On the night before Vic Fangio was scheduled to do an interview on Zoom with the Colorado sports media Tuesday, the Broncos coach took out a legal pad in his home office and meticulously wrote what he wanted to say about the current national crisis.
On Wednesday Fangio again penned a statement — this time apologizing for what he said.
“After reflecting on my comments (Tuesday) and listening to the players (Wednesday) morning,’’ he wrote, “I realize what I said regarding racism and discrimination in the NFL was wrong. While I have never personally experienced those terrible things firsthand during my 33 years in the NFL, I understand many players, coaches and staff have different perspectives.
“I should have been more clear and I am sorry.’’
Vic had met his Waterloo, and he was trying humbly to overcome his unforced error. Unfortunately, the coach already had been skewered nationally by players, the press and the public before he walked back this response to a question he hadn’t prepared for on his notepad:
“I don’t see racism at all in the NFL. I don’t see discrimination in the NFL. 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.’’
It was a rookie mistake, but Fangio has been a coach in the league since being hired by the Saints in 1986, and he’s no longer in his first year as a head coach.
Strangely enough, on the same day Fangio was being coast-to-coast criticized, Saints quarterback Drew Brees created his own shipstorm by declaring, in reference to the four-year derisive debate over players kneeling during the national anthem, he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America.’’
Brees’ own teammates, including all-world receiver Michael Thomas, reacted negatively to one of the greatest quarterbacks in history. “He don’t know better,’’ Thomas tweeted. “We don’t care if you don’t agree and whoever else how about that.’’
Coaches and star players should be very careful about their observations during a time of a scarred America with heightened tensions on all flanks.
As I said on the ESPN show “Around The Horn’’ Wednesday before he issued an apology, the coach “should open his eyes’’ if he’s not aware of racial problems that exist in pro football — and every other aspect of life in this country.
Someone on social media asked if Fangio’s job was in jeopardy, and another wondered if “Fangio has lost the Broncos’ locker room?’’
Fangio will not, and should not, be fired. He has the same freedom of speech, and opinion, as the rest of us should have, and the coach quickly repudiated his belief of the previous day. He did speak at length and listened to the Broncos players in a virtual meeting Wednesday morning. The few current and past players I’ve talked to were disturbed with his original “no racism ... no discrimination’’ assertion, but the issue seemed to settle somewhat after the organizational assembly. The lasting effects of the relationship between some players and the coach are to be determined.
No Broncos publicly condemned or condoned Fangio.
The coach’s personal transcribing at home Monday night was reflected in the opening of his 20-minute media briefing Tuesday. “I was shocked, sad and angry when I saw (what) the policeman did to a handcuffed George Floyd on his stomach that led to his death. He should be punished to the fullest extent of the law for the crimes he has been charged with in addition to be charged with treason for failing to uphold the badge and the uniform he was entrusted with.’’
Fangio said the voice that “resonated with me the most was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,’’ who was “talking sensibly and with solutions.’’ Vic added that the present problem “is not a political issue. It’s a societal issue that we have to join in (with) to correct. Sports bring people together, and I look forward to the Broncos and the NFL leading that charge.’’
Fangio also praised safety Justin Simmons for participating in and speaking at a peaceful protest in his hometown of Stuart, Fla. “I thought (Simmons’ action) was great. He sees the problems and how they should be solved.’’
However, Fangio went away from his notes and off track when addressing racism in the NFL.
He doesn’t deserve a pass, but Fangio did warrant a chance to clarify and correct a careless assumption when he should know better, having spent most of his adult life in a flawed NFL. He was defensive coordinator for four years with the 49ers when Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback on a Super Bowl team.
And the Broncos tried to trade for Kaepernick the year of the kneel. Kaepernick can't get a job in the league.