Did race play part of Lovie Smith criticism?

Posted9/8/2013 5:00 AM

One piece of unfinished business remains as the Bears complete the transition from Lovie Smith to Marc Trestman.

I was critical of Smith as a head coach and repeatedly recommended that the Bears replace him. They finally did, and Trestman makes his regular-season debut Sunday against the Bengals in Soldier Field.

The unfinished business concerns an email that reader Bruce Jones sent last New Year's Eve: "Well, you got your wish. I have to wonder, though, are you so anti-Lovie because he is black?"

This is such a serious and complicated topic that here I am, a full off-season later, still pondering the question.

The easy answer is, I doubt it.

The honest answer is, who knows for sure?

Some observers supported Smith because he is black. Some criticized him because he is black. Some were oblivious to his race.

I'm 99 percent certain that I was anti-Lovie, as Mr. Jones put it, for appropriate reasons. But that 1 percent lurks in the darkest unknown somewhere.

Racism often is embedded so deeply into the subconscious that we don't recognize it in ourselves.

Take last week at a Philadelphia Eagles practice. Black cornerback Cory Williams and white wide receiver Riley Cooper engaged in a physical altercation. No big deal. Fights happen all the time between NFL teammates.

Except, Cooper was in the news this summer when an online video surfaced of him using a racial slur to threaten a black security guard at a concert in Philly.

Fans and media still are contemplating the role of race in the practice incident. Denials have been issued, but whispers characterize the situation as the elephant in the Eagles' locker room.

Now back to Chicago.

At the risk of protesting too much, I deny any black-and-white motive in my evaluations of Smith.

However, I never claim to be colorblind because, for better or worse, most of us are a function of our backgrounds.

Like, I grew up when it was rare to see an interracial couple holding hands while walking down the street. All these decades later we have a mixed-race president of the United States and I still notice interracial couples.

They and Barack Obama are a sign of racial progress in society just as black quarterbacks and middle linebackers are in the NFL.

As for Lovie Smith, some gave him the benefit of doubt just because he's black and some denied him the benefit of doubt just because he's black.

Personally, I have questioned myself over the years for instinctively taking the side of minorities in sports-management positions. I did so because for too long blacks were victims of unequal opportunity in sports, especially in the hiring of managers and coaches, and I wanted them to succeed.

Since then Chicago alone has had persons of color such as Bill Cartwright, Jerry Manuel, Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams in decision-making positions.

By the time Lovie Smith arrived it felt natural to judge him strictly on merit because the race card had been played out. It certainly was less muddled this way. He was as easy to fire in print as, say, Dick Jauron was before him and for some of the same reasons.

Regardless, soul-searching aside, Smith is out now and Trestman is in. The new coach is Jewish. I'm Jewish, which, I suppose, means I'm expected to support him.

Until, that is, a timeout has to be called because he was late getting a play in from the sideline.


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