Logo for the DFR Audible post categoryThere’s been some more grumbling about Chip Kelly coming out of Philadelphia. In fact, there’s been enough of this grumbling–ever since the LeSean McCoy trade–that we’re starting to get responses like yesterday’s Shutdown Corner piece by Frank Schwab: “Here we go with more ‘Chip Kelly is racist’ controversy nonsense“.

I’ll state straight out: I suspect the ‘Kelly is racist’ angle has indeed been overblown. For one thing, at this point in world history, it would take a true act of insanity to accept an NFL head coaching job and not expect to have to deal with black men on a more or less adult (if not equal; that’s simply not part of the severely hierarchical world of NFL coaching) basis. If Chip Kelly thought he would waltz into the Eagles’ headquarters and display overtly prejudiced behavior, then he has a serious screw loose–and his prior accomplishments testify against him being racist in any meaningful way.

(I accept the notion that, given that we Americans are all products of a racist society, we thus all bear at least some portion of racism in our thoughts and attitudes. It’s in confronting that heritage and containing its toxic effects that we form the core of the process of building a more equitable and just society. Your sociology lesson for the day.)

If Kelly has traded away or outright released a number of black players…well, it’s hard to avoid that if you’re making personnel decisions about an NFL roster, given that at last count 68 percent of NFL players are black. Note that the same article states that of 175 NFL cornerbacks, 170 are black, and 107 of 120 running backs are black. Meaning, it’s almost impossible to make a move concerning those positions without it affecting a black player. The mere fact of a roster move involving a black player can’t be seen as evidence of racism; not even a string of such moves, given the numbers at play.

However, I’m not particularly comfortable with simply labeling an individual’s claims as “nonsense,” even given earlier examinations of the issue. When reporting on such topics–or any topic, really–we should always be neither credulous nor dismissive. If someone makes a claim, the response should be the same simple, straightforward, open question that should greet all claims: What is your evidence? If you’ve asked that question two times before, and did not receive convincing evidence in response…you still have to ask the question again with each new claim.

Perhaps the new claim will come with new evidence that will shed light on the previous claims. Indeed, a persistent pattern of claims can be, at the very least, circumstantial evidence in and of itself. If the new claim is made without convincing evidence, again and again and again, then the claim can be dismissed after investigation. If there is smoke but no fire, and there continues to be smoke but no fire, then–there’s no fire. Nevertheless, no claim should be dismissed before investigation, merely because you’re tired of dealing with the question.

How does all this shake down now? As of now, no one has presented compelling evidence that Chip Kelly is making roster decisions based on a negative racial assessment. Thus, none of us are under any obligation to belief such charges against him. But we don’t have the right to accept that conclusion in perpetuity; we have to remain open to the possibility that future charges will prove convincing.

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