Commentary

Being wrong on race

Updated: November 12, 2010, 11:49 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Donovan McNabb, Mike Shanahan and Rex GrossmanUS PresswireIs Redskins coach Mike Shanahan racist for benching Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman? For Rick Reilly, the answer is clear.

This week, John Feinstein, the Washington Post columnist, said something that reminds me of a kidney stone I once had. I just couldn't let it pass without some gnashing of teeth.

Feinstein went on the Post's video blog and essentially called Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan a racist for benching Donovan McNabb in the Redskins' loss to Detroit in their most recent game.

"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 claimed Tuesday. "Dan Snyder's not gonna do it, but I think it's out of control."

Just to recap, Feinstein wants a two-time Super Bowl-winning coach fired after half a season because he pulled McNabb with less than two minutes to go in favor of a white backup, Rex Grossman. Shanahan said McNabb wasn't as familiar with the team's two-minute offense as the backup.

Enter Feinstein.

"The first spin [Shanahan uses] is that [McNabb] doesn't know the terminology for the two-minute offense, i.e., he's stupid," Feinstein opined. "The next day, it's, well, his cardiovascular, he's out of shape, i.e., he's fat." And that's when Feinstein dropped the "racial coding" thing, i.e., Shanahan's a racist.

Just reading those lines drops a person's IQ all the way to wrestling-fan level.

Feinstein is touching a cold stove top here and pretending to burn his finger.

The head throbs. Are we really going there? In 2010?

First of all, so what? Maybe McNabb isn't as familiar with Shanahan's two-minute offense as Grossman was. After all, Shanahan's playbook is thicker than the Oxford English Dictionary. And McNabb hasn't had to learn a new NFL offense since he was a rookie. He didn't know the overtime rule last year. Was it racist to call him on it?

Second of all, so what? Maybe McNabb is out of shape. Anybody remember reports of McNabb dawdling to the line during the crucial minutes of Philadelphia's Super Bowl loss to the Patriots? Remember reports of him throwing up in the huddle?

What is Feinstein saying? That's it's not possible Grossman knew the two-minute offense better? That it's not possible for a white guy to be better at something than a black guy? That's it's not possible for a black guy to be out of shape? If that's the logic, what follows is: Black people are never inept. Apparently, according to Feinstein, white people have cornered the market on it. And if you think a black person is inept occasionally -- like McNabb -- go stand in the racist line.

Benching McNabb was a boneheaded mistake, of course. Doesn't matter how little McNabb knew the two-minute offense, doesn't matter how out of shape he was; I'd rather have McNabb on one leg dragging an IV than Grossman. So Shanahan didn't want to cop to his mistake. Doesn't make him a racist. Makes him the George S. Patton I've always known him to be.

But that's no reason to call a good man a racist.

"We didn't always have the best relationship," says Shannon Sharpe, who played for Shanahan for 10 seasons. "He's tough, demanding and sometimes unrealistic, yes. But racist? Nope. Watch the game film. You'll see why Mike pulled him."

I've known Mike Shanahan for 30 years, since he started as an assistant on Dan Reeves' 1980 Denver Broncos team. I know some things about Shanahan that might be news to Feinstein.

Does Feinstein know that Shanahan was the guy who gave Rick Smith his first job in an NFL personnel department? Smith went on to become the league's first black GM, at Houston.

Does Feinstein remember how Shanahan campaigned to help his wide receivers coach, Karl Dorrell, become the first black head coach in UCLA's history? And that he let him leave in the middle of the Broncos' season to do it?

Does Feinstein know what Shanahan did after receiving the call telling him that Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams had been killed in a drive-by shooting? He wept. On the phone.

Wasn't it Shanahan who wanted McNabb in the first place? Convinced Dan Snyder to trade for him? Wasn't McNabb black then? Or was there something wrong with the racial coding on Shanahan's flat-screen?

If Donovan McNabb can't do something well, or screws up, or fails, can't it just be "Donovan McNabb screwed up?"

I wonder if Feinstein would say the same thing about Eagles coach Andy Reid? Remember him? He's the guy who tried to dump Michael Vick last offseason and got no takers. He's the guy who traded McNabb within the division in order to start an untested white QB, Kevin Kolb. Turned out Kolb wasn't nearly as good as Vick. Is that a fireable offense? Anybody have Jesse Jackson's cell number?

People, we're better than this.

If Donovan McNabb can't do something well, or screws up, or fails, can't it just be "Donovan McNabb screwed up?"

And if Mike Shanahan makes a dumb coaching move and is too stubborn to cop to it in front of the world, can't it just be "Mike Shanahan blew it?"

Why must it be about race? Like that kidney stone, didn't we pass this years ago?


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