Monday, November 15, 2010

Bad Decisionmaking in DC That Does Not Involve A Politician

I'm a bit late to the party, but with the Eagles playing the Redskins on MNF tonight, there's been plenty of discussion regarding the Skins decision to bench Donovan McNabb a couple weeks ago, and it even managed to tread into the taboo issue of race...
Sports provide an escape, for the most part, from having to deal with real-world problems. And while issues such as racism, sexism (looking at you, New York Jets), and homophobia certainly affect sports and athletes, they are unwelcome intruders.

Shanahan said immediately after the game that McNabb didn't know the two-minute offense as well as backup Rex Grossman. As absurd as that sounded - especially after Grossman promptly fumbled the ball and the game away - Shanahan made it worse the next day by changing his story.

Now it was about McNabb's "cardiovascular" readiness to lead a two-minute offense. Because of injuries to his hamstrings, McNabb wasn't in the kind of shape he needed to be in. At least that's what Shanahan said a day later.

A week later, someone inside the team complex in Ashburn, Va., told ESPN "insider" Chris Mortensen that Shanahan and his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, had to cut their playbook in half for McNabb.

All of this led John Feinstein, a nationally respected sportswriter and author of several best-selling books, in a TV appearance Tuesday to accuse Shanahan of "racial coding." Feinstein also called for Shanahan to be fired.

...But is it possible that race is an issue between McNabb and the Shanahans? Now we're into an interesting area. Some background: Years ago, I had a fascinating conversation with someone who personally knew some of the top offensive-minded head coaches in the NFL. We were discussing Andy Reid's choice of McNabb as the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft, as his franchise quarterback.

"People don't think that's as big a deal as it really is," the individual said then. "I know for a fact a few of these coaches wouldn't do it. They're just not comfortable with an African American quarterback, even now."
I will now officially violate my general rule against mixing politics with sports. A few points before that:

1. Shanahan's benching of McNabb was idiotic. Mostly because his backup was Rex Grossman. Chad Ochocinco summed this up far better than I could (now there's a sentence I never thought I would write).  The rationales offered by Shanny were crap as well.

2. McNabb may or may not be on the decline. I'm guessing he is, but it's actually hard to tell how much is actually age and how much is related to wearing that ugly-ass Redskins uniform.

3. The Skins are now making noise about extending McNabb again, which makes sense from a PR perspective. You don't deal a couple of relatively high picks for a QB who plays for only one season. And McNabb may not have many good alternative options, since Brad Childress is likely headed to the door in Minnesota.

4. Andy Reid and the Eagles may lose twice to McNabb this season (although I believe they will win tonight). But I still think they made the right move.

Now, on the race issue... Sheridan's doing the usual stirring of the pot that Philly columnists love to do, but the quote from his unnamed source regarding how NFL coaches think is telling of a mindset on the part of the source that the source views the world through a particular lens. Feinstein comes from the same mindset -- I heard him on ESPN 980 in DC later the same day discussing Sheridan's article and reiterating his previous statements. When one of the hosts said he thought Feinstein was off-base, Feinstein responded by pointing to the election and stating that it was similar to Shanahan's benching of McNabb, because some if not many of the voters who went to the polls wanted to deliver a rebuke to America's first African-American President.

I could write about a million words on this, but I will limit myself to three main points.

1. I have no earthly clue what if anything "racial coding" means -- my initial thought is that it's liberalspeak for "I can't say racist because people will dicount what I say, so here's a term that means the same thing."

Being tagged as a racist in modern America is effectively a scarlet letter barring one from polite company, as it should be if the charge is accurate.  But the fact that such a charge can effectively tar your personal reputation and kill your professional reputation makes me think that most moderately intelligent people will bend ove rbackward to avoid such a charge, even if they hold racist views.  That makes me question why Shanahan would engage in any sort of rhetoric that could be construed as racist, unless he is stupid and did it without meaning to be construed as racist.

Which strikes me as the most likely explanation, because I don't know what sort of support he would be trying to derive for his decision by engaging in "racial coding."  Does Feinstein believe that some substantial portion of the Redskins' fanbase or ownership/management is actually racist or subject to racial appeals, such that they'll come to support him if he indicates that he's ditching the black QB for a white one because of race?  Seriously?

2.  Liberals and conservatives view the world through different lenses.  Sheridan's unnamed source and Feinstein both seem willing to impute thoughts to others that their reasons for doing something (not drafting a black QB or voting GOP in the election) involve race.  The source seems to indicate he thinks this because of perception, not because someone actually said something that flat-out stated they preferred a white guy because they didn't trust a black guy.  Similarly, Feinsetin thinks people have unstated motives to vote against the President's party becuase he's black.

I'm guessing both would acknowledge that people might make the same decision for reasons not connected to race -- you might select a white QB because you think he's better, or you might select a Republican because you disagree with Obama's policies.  Where I'm guessing they disagree with me is that they believe more people are secretly guilty of racial bias than I do.

Maybe I just have a less cynical view of human nature, or maybe it's because I tend to think that people recognize the downsides of allowing your views regaridng someone else to be colored by their race (pun intended) as substantial.  And maybe it's because there seem to be quite a few African-American QBs and an African-American President in office despite whatever problems exist.

3.  There is a component of what Feinstein is saying that I understand.  If you're the coach of a team named the Redskins that plays in Washington, D.C., you cannot bench your accomplished African-American QB for a white QB of more modest accomplishment and then seem to indicate through back-channel sources that it's because the African-American QB can't grasp your complicated playbook.  Not only is it likely a lie, it's dumb because it can be construed as racist.

I have nothing more to say, save "GO IGGLES!"

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