On McCoy, Chip, the Eagles And Race

By the time LeSean McCoy got in front of the sponsored backdrop at Camden Catholic High School and saw the group of reporters jostle for position, he knew the questions that were about to be fired in his direction.

This was last April, and McCoy was hosting a football camp for kids. It was also two weeks after the Eagles had cut McCoy’s friend, DeSean Jackson. He was asked about the message Chip Kelly was sending to the rest of the squad with the move.

“You know that nobody’s safe in this game as far as being here forever,” he said. “But then you feel like, ‘Alright well I’ve established myself so much, I did so much.’ [But] anybody can go.”

Asked specifically about Kelly, McCoy said: “Chip is different. He’s a cool guy. He’s honest. He likes hard work. And he’s respectful. We have a great relationship. I think people are getting the wrong picture like he cut one of his best players. I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s just that was a decision they made. As far as personality-wise, Chip, he does well with everybody.”

It’s fair to say McCoy has done a 180 on that take. Yesterday, ESPN The Magazine released an excerpt from an interview with McCoy in which he noted that “there’s a reason [Kelly] got rid of all the black players.”

The most common reaction has been to take aim at McCoy and point out that he sounds bitter and angry because he was traded. And in truth, there’s plenty of legitimacy to that argument.

The bigger question, though, is: Does Kelly have to address this with his players?

To be clear, I think McCoy was hurt that he got traded, and I don’t think Kelly makes personnel moves based on race. Since the day he got here, he has been singularly focused. In his mind, every decision is based on one factor: Will this help get the Eagles win games and get closer to a Super Bowl?

There are examples of Kelly having gone out of his way to educate his players on the sacrifices made by black athletes who came before them.

But race has been a discussion here since before Kelly’s Eagles even played their first game. The Riley Cooper incident is one that’s been rehashed quite a bit in the past 24 hours. Immediately after the video surfaced, Kelly said all the right things about how the organization was not going to sweep Cooper’s transgression under the rug and about how it would take time for him to earn his teammates’ trust back.

But the resulting discipline was underwhelming. Cooper was fined an undisclosed amount and spent four days away from the team. When asked how Cooper spent his time away, Kelly declined to offer specifics.

“That’s Riley’s personal thing,” he said at the time. “And again, I know you have to ask the question, and I understand that, but that’s not at liberty for me to say that. In deference to him, that’s Riley’s situation. I wouldn’t comment on anybody in any situation if they sought outside assistance and they were excused in terms of where they would go.”

At the time, McCoy said he couldn’t “respect a guy” like Cooper. Cary Williams and Cooper got into a fight during practice a month later.

Last offseason, when Cooper was a free agent, the team aggressively re-signed him to a deal that included $10 million guaranteed. When the coach preaches culture, it’s fair to question a move like that.

With Jackson, releasing him was Kelly’s prerogative. But the handling of the decision left the Eagles open to criticism. They announced the move hours after a report linked Jackson to gang activity and then didn’t address it for weeks, allowing an unflattering narrative to take shape.

With McCoy, Kelly continues to say trading him was a financial decision. Yet McCoy’s deal was more team-friendly than the one DeMarco Murray signed here. Adding a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker and signing a running back who might be a better scheme fit are perfectly reasonable explanations. But the one that Kelly provided doesn’t add up.

Again, none of this lends any credibility to McCoy’s claim that Kelly essentially factors race in when deciding who he wants in his locker room. At the same time, it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world for Kelly to address the topic with his players.

During the owners meetings in March, Kelly responded to comments made by Tra Thomas that there was a “hint of racism” in the organization. Thomas was unhappy that the Eagles chose not to bring him back as an assistant, but he was also in the building as part of the staff for two seasons. Thomas said the conversations about race took place in the locker room.

Asked if he felt the need to look into Thomas’ claim, Kelly said: “No. …I don’t look at the color of any player. I just look at how do they fit on our team. In 2015, I don’t think that’s something that’s ever come into my mindset.”

McCoy’s comments are out there on SportsCenter, NFL.com, national sports-talk radio, etc.

This is not about how many black players the Eagles have on their team or how Kelly replaced McCoy with an African-American in Murray. Perception very well may be different from reality in this instance.

But as of late Thursday afternoon, Kelly had not discussed McCoy’s comments with the players, a team source confirmed. Going forward, his best course of action would be to address the topic head-on and make sure everyone’s on the same page heading into the 2015 season.