Earlier this week, author John Feinstein dropped a bombshell regarding Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s handling of the benching of quarterback Donovan McNabb. Feinstein argued that the various explanations offered by Shanahan and his son, Kyle, to support the decision suggest stereotypical thinking based on race.
“I think there’s racial coding going on here, and it’s my belief that that kind of behavior is worth firing a coach for,” Feinstein said on CSN Washington’s Washington Post Live Extra!, via Dan Steinberg of D.C. Sports Bog. “Dan Snyder’s not gonna do it, but I think it’s out of control.”
Feinstein pointed to the contention that McNabb didn’t know the terminology for the two-minute offense (in other words, as Feinstein describes it, “he’s stupid”), the “cardiovascular endurance” fallback (in other words, per Feinstein, “he’s fat”), and the suspected leaking by Shanahan to Chris Mortensen of ESPN that the playbook had to be cut in half for McNabb. Feinstein also accused Mortensen of being “culpable in this, too, because I guarantee he didn’t call Donovan McNabb for a response.”
Given Feinstein’s attack on ESPN’s role in this mess, it’s no surprise that ESPN’s Rick Reilly has come out strong in opposition to Feinstein’s views, curiously omitting any reference to the rip on ESPN and trotting out on behalf of Shanahan a “some of my best friends are black”-style argument that overlooks the possibility that Shanahan can be not a full-blown racist but nevertheless poisoned by the grossly outdated perception that race is a factor in the overall performance of a quarterback.
Feinstein’s comments didn’t catch much notice as first, but as the week has unfolded his views have generated more and more attention.
Former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy dismissed the notion of racism on Friday’s Dan Patrick Show.
“I think we’re way beyond that
,” Dungy said. “Given the fact that they traded for him. If he was already on the team and Mike Shanahan came in, then maybe you’d have something to say.”
We agree with Dungy. It’s not a matter of race, but of respect. When Shanahan decides that he’s upset with a player, he arguably becomes what employment lawyers call an “equal opportunity asshole.” (That’s a statement of opinion on our part, not fact.) And he’ll bench a guy or ride a guy or otherwise disrespect a guy regardless of race, creed, national origin, or any other factor protected by federal, state, or local law.
Shanahan has taken on plenty of players in his time. He justifies the actions by convincing himself that he’s acting in the best interests of the team to do so. Regardless of whether the approach is misguided, his efforts to show specific players who’s the boss has nothing to do with a player’s race and everything to do with showing the player who’s the boss.
If Shanahan had a bias against African-American quarterbacks, he wouldn’t have traded for McNabb. That said, Shanahan’s explanation for the benching of McNabb was sufficiently clumsy to permit a reasonable person to infer that Shanahan’s views regarding McNabb have been influenced by racial stereotypes. In lawsuits alleging racial discrimination in employment, evidence of inconsistent or unbelievable excuses for the challenged decision fuels the notion that the employer’s inability to fess up to the real reason means that the real reason is being concealed because the real reason is a reason that would be an illegal reason.
Shame on Shanahan for not being sensitive to the possibility that the conflicting explanations reasonably could be viewed by some as “racial coding.” While we don’t agree with Feinstein’s position, the fact that smart people like Feinstein can come to that conclusion means that Shanahan should have simply told the truth from the get go.
The truth, as best we can tell, is that McNabb hasn’t played well, and that the Shanahans hoped to get his attention via the late-game benching. If that doesn’t work, the next benching will come earlier in the game. Eventually, McNabb will fall to No. 2 on the depth chart.
The fact that the Shanahans for whatever reason declined to tell the truth opens the door for speculation of the kind in which Feinstein engaged. Which shows that the knee-jerk reaction by NFL coaches to lie about anything and everything can have a wide variety of unintended consequences.