What Americans Can Learn from Pete Carroll about Racial Reconciliation


(editors note: I am talking about issues that have made many a person mad. I mean no disrespect for cops in general by this post. I have friends who are cops. They are good men like 99% of their comrades at arms. They have a tough job and get a lot of flak for doing the right things 99% of the time. Like most NFL coaches, no one is ever satisfied with their actions. Nor have I denied that there may be some culpability on the parts of the black men mentioned here. Like most NFL quarterbacks they have faced their share of the blame for making mistakes.  Read it back, slowly and without making angry assumptions based on perceived political leanings. So don’t go there. This isn’t about cops, it’s about the society that supports the bad decisions of a handful of miscreants.)

Today marks the official one week anniversary of the worst play in Super Bowl history (of course check back next year and we may have a new one for you). For you non-Sportsy people or those who only watched the commercials, last week the Seattle Seahawks stood one yard from victory in the biggest game of the year. For several years now they have ridden to fame on the rather large shoulders and thighs of their running back Marshwn Lynch who goes by the nickname “Beast” or “Beastmode.” Now even you knew nothing about the sport, I am sure you would see the wisdom of just handing the ball to a player nicknamed “Beast.”

As life has it I was sitting in a coffee shop Monday when the guy at the next table said to his wife, “Something must have happened after we went to bed, I keep hearing people talking about someone being stupid.”  I turned to him and explained what I just did above. His wife said, “If I had a guy named ‘Beast,’ I would have just given him the ball. That seems logical.” The gentleman and I shook our heads and said, “I know, right.” The guy said, “so, I guess the Seahawks won and everybody is upset at the Pats?”

Yet, alas, the Seahawks genius coach decided to fake everybody out by throwing the ball. It was taken by the Patriots and the game was over. It seems so logical, right. Hand the ball off. Get the points. Win the game. It’s so confounding that people were still talking about that play this morning as I drove to church.

Here’s the thing. Nobody faults the quarterback who threw it, though some have questioned the manhood of the wide receiver who allowed his defender to catch the boy. No one has talked about how great the defender was. No one (other than the Sports Guy) has praised Belichek for his coaching at that crucial moment. Even the boys at FiveThirtyEight (datacrunchers with delightfully stat heavy analyses of big and small games), while trying to prove the validity of the playcall have not really proved anything (passing gave the Seahawks a 3% better chance at victory- but that interception, I would add gave them a 100% chance of losing).

No everyone is blaming the Seahawks coach. It was his boneheaded call that caused the situation, we are all arguing. One of my favorite memes from the week has him standing at drive through window asking, “Should I just hand this to you; or back up 8 feet and throw it at you for no reason?” No matter how long he continues to coach or how many more games he wins; one of the first questions new people ask Carroll is going to be: “So, Pete, why did you call a pass?”

No one is asking Russell Wilson why he threw the ball.

Only a few people are asking the Seahawks WR why he didn’t catch the ball.

No one is saying the Seahawks should fire either of them. They are about Carroll. Us, sports fan seem to have an understanding that the decision to throw was the moment it went bad. The decision was the thing; so Carroll is the one with egg on his face.

Now you may be asking why I am belaboring this point. I am doing so to make a comparison to a series of cases in which we as Americans have been faced with consequences and the decisions that were made  which led to them.

George Ramirez decided that Trayvon was a problem. Ramirez decided to report his suspicions to the police. Ramirez decided to (against the command of the 911 operator) to follow Trayvon. Ramirez decided to take a gun with him as he followed Trayvon. When confronted by Trayvon as to why he was being followed, Ramirez opted to “stand his ground and fight.” Last Ramirez decided to pull the trigger when in his mind he was in trouble during the ensuing fight.

No one is blaming Ramirez for Trayvon’s death (especially not his jury).

BART Officer Johannes Mehserle decided that Oscar Grant and his friends were a problem when he noticed a group of white men yelling at a group of black people. Mehserle decided to pull Grant and his group aside and handcuff them behind their backs. Mehserle decided to let the white men leave without so much as a warning. When Grant asked to be let go, like the white men had, Mehserle decided that Grant was a threat and choose to fire his pistol at the handcuffed man.

Officer Mehserle was said to have made a honest mistake in firing his gun (the poor thing had meant to fire his taser). No one questioned his decision to handcuff a man and fire again at the man’s back when he said, “You shot me.”

The Ferguson Police decided protests over an officer involved shooting was a problem.When people got mad and decided to protest Mike’s death, the Ferguson PD decided to show up dressed like they were combating ISIS. The FPD decided to escalate actions in light of the protest. They decided to throw smoke grenades to subdue the protest (containing 1000s of innocent, peaceful protesters and a handful of knuckleheads). The FPD decided to treat the Protesters like they would the worst drug dealers or potential terrorists.

No one is blaming the FPD for the riots.

Daniel Pantealeo decided that Eric Garner was a problem. Pantealeo decided to confront Garner about selling individual cigarettes without a licence.  Pantealeo decided to escalate the argument when Garner said he was not doing anything wrong. Pantealeo decided to use an illegal choke hold to subdue Garner when he reacted with frustration. Pantealeo decided to maintain that hold when Garner proclaimed he could not breathe. Pantealo decided to wait 20 minutes to call for medical help after Garner passed out.

No one is blaming Pantealeo (at least no jury of his peers).

I could say that no one is blaming the Ohio cop who shot a black man holding a toy gun in a local Walmart. I could say that no one is blaming the cop who shot the 12 yo Tamir Rice in a stairway. I could go on playing this no blame game.

But just one more. No one is blaming the NY cops who refused to work after being told they would be held accountable for their actions towards minorities. No blame.

Here’s what I wish. We attack Pete Carroll and not Russell Wilson because we know that Carroll’s decision led to a bad outcome. Sure, we say, Wilson has some culpability (he should not have thrown a pick); but it was Carroll’s bad choice that led to the outcome.

Yet we (and by we I mean my fellow White Southerners and Evangelicals) attack Oscar, Eric, Tamir, and the Ferguson protesters for their reactions to a decision made by someone else. Sure, we say, Ramirez has some culpability, but what was Trayvon really doing and why did he fight with Ramirez.

In the case of Carroll we note that the decision to pass was the cause and Wilson’s errant throw was the effect. Therefore Carroll has more blame.

Yet in the case of the Ferguson protesters, we ask why did they react the way they did. We never think to think about the cause- we’re just judging the effect.

I guess I made this connection this morning while listening to Sports Radio because I have spent the past weekend researching race relations in Alabama. During that time I came across a quote from a black politician to the proposed 1901 Alabama State Constitution which effectively took the vote and ability to hold any job worth having from black Alabamians. He asked his fellow delegates this question:

“If hope and aspiration were removed, if effort and intelligence were denied reward, then the black citizen might became ‘the ignorant, shiftless, criminal negro’ of white stereotypes.”

The irony of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution (which by the way has never been replaced and which’s racial segments have never been rescinded; just overlooked by post 1965 officials) is that in a Constitution designed to save Alabama from the ‘scourge of the criminal negro’, they did more to create criminality in the African-American  community than any criminal mastermind in need of a labor force could have done. It’s almost as if the white delegates got together and said “how can we make a race of people into a criminal underclass.” rather than asking how can we best set our state and all its people for success in the coming decades.

No one is blaming the delegates for crime and destitution in Alabama; at least not the Alabama voters who overwhelmingly voted not to override the racial language of the Constitution in 2004.

It has been say that our actions often create the very things we fear. In all our concern not to lose a football game, we create the exact situation needed to lose. In all concern to avoid black criminality, we have created a pervading stereotype that continues to led to bad decisions.

In the one case, we have the guts to blame the decision maker for the bad decision. Yet when it comes to ourselves and our political and civil leaders, we keep letting ourselves and them off the hook. May we have the courage to hold ourselves and our leaders to the kind of accountability we expect from a group of men playing a game.

That would be a start. A %$& good start.



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