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Who's passing for who in the NFL?

Updated: Jul 24

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel should not play both sides of his race. He should make it clear how he wants to be perceived.


“We didn't say a thing,” Langston Hughes wrote in “Who’s Passing for Who?” “We just stood there on the corner in Harlem dumbfounded--­not knowing now which way we'd been fooled. Were they really white-passing for colored? or colored-passing for white?”

Mike McDaniel, the new head coach of the Miami Dolphins, has passed through the NFL coaching ranks to become one of five minority head coaches. However, his reluctance to outright stand on his race and heritage has left a sour taste in my mouth.

“It’s been very odd, to tell you the truth, this idea of ‘identifying’ as something,” McDaniel, who is biracial, said at his introductory press conference. “I think people identify me as something, but I identify as a human being.”

The issues with McDaniel wanting to be identified as a human being rather than his race are that he and his former team benefited from his race, and his hiring occurred amidst Black coaches struggling to land head coaching opportunities.

McDaniel’s sudden rise to prominence was swift, becoming a head coaching candidate in his first year as offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. He gained attention by his creativity on the Niners’ offense and his down-to-earth press conferences, once saying, “Who? Mike Jones!” to USA Today’s NFL reporter Mike Jones, paying homage to the Houston rapper.

The 49ers received two compensatory third-round picks because of McDaniel’s hiring through the NFL’s diversity development and hiring incentive program. However, it wasn’t until his name entered head coach conversations that he revealed his race.

“For lack of a better term, he's been able to pass all this time it feels like and that he hasn't really had to experience what so many of us experienced as Black Americans,” Yahoo Sports columnist Shalise Manza Young said over the phone. “Should we have to go through the bad things that we go through as Black Americans? Of course not, but (Black Americans) understand that struggle.”

Should the 49ers have received the compensation when McDaniel doesn’t want to reference his racial identity? By not claiming his race, he, intentionally or unintentionally, gained, or even exploited, the Rooney Rule to his benefit.

“He was Black when he needed to be Black, and then he became human once he got the job, which is why it's a controversy because it's a slap in (Black people’s) faces,” adjunct professor at Clark Atlanta University Georgianne Thomas said over the phone. “I really don't understand why people are not proud to be Black, (and) I don't understand how if you're going to use the system, why you won't own up to it.”

McDaniel’s hiring came after former Dolphins head coach Brian Flores sued the NFL for alleged hiring discrimination, which placed the NFL’s Rooney Rule under fire. For Black coaches, who have dark Black skin and Afro-centric features, that deserve a shot to be an NFL head coach, McDaniel’s comments are a gut punch. Willing candidates like Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and former head coach Jim Caldwell have interviewed many times and have yet to land the job or get another shot.

“(It’s) 100% not fair (for McDaniel to play both sides of his race),” Young said. “That gets to the root of the Rooney Rule and why it was necessary to begin with (because) teams weren't giving Black coaches a chance. (Guys like) Mike Tomlin, Flores, Frazier (and) Bieniemy can't hide the fact that they're Black.”

McDaniel clarified his comments saying, “First and foremost, I’m biracial, and my mom’s white, and my dad’s Black, and I’ve been that way my whole life, but the most important thing is that I’ve been extremely proud of that my whole life.”

It shouldn’t take media pressure and outrage for him to acknowledge his identity. Coaches like Tomlin can’t avoid those types of questions, and neither should McDaniel. If he doesn’t want his race acknowledged and placed upon him, that’s fine, but he shouldn’t be able to prosper through the systems that are in place to aid Black candidates.


Derrian Carter is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sports journalism, who is enrolled in MCO 598 – Opinion Writing in the Digital Age at Arizona State University. Email Derrian at:

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