While the election of an African-American president hardly meant the end of racial bias in this country, the NFL has for decades been progressive when it comes to matters of race. Sure, it took a lot longer than it should have for NFL teams to embrace diversity at the quarterback position. But today’s NFL truly is color blind; at all positions, the best players play.
If they don’t, coaches and General Managers get fired.
That reality makes Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s not-so-subtle suggestion of racism regarding the Eagles’ treatment of DeSean Jackson misplaced. The Eagles didn’t dump Jackson and keep Riley Cooper because of skin color. The Eagles severed ties with Jackson because he was due to make far more money than the organization (specifically, coach Chip Kelly) believed his overall contributions justified, and they re-signed Cooper because they were able to get him at a favorable financial figure — in part because other teams didn’t want to have to figure out how to get a locker room with no prior connection to Cooper to welcome him after last year’s Kenny Chesney misadventures.
This doesn’t mean there are no concerns regarding the way the Eagles treated Jackson. (Then again, they paid him $18 million over two seasons; perhaps we should all be so mistreated.) Right, wrong, or otherwise, the Eagles ultimately did to Jackson what all teams do to most players whom a team decides it no longer wants. The Eagles treated him like a commodity, freezing him out and forcing him to wonder about his status and possibly lying to him near the end as part of a last-ditch effort to get value for the asset in trade.
Yes, there’s inconsistent treatment in the NFL. Players who are still regarded as valued members of the team are treated like people. Players who aren’t are treated like property, cast aside as part of a cruelly efficient process that will see every team shrink from a maximum of 90 players in the offseason to only 53 by Labor Day.
It happens to non-players, too. When Browns G.M. Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner decided that they were done with coach Rob Chudzinski, that was that. When Browns owner Jimmy Haslam decided that he was done with Lombardi and Banner, that was that, too.
Sherman’s column suggests that Colts owner Jim Irsay has enjoyed favorable treatment in the wake of his arrest for DUI and felony possession of controlled substances based at least in part on race. “Commit certain crimes in this league and be a certain color, and you get help, not scorn,” Sherman wrote.
This ignores the fact that 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith received help, not scorn, when he chose (like Irsay) to enter rehab after being arrested hours before a Friday practice in September 2013, allegedly drunk behind the wheel of a car. It also ignores the fact that, in the aftermath of Irsay’s arrest, the universal reaction by the NFL and the media has been that Irsay must face the same discipline that a player would face for similar infractions.
But the one thing Irsay has going for him is that, as an owner, he doesn’t have to worry about someone else deciding that the team no longer wants or needs him. Once that happens, NFL teams often treat people like something other than people. That’s the dynamic for which the Eagles deserve criticism when it comes to DeSean Jackson, and that’s one area in which the league should strive for change.
Starting with the elimination of scenes involving the cutting of players from Hard Knocks.