TAMPA, FLORIDA — Comments from Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles about the media’s persistence in talking about skin color went viral on Thursday. When asked about his relationship with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and thoughts on Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks, both of whom are black men, Bowles downplayed the importance of skin color in coaching.
“I have a very good relationship with Tomlin, we don’t look at what color we are when we coach against each other,” Bowles told reporters at a press conference. “We just know each other. I have a lot of very good white friends that coach in this league as well and I don’t think it’s a big deal, as far as us coaching against each other. Wilkes got an opportunity to do a good job, hopefully he does it. And we coach ball, we don’t look at color.”
After Bowels finished his response to the initial question, a female reporter followed up with something of a correction to his statements.
“But you understand that representation matters too, right,” she asked. “When aspiring coaches, and even football players, when they see you guys, they see someone that looks like them, maybe grew up like them. That has to mean something.”
“Well, when you say ‘see you guys’ and ‘look like them and grow up like them’ means that we’re oddballs to begin with, and I think the minute you guys stop making a big deal about it, everybody else will as well.”
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN THE NFL
Earlier this year, former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued three NFL teams for discrimination, alleging that he had participated in sham interviews conducted for the sole purpose of the team’s required compliance with minority interview. Since 2003, the NFL’s Rooney Rule has mandated that teams interview one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach. Less than two months later, the NFL announced that each team maintains at least one minority or female offensive assistant coach.
Ironically, Flores wants to see more requirements similar to those that presumably would have prompted the two sham interviews he claims to have completed. He called for a several systemic changes from the NFL, according to Sports Illustrated, including “Requiring teams to reduce to writing the rationale for hiring and termination decisions, including a full explanation of the basis for any subjective influences” and “Allowing select Black players and coaches to participate in the interviewing process for coaching and general manager positions.”
The Dolphins, meanwhile, hired the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to replace Flores. The NFL, as part of its affirmative action policy, awarded the 49ers a pair of third-round picks because McDaniel is biracial. His skin tone was apparently light enough for Deadspin’s Sean Beckwith to confuse him for a white man.
“Please stop and think before you inadvertently dub another young, white guy as the next hot NFL coaching prospect,” Beckwith’s subheading read. When it was pointed out that McDaniel is in fact half black, Deadspin issued a correction to the proactive story, adding “we regret the error.”
After McDaniel was hired, ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted “New Dolphins’ HC Mike McDaniel, who identifies as multiracial, now joins Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Ron Rivera (Commanders) and Robert Saleh (Jets) as the NFL’s only minority head coaches.”
Similar to Bowles, McDaniel seemed confused by the emphasis on his racial background and called the apparent confusion over it “odd.”
"I think people identify me as something, but I identify as a human being," McDaniel said at his introductory press conference as head coach. "It's weird that it comes up because I've just tried to be a good person, and I think my background opens my eyes a little bit. I don't have any real experience with racism. But I know my mom experienced it when she married my dad. I know my dad experienced it and that it's in my family. I guess that makes me a human being that can identify with other people's problems."