49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan believes the underlying, systemic racism that plagues American society has a heavy hand in that. The NFL has implemented requirements in the hiring process to promote minority interviews and opportunities in coaching and other staff positions that have obviously proven unsuccessful.
This belief flies in the face of sentiment expressed Wednesday by Denver head coach and former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who said the NFL is a true meritocracy that doesn’t see color. Those statements drew immediate ire and Fangio has walked them back, but they shine light on an issue that has prevented true progress in this area.
“They’re trying to address it. I think they’re talking about it,” Shanahan said Thursday in a video conference with 49ers reporters. “I saw what Vic said and I saw him apologize for it. It’s tough because white people don’t feel it. You’re not going to think someone’s racist but, you know what? How the heck are there only four [minority] head coaches out of 32? How are there only two GMs?
The 49ers coaching staff also is diverse. Arab-American defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is in a group of NFL assistants considered more than worthy of a head-coaching gig and was a finalist for the Cleveland Browns job. Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower and assistant head coach/tight ends coach Jon Embree are among eight African-American coaches on staff. Offensive assistant Katie Sowers is one of a few full-time female coaches in the league. Sowers became the first woman and first openly gay coach to coach in the Super Bowl this past season.
“I can only speak for myself, and I try to hire people that I work with that are prepared for [the job],” Shanahan said. “Fortunately, that has worked out well for me. We have a Muslim coordinator. We have a black coordinator. We have a lesbian on our staff. … It’s not to show people that we’re trying to be diverse. It’s because I have been around these people and they are really good at what they do. We can’t win without these people. That’s just how it works out.”
Shanahan agrees that more must be done to create opportunities for minorities atop organizational hierarchies, considering how few currently occupy those posts.
“I don’t know why the numbers aren’t like that, but the numbers are [inadequate],” Shanahan said. “Those are things that, hell yeah, we want to fix. It’s not an easy answer. It’s about continuing to talk. It’s the same thing with society. It’s very similar on different levels. Those numbers don’t lie. That’s what makes it a fact. That’s what white people have to admit.”
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has met with his players by position group, from the skill players to the offensive line, from the defensive line to the defensive backs, to create an open dialogue about both the blatant and underlying systemic racism in American society exposed by yet another act of police brutality against an African American.
Shanahan also met with a veteran group to discuss the issue and help decide what the 49ers can do to create positive change.
“We’re going to do a lot,” Shanahan said Thursday in a video conference with reporters. “There’s nothing specific yet, but our guys are working hard on it.”
George Floyd’s death while in police custody, after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against his neck for nearly nine minutes, has sparked outrage and social unrest in American society and the international community as a whole.
It has also heightened and broadened the desire to prevent such acts in the future and eliminate this American plague for good.
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Shanahan and his 49ers players believe they have found a place where they can help, by addressing an impressionable group that often views them as role models.
“We talk about that a lot, and what I hear the most from the players, which I believe in a ton, too, is what we can do for the youth and setting examples,” Shanahan said. “If all kids could watch our players interacting with each other, that’s how all people should interact with each other.”
Shanahan’s the son of a coach and is grateful to be someone who moved around a lot and interacted with a diverse football community, an experience that made him comfortable around people of all backgrounds. He believes that experience could benefit everyone and make communities more tolerant.
“I feel very fortunate that I have been around these situations because I’ve been in a football locker room since I was born,” Shanahan said. “You’re around everybody and it makes it comfortable, and the stuff people are born with and around [as a child] doesn’t leave.”
He wants his children to continue growing up in that environment. He hopes the 49ers can set a proper example for people young and older and help stop the racism passed down from one generation to the next.
“That’s the stuff we have to keep doing,” Shanahan said. “Well, how do we do that? You have to vote. You have to change all that stuff, which takes time. That may be the most important thing. How can we educate people on that? How can we make a difference? That’s something our players are looking into. Everybody wants to put money in the right spot, but you don’t want to just throw money around because people have thrown a lot of money at this stuff over the last 20 years and no one sees a ton of progress. There definitely isn’t enough, not until this type of stuff never happens.”
The 49ers don’t plan on just one action or only leadership by example. Instead, it will be a prolonged, thought-out effort to make a difference in this defining social issue.
“I know that our players are so passionate, black guys and white guys, about trying to fix this,” Shanahan said. “We know it’s not an easy answer. It’s the whole country admitting what is wrong. It isn’t debatable. We need to come out from being sheltered or ignorant or whatever it is. Whoever those people are, kids need to help their parents and the parents need to help their parents. We all need to speak about it and do [something about it].”
This content was originally published here.