As a lifelong Denver Broncos fan, part of me is disgusted that our division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, won their first Super Bowl in 50 years on Sunday night. But the rest of me is elated for two very specific reasons: For one, a black quarterback—generational talent Patrick Mahomes—emerged victorious in an electrifying 31-20 comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers. And two, a black coach—an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one—led Mahomes and company to victory.
That black coach would be offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who despite orchestrating the third-highest-scoring offense in league history last season, was forced to return to the Chiefs this year in a supplementary role because bigoted NFL owners won’t let him be great. More specifically, they refuse to hire black head coaches while the Freddie Kitchens of the world continue to be rewarded with jobs they don’t deserve.
This past off-season, Bieniemy went on interview after interview for head coaching vacancies that concluded with zero offers. And while the rest of the league remains perplexed at how his stellar resume continues to be ignored—because his resume isn’t the problem—per usual, another talented black man is forced to be the bigger person.
“Everyone wants to hear I’m disappointed,’’ Bieniemy told ESPN on Thursday ahead of the Super Bowl while discussing his lack of head coaching opportunities. “That is not the case.”
He added, “I mean, that’s everybody’s dream to be one of the 32 head coaches. That’s everybody’s dream. Someday, possibly, it may happen. But right now, the only thing that matters is making sure our guys, our players and our coaching staff is focused on the goal—and that’s making sure we play to the end of that final echo of the whistle come Sunday.”
Thankfully, Brian Levy, an agent who represents Bieniemy and a number of other prominent black coaches, will say what his client won’t: “In its 100th season, the NFL should be ashamed of itself.”
But instead of shame, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell echoed a similar sentiment at the annual Super Bowl news conference on Wednesday.
“Clearly, we are not where we want to be on this issue,” he said. “We have a lot of work that’s gone into, not only the Rooney Rule but our policies overall.”
That doesn’t sound like a solution to me; that sounds like the same lip service Bieniemy and other potential black head coaches have been force-fed for years—and almost guarantees that despite adding a Super Bowl victory to his resume, he’ll be in the exact same position a year from now.
“Whether they hire me or not, that’s up to them. I work my tail off to be placed in that situation,” Bieniemy told ESPN. “I’m going to continue chopping wood, going to continue being me. Whatever is going to happen down the line is going to happen. I’ll let the process take care of itself.”
If only the process took care of black coaches.