Are the continuing allegations that Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly harbors a racial bias against African-American players now becoming a distraction for the team as the 2015 National Football League pre-season training camp gets underway? As yet another former Eagles player leveled accusations of racial bias at Kelly on Sunday, there are indications that the team is getting tired of dealing with the issue.
In March, former Eagles lineman Tra Thomas — who served as a coaching intern under Kelly in 2014 — said that current Eagles players “feel like there is a hint of racism” in the Eagles locker room. Kelly fired Thomas from his job after the 2014 season, saying his position had simply been eliminated.
Thomas’ remarks came just after ESPN reporter Stephen A. Smith reported “concerns” among Philadelphia players that Kelly took the race of players into account when making personnel decisions.
Former Eagles Running Back LeSean McCoy, who was traded to the Buffalo Bills in the offseason, echoed those sentiments, declaring that Kelly “got rid of all the good players… especially all the good black players.”
The controversy appeared to have died down as training camp got underway last week — but then on Saturday, the Eagles traded fourth-year cornerback Brandon Boykin to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On Sunday, Boykin told Comcast SportsNet that in his view, Kelly is “uncomfortable around grown men of our culture.”
“He likes total control of everything, and he don’t like to be uncomfortable,” Boykin continued. “Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn’t been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me.”
The remarks set off another barrage of media questions at the Philadelphia training session Sunday — questions that provoked a response from quarterback Mark Sanchez.
“That’s nuts,” Sanchez said. “Guys were like, ‘Sanchez, ain’t you Mexican? And Bradford, aren’t you Native-American? And Kiko (Alonso) is Colombian. We’ve got black guys, white guys, Polynesian guys. C’mon, that’s crazy. It’s not even worth talking about. Stop asking the players about it. It’s getting old.”
Football experts say that there are other plausible explanations for Chip Kelly’s sometimes inscrutable personnel moves.
“He prefers a straight-ahead running style, so he traded LeSean McCoy and signed Demarco Murray to a lucrative contract. He prefers bigger cornerbacks, so he traded Brandon Boykin and signed Byron Maxwell to a lucrative contract,” wrote Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “That’s evidence that Kelly has clear ideas about the kinds of players he wants on his football team, but those ideas aren’t tied to race.”
Boykin later denied that he was making racial accusations against Kelly, saying instead that Kelly was merely distant and unrelateable.
“I’m not saying he’s a racist at all,” Boykin added later. “When you are a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach outside of football. There were times, he just wouldn’t talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn’t say anything to you.”
Whether even Boykin’s “clarification” will put the rumors of racial bias against the Philadelphia Eagles coach to rest, however, seems unlikely, and the team’s players will need to prove that the innuendo around their coach is not a distraction.
[Image: Rich Schultz/Getty Images]