One of the many issues brought up with Chip Kelly's arrival in the Bay Area is the issue of race. Some of his former players on the Philadelphia Eagles accused him of racism. When the accusation is leveled, it can create a perception, even when it is not true.
I do not know Chip Kelly, so I certainly cannot say what is in the man's heart. However, I recently came across an interview, courtesy of former Golden Nuggets writer Aaron Malone. It was interview that featured famed sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards. Dr. Edwards is a professor of sociology at Cal, and a long-time consultant with the San Francisco 49ers and Golden State Warriors.
Dr. Edwards joined Dave Zirin for his Edge of Sports podcast, and discussed a wide range of topics. At the 26 minute mark, Zirin asked Edwards about Kelly. Zirin brought up the idea that he knew that when Kelly was coaching at Oregon, he brought in John Carlos, and had great praise for him, and Zirin was surprised by the claims of racism.
For those that don't know, John Carlos was one of the two track athletes at the 1968 Olympics who raised the single fist Black Power salute on the medal stand. Dr. Edwards was a key part of the development of an organization called The Olympic Project for Human Rights. You can read more about it here, but it led to John Carlos and Tommie Smith's famous protest.
Edwards has extensive history with the 49ers, and he had some great insight about Chip Kelly we might not otherwise know. You can listen to the whole podcast here, and I'd recommend it as it is a good one. But here is what Dr. Edwards had to say when Zirin asked him about Chip:
Well, I go back to a relationship with Chip Kelly before John Carlos was called in, when the LeGarrette Blount situation took place, where [Blount] threw that punch after the Boise State game. The first thing that Chip Kelly did was to get on the phone and call me, and said "come up, we need help up here on how we're going to handle this." Chip wanted to make sure that LeGarrette Blount wasn't just turned out on the street, but at the same time he had to deal with the situation, not just in terms of LeGarrette, but in terms of a number of his players, black and white, where they had crossed the line in terms of what the University of Oregon felt was appropriate behavior.
And so he called me up and I was actually up in Oregon for a week, and we talked about LeGarrette and how to get him on a program that, one, would make sure that there was sufficient response to what he he did, but the same time, would get him back up on his feet and in a situation where he was not on the street. Where he became a legitimate NFL prospect, and with some record of having gone back and tried to get back on track. And that's in point of fact what we did. LeGarrette Blount is in the NFL now, principally because of the efforts of Chip Kelly.
When the Riley Cooper situation broke out at the Eagles, the first thing Chip did was get on the phone, "Dr. Edwards, how do we handle this? What can we do?" And of course, my response was, he had to sit down with his leaders in his locker room, Michael Vick, Desean Jackson, and Shady McCoy and so forth, and let them know that we have a choice. We can either allow this situation to fragment, shatter, and destroy our locker room and our season, or we can choose not to be offended, to put this where it belongs, which is on Riley Cooper, have him clean up his act, come in and apologize to everybody, get his pads on, get back out on the field, and let's get together so we can start winning some football games. We hear worse than what he says on rap records and so forth. We can choose not to be offended, because there are things here that we cannot afford to have disturbed by this madness and nonsense. That is in point of fact what they did.
And even as Desean and Shady left the building looking back over their shoulder saying, "Well, Chip doesn't like star black players," he called and said, "Harry, how do I handle this?" And I simply told him, there are some things that you can't handle. You simply have to allow them to go, and don't...how do you prove that it's cold outside? Or how do you prove that it's too warm outside? You can't do it, so you do what you have to do. And then in Philadelphia, let things take their course, which they did, and ultimately he ended up with us.
So, I have no problem with Chip Kelly. The thing that I can say is, had he made decisions that I would not have made? Probably, but every coach that I have ever been associated with, including Bill Walsh, who I did a lot of work with, made decisions that he probably regrets. But he doesn't use me like a lawyer. He doesn't commit the crime and then come to me and say, get me out of this. Before he makes a decision, typically he will call me and say, "hey, what are my options?" And that's what he's doing with the 49ers. So I have no problem with Chip. He's human, and if Chip Kelly is a racist, you know what? I would hope all racists are like that, because we can work with that. What we can't work with is the guy you can't even talk to about some of the actions that he takes along the lines. And unfortunately we still have those to deal with in the NFL as well.