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March 10, 2015

The real problem with Smith's Kelly comments

NFL Eagles
The Eagles have been, to say the least, active at the beginning of this free-agency period. 

While that has incited some rather reasonable debate among both Eagles fans and national pundits about Chip Kelly's direction of the team, the moves didn't stop Stephen A. Smith, co-host of ESPN's "First Take," from giving the hottest of takes on Monday:

Smith's logic is essentially the following: 

Black fans of the Eagles have reason to believe that Chip Kelly may favor white players because over the past two seasons the Eagles have either cut, traded or not resigned three black players while not cutting one white player (who once made some racist comments). Because the on field production of that one white player isn't as good as the other three players, this is obviously the case.

Well, that theory doesn't really take in to account the very logical path of Kelly's decisions. Never mind that there are actually pretty good arguments for dealing McCoy and letting Maclin go. Any reasonably minded person can deduce that Kelly's moves are not centered on race, but instead around the salary cap, his specific offensive system, and of course, the plan:

Eagles offseason plan 2

(via Jimmy Kempski, before word of Maclin's expected signing with the Chiefs.)

Scanning twitter, there we're plenty of those who dismissed Smith's comments with a few (mostly African American) who thought there was some truth to them. 

But of all the takes that spawned from the comments, one user gave a unique perspective:

Could Kelly, hypothetically, be racist? Sure. A coach with the most diverse roster could theoretically harbor deeply rooted biases. Just like a coach or general manager with an all-white team could be the most unbiased person in the industry.

But insinuations like Smith's are dangerous not only because they're based in some subjective measurement of diversity using a small sample size, but because they take away from serious conversations we should be having about race in sports and race in general.

It's unfortunate, but it's a reality, that any media firestorm like this divides the masses in to "nothing is about race, stop playing that card" against those (both black and white) who see the word "racist" in a headline and immediately give it credence.

What @CliffNgwaf is alluding to is that racism is institutional, and the real issue is not that Kelly specifically is a "racist" or "not a racist." Racism stems from a history of accepted belief systems, reinforced for a long time by rules and laws. Not only in sports, but pretty much every other facet of life. 

It's easy to dismiss Smith's comments, because they do feel much more like an attempt to stir the pot than a reflection of his thoughts. But Smith is black, and I'm white, so I won't pretend to know.

What I do know is that I've heard plenty of coded racism in fellow fans' takes on some of our best athletes in recent memory like Jimmy Rollins, Donovan McNabb, and Allen Iverson, just to name a few.

But that's not the result of one coach, or executive, or anyone for that matter being specifically a racist or not. It's the result of a much larger, and still pervasive, issue. And when the Stephen A.'s of the national sports media cycle make seemingly baseless comments like these, it gives all the more reason for the "nothing is about race" camp to reinforce their beliefs.

Personally, I think it's insane to hint that Chip Kelly is a racist because of a couple of roster moves. But what's more insane is that this is why we're talking about race and sports.