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Opinion: Racist remark against Asian American ex-player shows some NFL teams still don't get it

·4 min read
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First, let me tell you a little bit about former NFL player Eugene Chung.

When he played in the NFL from 1992-1997, he was often among the favorites of a handful of NFL writers, because he'd patiently explain the complicated high wire act that is being an offensive lineman. In fact, even before being a first-round draft pick of the Patriots, he was an excellent communicator.

Once Chung was in the league, I'd sometimes stand at his locker and talk with him for 20 minutes; he was explanatory, kind and blunt. I always believed that if he wanted, he'd be a head coach one day.

It turns out, coaching was indeed something he wanted to pursue. That desire continued to this offseason. Then, something despicably racist happened to Chung.

Chung told the Boston Globe that during an interview with one unnamed team, he was told that: "Well, you're not really a minority."

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute. The last time I checked, when I looked in the mirror and brushed my teeth, I was a minority,’ ” Chung said. “So I was like, ‘What do you mean I’m not a minority?’ "

The interviewer, who Chung declined to name, responded, “You are not the right minority we’re looking for.”

“That’s when I realized what the narrative was,” Chung said. “I was blown away, emotionally paralyzed for a split second. I asked myself, ‘Did I hear that correctly?’ ”

And, so, here we are again with NFL teams and race, or rather, NFL teams mishandling issues of race.

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There are any number of examples of how bad the league has been on the issue of race. The lack of Black coaches is one. Or how the league, for years, mishandled the protests started by Colin Kaepernick, until the murder of George Floyd forced Commissioner Roger Goodell to apologize to the players.

The examples could go on and on and on. We could go back decades and even a century. Much like we could with America itself.

What happened with Chung is disturbing because this is 2021 not 1921. There's no excuse for this now. But it's more than that.

Whoever said that to Chung is trying to erase him, and in a way, his entire ethnicity. That executive (and it's someone high ranking — Chung wouldn't be interviewing with a low-level official) is also declaring who is a person of color and who isn't; who deserves a job in the NFL and who doesn't based on some bizarre (at best) and racist (at worst) idea of what it means to be a minority.

It's true that NFL teams are miserable when it comes to hiring Blacks as head coaches and front office executives in a league that's approximately 70 percent Black. The NFL needs to do better at that.

None of that means that should happen at the exclusion of other people of color.

The comment to Chung also shows a startling lack of awareness of what's happening in the country as Asian Americans face a frightening level of hatred generated by former President Donald Trump during the pandemic.

Think the Asian men and women being attacked simply because of their ethnicity don't feel like minorities?

There's no one type of minority in the NFL. There are people who deserve coaching jobs and people who don't. That's it. That's all.

And Chung deserves one. He's been coaching since 2010 and coached under a future Hall of Famer in Andy Reid, and won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant with the Eagles. His reputation in the league is exceptional.

It's likely this isn't the end of this story. The NFL will likely want to know from Chung who told him that, and if he does, the league office will likely want to have a conversation with the person. That is, if the team already hasn't.

“I’m not sitting here bashing the league at all, because there are great mentors and there are great coaches that embrace the difference,” Chung said. “It’s just when the Asians don’t fit the narrative, that’s where my stomach churns a little bit.”

As it should. As should all of ours.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Mike Freeman on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Racist remark to Asian American ex-player shows NFL teams don't get it