. It could have gone the other way. It was a close game and the Eagles lost 24-21. That game was not Andy Reid’s finest hour. That was a tough loss.

One player I do want to mention – Brian Dawkins. For heart, grit, and for giving his all on the field, I would rate Dawk as possibly my favorite Eagle player of all time. I would imagine that opinion is widely shared in Philadelphia.

We now enter a new period. Many question marks. I remain optimistic about Coach Chip Kelly and the future of the team. Kelly appears to be very creative and original. There is nothing boring about his team. Maybe he will turn out to be some kind of football genius and maybe he won’t. I think it takes a couple years to turn a football franchise around. The Eagles had reached a deadened place at the end of Andy Reid’s tenure as coach.

I probably share the doubts of many fans about Mike Vick. It seems unlikely Vick can change his style of play in a way that will lessen his chance of injury. He always tries to stretch plays but he takes so many hits. The idea that he could make it through any season seems like wishful thinking. I hope I am wrong. Vick does have a great arm and he can still move. Turnovers remain his achilles heel.

If Vick is not the quarterback, then who? That is a big question. Nick Foles and Matt Barkley both seem talented to me. The Eagles do have some great offensive players. Desean Jackson and Lesean McCoy are both great. The Jeremy Maclin injury was a killer though. The defense is certainly suspect. Generously put, it is a work in progress. That unit seems a couple years away from being good. Scary to think what Peyton Manning might do to them later today. Again, I hope I am wrong.

Before my dad died, he said, “Jonny, maybe you will get to see the Eagles win a Super Bowl.” I honestly cannot remember if I hid my skepticism. Eagles fans generally expect the worst. I suppose there is the law of averages. Eventually, the Eagles are destined to win a Super Bowl as long as football continues. It is hard to know whether that will be in my lifetime or the lifetime of my children, who, I confess, are not Eagles fans.