A Young, Black Coach Stepping Out of Bounds

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When is it okay to call out someone’s racial bias? Is it ever okay? Some would answer never, unless the offending party clearly made their intentions known. But what if the biases exist but are not known nor clearly seen by the offender? Are the victims of the offenders biases to happily accept the offenses consistently?

For six years I’ve had to subconsciously filter through these questions as a coach, but it took me getting thrown out of a football game for the embodiment of these questions to come alive.

Not the “Typical” Football Coach

I am a head freshman football coach in Texas. I am a Christian, I am black, and I am 28 years old with a baby face (I still get mistaken for a student by my colleagues and the community). Everyday I am forcefully reminded that I’m not “like” everyone else in my profession.

When I introduce myself to referees, opposing coaches and players, and parents, the nonverbal questioning on their faces reminds me that I’m not the prototypical Texas high school football coach. I don’t look proven and grungy. I don’t sound demanding. I don’t let football run my life. I’m not white.

Part of the reason why I own a big white truck is to try to be as “normal” as possible.

Remember, You’re Different

Everyday I’m made aware of these facts, and I cannot escape them. Though I am aware, I laugh to keep things normal. Though I am aware, I remain quiet when I disagree with my colleagues about social injustices and the ensuing protests. Though I am aware, I avoid controversies because I am convicted to develop relationships with coaches and players. Because I am aware I coach my players hard with an intense focus on revealing and developing their character.

At the start of every game I am made more aware that I don’t fit what’s “normal” for what a “typical” football coach looks and sounds like. So I try being overly respectful and twice as good of a coach to athletes, coaches, and officials to make up for what makes people uncomfortable about me. Though I do not always like my job, I always try being my best for what others may see is lacking in me. I sacrifice the comfort of just being me for the comforts of everyone around me.

Except for this one time.

Challenge, Unaccepted

With four minutes left in the game, our quarterback rolled to his right desperately trying to find an open receiver, and appeared to have been hit late out of bounds. We were losing the game and my passions were running high. I exclaimed to the referee –motioning with my hands – “throw the flag! They hit him late out of bounds!” “No they didn’t coach,” the head referee replied, smugly ignoring my request to be taken seriously. (I use the adjective smugly on purpose and not to simply reinforce my point. It is often that I am not taken seriously as a coach because of the way I look.)

I exclaimed again, “C’mon, you guys threw the flag for them on their sideline when they got hit late out of bounds. Protect my players too!” I was then penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for questioning and challenging the officials non-call. I was shocked.

In my playing and coaching experience I have never seen any football coach penalized for challenging an official’s call in the ways that I did. The mixture of my passion, self-awareness, ridiculousness of the penalization, and my felt need to have my players protected gave way to a sentence that jumped from my lips before I could catch it.

Young, Black, and You Don’t Like That

“Listen, I understand that I’m young and black and you don’t like that, but you need to protect my players!” The intersection of rage, fear, and offensiveness that met in the face of that white official will be forever seared in my memory.

“Coach,” he pointed his finger directly at my face, “you need to stop!” Angered that he would continue to ignore me and not acknowledge what was inherently true, I repeated the statement, this time bolder than before. “No! I get it! I’m young and I’m black, and you don’t like that – but you need to protect my players.”

The official flung his hat in the air – his face now red – and ejected me from the game. I was furious and when I got to the locker room away from my players and parents I let out a string of words I hadn’t used in years. It was not my most Christ-like moment.

I knew then, and now, that probably wasn’t the best time to address what was and is true – that age, race, and social ranking subconsciously affect our decisions and biases about people. Had it been Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, or any other more established looking white coach arguing that call in the same way I did, I would not have been penalized, let alone ejected. Though my timing might have been off, (some disagree) what I said was true and I meant it. I do not regret what I said. I regret when I said it, but only because I could not finish the game with my team.

But in another sense, I don’t regret when I said it.

An Ugly Mirror

My words exposed what belie in that referees heart and mind. Had I been white and said “I get that I’m young, white, and you don’t like that,” he would have laughed at me. Instead, he later accused me of calling him a racist. I never did. But in his mind, the fact that I’d call out what he really saw and felt – without him even fully knowing it – made him look into the mirror of his soul and face what was already there. It was clear, he did not like what he saw. He did not like what he felt. He saw a racist – his subsequent hair pinned reaction to eject me from the game only confirmed what was there before I ever said anything. The only way he could remove the mirror was by removing me from his sight.

This is what the majority of White America does to black America. I know this because this is what I live everyday. White America wants everyone to assimilate to their culture, ignore race while they ignore their biases, and just go along for the sake of their comfort. If we do not cooperate, if we do not stand for their worship of country, they demand our removal from their society. They remove us from games. They tell us to move to another country, or they red-line us to exploit and keep us away from them. They ignore the historical facts of this country because they can. They complain that we complain that we are forced to live like this in “the land of the free” everyday.

If the referee heard me call him a racist, then I certainly heard him say “how dare you feel comfortable enough in my country to challenge my racial superiority? How dare you accuse me of having a wrong racial bias?” Because I indeed was accusing him of seeing what I already knew he saw when he looked upon my body.

A Time for Exposure

When African Americans are self-aware, are acknowledging what makes us different, and are calling out the feelings that are self-suppressed within White America, we threaten everything that America hates about itself, and we aren’t liked for it.

In the words of activist/artist Propaganda, I get it but I don’t get it. Calling out racial biases is vital for our health and White America’s. There is a time and a place for everything under the sun, but we must not let the moments to expose darkness pass us by. We should not run from the places that make us uncomfortable. It’s not sexy to be disliked, but it is gratifying for us to face the realities that we all hold dignity, because we are all God’s image-bearers.

12 comments

  1. I’m so behind on my blog feed (yay school!), but when this popped up I knew I had to read it because I’ve been thinking a lot about racial issues and how everyone is afraid to talk about them. It’s true, racism is often the elephant in the room because it’s so emotionally charged and the lines are so unclear, and it’s so deeply ingrained into this country. It’s just scary.

    Actually I have some similar fears to yours, albeit in completely different categories. There are these thoughts that because I’m just a teenager, or because I’m white, or even because I’m female and should be talking about gender issues instead, I have no place in a discussion about racism. In fact there’s downright terror and anxiety just in writing this comment (what if I say the wrong thing and make it worse??). But I’m realizing that this fear is something the enemy uses against God’s people to keep us quiet. It’s not about people- even Christians- having the discussion perfectly and pleasantly; following Christ isn’t about us at all! Stories like the one you told are not happy or even very encouraging, but they do remind us that as God’s children we all have a responsibility to speak out, just like you spoke out. Even if it’s messy… because it definitely will be. God works in messes.

    Long comment! Anyway, I’ll be praying for you, because I can’t imagine what it’s like, but it has to be hard. Don’t stop praying and don’t stop following Christ in bringing light into the bad places.

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  2. I almost cried when I read this, I fear for my sons. Their future- in these days. It’s unfortunate but we must push ahead , this to shall pass but many will carry the burden to get us the human race where we need to go!

    We all we got…….. we all we need!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You a valid point. However you fall
    Into your own racial generalizations with all the “ they’s”. I won’t get into the “I don’t(s)” As that is as pointless as the generalizations you made.
    They don’t work on the problem or work towards a solution.

    1.) you clearly should have been ejected. You were the one exceeding boundaries at that point and you were setting a bad example at that point for your team.
    2.) to different degrees and different reasons we all have to deal with stereotyping Until we can address them intelligently and without accusation they will continue to exist

    I believe white privilege exists
    I believe that black men are treated badly by the police
    I believe we are all gods imperfect image bearers

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to reply Todd, and I sincerely mean that. I think your disagreement is laid upon the foundation of two inaccuracies/flaws. 1.) The generalizations you speak of is actually addressed as a specificity, a state of mind, i.e. White America, and it is addressed as a system/institution (which I briefly addressed in the article) 2.) I mean this to come across as respectfully as possible, but your response seems to lack empathy. You either fail to fully imagine, or have no desire to imagine what it’s like to be in my shoes. I’ve held my tongue for a really long time, and the one time I actually voiced an offense I and my team was punished for it. As I mentioned, this doesn’t happen often in my profession, but the one time I tried acting like most other coaches (white coaches) I was ejected. I see now it is indeed a privilege for “them” to act the way they do, but “I” may never ever step out of line. I am to keep my mouth shut and be “a good example”. I don’t know if you fully pay attention, but this happens often to many African Americans who choose to use their voice to stand up for themselves, other victims, or the voiceless. I’ve already gone on too long, but if you desire to reply again, please feel free to email me. I think it is a conversation worth continuing. Thanks again.

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      1. I would love to continue the discussion. I think we agree more than disagree. Just different perspective , experiences , etc. this is a discussion that is important to me. I just don’t see where I would email you directly. Mine is toddphillippi@yahoo.com. I look forward to hearing from you

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  4. tim, thank you for your vulnerability.. i’m gonna attempt to respond sympathetically while also presenting my own opinion/view.. if i fall short in doing so and come off as overly defensive or condescending, i sincerely apologize..

    nearly two weeks ago, one of our coaches (a white man who most definitely fits the description of the prototypical texas high school football coach) got penalized and ejected in our district championship game for telling the ref (also a white man) “you cost us the game twice,” after this ref had made two consecutive questionable calls late in the game.. after the game, the ref said that the reason our coach got ejected is because he cussed him out (which did not happen).. now whether that ref truly misheard our coach to such an extent -or- was just a bad ref making up a lie to justify ejecting him, i cannot say, as i do not know the heart and intentions of this man.. in the same way, wouldn’t you say that it’s somewhat unfair to blatantly accuse the ref of treating you differently because of the color of your skin when we also don’t know his heart or intentions? could he not have been just another bad ref making a bad call? (side note: had i been there and seen/experienced exactly what you saw/experienced i may feel the same way as you but i wasn’t so i’m obviously somewhat emotionally detached from the whole situation/experience) i’m not trying to discredit your word or your experience, and you may have very well been treated differently because of the color of your skin (as i would agree many black people still are in america), but my concern is that with all the finger-pointing and “flag throwing” going on between white people and black people these days, i feel like we’re all too often treating each other as guilty until proven innocent, (an unfair treatment which i would also agree too many black people have sadly fallen victim to.. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/john-henson-racial-profiling_us_5625555ee4b08589ef48814b#) which only makes the problem worse.. i understand there’s unsettled emotions at times between people of different races, but i feel like we’re going to have to look beyond those occasionally and hope for the best in each other, despite what assumptions and predispositions we may have towards one another..

    idk.. maybe i’m wrong.. i’ll be the first to say i don’t have all the answers when it comes to race relations in america, but i so desperately want to see MLK’s dream come true and i’m willing to do whatever it takes to see that happen.. let me know what you think.. thanks again for your post..

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    1. Hey John, can’t thank you enough for 1) actually taking the time to read my article, and for 2) choosing to use your words to empathize and for 3) trying to gain a better perspective.

      It’s funny you responded with this scenario as a buddy coach of mine (who is black) also shared with me a scenario about a week later of an incident his head coach (white) got into last year. I think what was misinterpreted in my article (and what is often misinterpreted in many African American perspectives) is that all experiences of wrongdoing or injustices are automatically viewed in a vacuum as being ONLY racially motivated. I don’t think race was the ONLY reason why I was thrown out of the game, but I still believe it was A reason. I would agree with you that we should “look beyond” the unsettled emotions between people of different races, but I think that is a privilege of being a white American. Where a white coach getting thrown out of a game can walk away questioning “was it because he really did mishear me? Or was it because he was on a power trip?”, an African American coach will ask those questions (in similar scenarios) plus “was it because I was black, too?” We don’t live in isolated moments. History effects these perspectives and influence these questions. When our culture continually chooses to disregard how history affects what we see today, we think a moment like the one I had only had to do with that night, when in reality it is on a continuum. What I’ve been reminded of since writing this article, though, is that regardless of what any referee thinks of me, my validation as young, black man and coach comes from God. I don’t think there will be any good and “acceptable” way from the White American Culture to call out these racial experiences and feelings, but because I’m free I’ll keep finding creative ways to express what I see while respecting God’s image-bearers. I don’t know if this reply helps clarify my perspective any, but if not I hope to hear from you again! I can email you if you’d like to continue the discussion. Thanks again, your reply really warmed my heart. I felt heard and I think sometimes that’s all I really want.

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