Talking with reporters on Tuesday, Denver Broncos Coach Vic Fangio said he was “shocked, sad and angry” when he saw video of George Floyd’s death during a confrontation with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, whom Fangio said “should be punished to the full extent of the law of the crimes he was charged with in addition to being charged with treason for failing to uphold the badge and uniform he was entrusted with.”
Floyd’s death has sparked a wave of protest across the country, and Fangio was asked whether racism and discrimination were a problem in the NFL. He didn’t think so.
“I think our problems in the NFL along those lines are minimal. We’re a league of meritocracy, you earn what you get, you get what you earn. I don’t see racism at all in the NFL, I don’t see discrimination in the NFL,” Fangio said. “We all live together, joined as one, for one common goal, and we all intermingle and mix tremendously. If society reflected an NFL team, we’d all be great.”
Commenting on a clip of Fangio’s interview on Twitter, Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson made it clear he does not agree with the coach’s assertion.
Quandre Diggs, Carson’s teammate in Seattle, also questioned Fangio’s stance:
Fangio, who’s 61 and has been an NFL coach for more than 30 years, isn’t the first person to claim the NFL isn’t racist because it’s a “meritocracy.” Commissioner Roger Goodell used the term in 2017 when asked why no NFL team had signed quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee during the national anthem to protest inequality and police brutality but has not played since 2016.
“I don’t get involved in personnel decisions with the clubs. Those are decisions that the 32 clubs are going to have to make individually. They’re going to give whatever player they think can help them win that opportunity,” Goodell said when asked whether he hoped a team would sign Kaepernick.
“And I think that’s what’s great about the NFL is that we’re a meritocracy, and you earn your opportunities and you get to keep your opportunities on the way you perform, ultimately,” the commissioner added. “That’s what the NFL is about. I think that’s why fans love the game. People go out and they earn those opportunities, and it’s a competitive league, which is great for us.”
Critics of this stance point out that the league’s meritocratic ways seem to end once you look beyond the actual field of play. Even though the majority of the league’s players are black and have been for decades, the number of black head coaches - three for 2020, down from seven in 2018 - and front office executives remain low.
Fangio said he will be speaking with his players on Thursday. On Tuesday, he cited safety Justin Simmons for praise over his comments to a crowd of protesters Sunday near his Florida hometown. Simmons’s mother captured some of his remarks on Twitter:
“I thought it was great, Justin is a great person, a great leader, got his head screwed on correctly, he sees the problems and how they need to be solved,” Fangio said. “He’s searching for solutions and it’s easy for everybody to identify the problems . . . we need to search for solutions and I think Justin is one of those guys who will find solutions.”