The tricky question of Mike McDaniel's minority hire status

Jon Santucci
Palm Beach Post

I get the responses to the Miami Dolphins hiring Mike McDaniel as new head coach.

With the NFL's hiring record once again under scrutiny, the biggest issue for some is fusing the reality that McDaniel is biracial with his appearance.

Is he really Black enough to be considered a minority hire?

Let’s get this out of the way before going any further: I am both biracial and lighter-skinned.

My father is Italian and white. My mother was born in Kingston, Jamaica and has darker skin.

My family’s oral history about my maternal grandfather, one of my heroes, isn’t clear. What tends to be most repeated is that he's the direct descendant of slaves who possibly came from what is now Liberia.

Before my parents were married, my dad's aunt objected. Her racist views prompted her concern over them bringing a “zebra child” into the world.

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Another opinion:Mike Freeman: New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel doesn't owe anyone an explanation about his Blackness

Jon Santucci

I didn’t think about race too much growing up in the north other than a few dramatic moments. I do remember visiting my grandfather in Atlanta when I was a young child in the early 1980s and looking out the window at night to see if the KKK was outside with torches because my parents had a mixed marriage. There was no one out there, but I'd heard stories and assumed the worst.

What I know is that I cherish the fact that I’m biracial. I value that from birth I was immersed into two very different cultures. It wasn’t white or Black or even Italian or Jamaican, it was simply dad and mom and their families.

First off: Let's not say Mike McDaniel 'identifies' as biracial. He is biracial.

Okay, so that’s me. But my background certainly helps frame my views on McDaniel and the response to him.

So here we go.

First off, let’s stop saying that McDaniel “identifies” as biracial. He is biracial.

It’s a concrete reality – one in which he was given no input and still cannot control any more than I can. And the idea he’s somehow using it to further his career is unfair.

Play it out the other way. What if McDaniel was a man who had a Black father and a white mother but declined to be known as biracial? Regardless of his appearance if it was discovered that his father was Black, many would be outraged. Is he ashamed to have a Black father? Is he a racist? How dare he not be proud of his Black heritage!

I’m an idealist, so I am going to say something not everyone will understand or agree with: You can’t have it both ways.

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel speaks during a news conference at NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, July 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Now, for the trickier part: Should McDaniel be considered a minority hire? I’m not so sure, but to say no gets us into very murky territory.

I am biracial, but that doesn’t mean that I can completely identify with the Black experience in America. I’ve been with Black friends whose very skin color makes people nervous. My skin isn’t dark enough to prompt those same responses.

I’ve heard stupid things, called racist terms from both white and Black and been accused of being racist by both white and Black – once on the same day. But in my personal experience, I’ve found some people are more comfortable throwing out harsh accusations rather than even acknowledging another’s experience or point of view.

McDaniel’s skin doesn’t make racist people nervous. At least it didn’t until Sunday when the sports world found out he was biracial. Funny how after getting hired he became not white enough and not Black enough at the same time.  

But that doesn’t change the shade of his skin. He doesn’t look like Mike Tomlin or Lovie Smith. And the NFL does have an embarrassingly awful track record of hiring Black coaches.

Does Mike McDaniel's hiring address Rooney Rule issues? No.

How is it possible that Eric Bieniemy has never been an NFL head coach despite an elite resume? It doesn’t make sense that highly respected coaches and men like Leslie Frazier, Jim Caldwell, Todd Bowles and Raheem Morris haven’t gotten another chance despite the 22 combined openings the past three years.

Does McDaniel’s hiring – or even his interview – really address the issues that the Rooney Rule was created to correct? No.

But who should legislate that? Who decides how dark someone’s skin has to be before they qualify?

None of that is a McDaniel problem, though. And he hasn’t done anything wrong.

Unfortunately, we still haven’t reached that place that Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of where his children would be judged on the content of their character rather the color of this skin.

That’s why instead of talking about McDaniel’s pros and cons, we’re talking about what he looks like.

By all accounts, McDaniel is incredibly smart, personable, creative and an excellent communicator. His coaching pedigree is impressive. He also is completely unproven as a head coach and is another former offensive coordinator who didn’t call plays (ala Joe Philbin).

Those things matter more than the color of his skin.