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August 03, 2015

Why do ex-Eagles keep calling Chip Kelly a racist?

This is a column about race. But only if you believe that Chip Kelly’s reason for trading Brandon Boykin — or LeSean McCoy, or releasing DeSean Jackson — was rooted in racism. Otherwise, it’s a column about a lack of awareness, both of self and of others, and about rejection

On Sunday, a day after Boykin was sent to the Steelers for a conditional 2016 draft pick, the 25-year-old cornerback told CSN Philly’s Derrick Gunn that Kelly is “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”

“He can't relate and that makes him uncomfortable,” Boykin added in the text message. “He likes total control of everything, and he don't like to be uncomfortable. Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn't been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me.”  []

Asked about those comments prior to his team's first practice, Kelly said he was a little confused, especially since he thought they were on good terms when Boykin left.

“I don’t know. In talking to him last night, I think he was stunned, he was disappointed. He really liked it here,” Kelly told reporters. "When he left here last night he shook my hand and gave me a hug, didn’t say anything. I like Brandon. I just don’t know. I really don’t know.”

“I’ve always been a Brandon Boykin fan," he added. "I think he did an unbelievable job in the two and a half years I was with him and I wish him nothing but success."

Later Sunday, Boykin reportedly clarified his previous statement when he reported to Steelers camp.

And while those comments may more accurately reflect what Boykin was originally trying to say in his text to Gunn, this is not the first time an ex-Eagles player (or coach or media member) has accused Kelly of being at odds with some of the black players on the team. From former coaching intern Tra Thomas feeling "a hint of racism" to McCoy saying Kelly got rid of "all the good black players," it seems to keep being injected into the narrative by those no longer inside the Eagles organization.

So is Chip Kelly racist? And if not, why does this keep happening? 

There are currently 26 white* coaches in the NFL -- compared to just five black** coaches -- but you rarely, if ever, hear other players around the league point to racism when they are cut or traded. Then again, there aren't many LeSean McCoy's being traded or DeSean Jackson's being cut.

*As well as Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. 
**Boykin's new coach, Mike Tomlin (Steelers); plus Todd Bowles (Jets), Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Jim Caldwell (Lions), and Lovie Smith (Buccaneers).

That's what makes Kelly such a unique case. Because of all those things we've written, speculated and, in rare cases, learned about him and his football philosophies. And because these guys aren't declining veterans. They don't have off-field issues, not serious ones anyway. 

They're young and in their primes. But, unlike any coach they've ever had before, Chip thinks he can do better.

For example, DeMarco Murray is more of a downhill back than McCoy, something Kelly seems to value in his offense. And as far as Boykin, he had more than one thing working against him, aside from being one of the few remaining players drafted during the Andy Reid era.

At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Boykin was the shortest and lightest of all the cornerbacks, a position at which the Eagles suddenly have depth. He didn't fit the mold, physically, that they're looking for at that position. And, according to Chip, he had the most trade value -- plus he's entering the final year of his rookie contract -- and was therefore the one they felt most comfortable in moving.

Kelly doesn't think, act or coach the same way his peers do, and because of this, the players sent elsewhere are left searching for an explanation. They look around the league and see players with lesser skill sets signing contract extensions, not being traded or released -- not to mention that Riley Cooper is still with the team.

But that's only part of it.

"It’s not about personalities or race or whatever. It’s just about being about the team," said Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins

Just as critical is the fact that these players aren't used to being unwanted. It's a foreign feeling, one that they likely haven't experienced before, at least not on the football field.

NFL players are the top one percent of the top one percent, the outliers. They were the best players on every team they've ever played on, from peewee to college. Now, suddenly, they're being told -- still in the prime of their careers, mind you -- that they're no longer needed on a team, likely for the first time in their lives.

That leaves them trying rationalize why this decision was made. 

And after years of being conditioned to believe that they're integral to the success of their teams, this sudden dismissal runs counterintuitive to all their past experiences. That same self-confidence -- the kind bordering, and often crossing over into, cockiness -- that has been so important to them in their athletic endeavors suddenly works against them as they look outwardly for a place to lay the blame.

We've all gone through some version of this, the awful feeling after the first time you're told you aren't good enough -- and that's what this must feel like to these players -- for a job, a team or otherwise. You blame anyone but yourself, at least initially.

That guy who interviewed me didn't know what he was talking about.

Oh, him? He only made the team over me because his dad's friends with the coach.

It's fine. I didn't really want to work there anyway.

What makes professional athletes different is that they were the star players* of the teams from which you and I were cut; they often don't feel this kind of rejection until they are much older and thus it would stand to reason they have a harder time coming to terms with it.

*More like the MVPs of the best team in the league. 

When you couple that with the notion that Kelly's moves are often perplexing -- even to those who cover the team for a living -- it's easy to see why some former Eagles believe their exit was about more than just football. 

But why do they point to race? Your guess is as good as mine. It could be any number of reasons.

One answer could be that Kelly is, in fact, a racist. But I've yet to see someone point out specific examples other than his roster moves, which includes the decision to keep Cooper. It shouldn't be dismissed entirely -- have you ever met Chip? -- but there's also no real evidence to support these claims.

Another possibility could be that certain media members argued race was a factor in releasing Jackson, especially in light of a report hinting at gang connections. It didn't ring true at the time -- at least not for me -- but perhaps a seed was planted in the back of certain players minds, one that lay dormant until there was a need to rationalize why they were suddenly unwanted.

And it's a shame, because race is not synonymous with "culture," another word that often gets thrown around when moves like this are made, despite what you might hear screaming out of your television speakers early in the morning. Even Evan Mathis, who is still a free agent (and also white), pointed to that as a reason he's no longer with the Eagles.

Kelly believes that no one player is greater than the team, a statement we've heard countless times since his arrival in Philadelphia. That, however, doesn't mean he is at odds with every outspoken player, let alone a racist.

"I feel like I have a very strong personality," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said when asked about Boykin's comments. "I'm very outspoken about the things I like and don't like. I know for a fact, Chip likes uniformity, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. 

"It’s not about personalities or race or whatever. It’s just about being about the team."

"Sometimes that means you can't have as much swagger as you want to, as far as the way you dress," Jenkins continued. "But it's also the mentality that no player is bigger than anybody else, and no player is bigger than the team."

Futhermore, Jenkins pointed out that he's butted heads with the coach in the past, but it didn't impact his standing on the team.

"I haven't always agreed with Chip, and I let him know that and I haven't had a problem," he said.

If the players on the team know this, why do they suddenly change their tune the minute they are no longer with the team?

Perhaps some of the current players agree with Boykin and McCoy, but out of fear of losing their jobs, they refuse to speak about it publicly; it is only after they're gone that they feel safe voicing what had been a concern all along.

I can't totally discount the idea of Kelly being a racist because, well, I just don't know him. But until a player accuses him of being a racist -- and points to a specific example -- before being shown the door, it's hard to chalk these claims up to anything more than bruised egos, a crutch for players to lean on when they feel rejection for the first time.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin