Opinion: New Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel doesn’t owe anyone an explanation about his Blackness

Mike McDaniel getting the Dolphins coaching job led to some questioning if he was indeed biracial as he says. McDaniel doesn’t owe an explanation.

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In February for Black History Month, USA TODAY Sports is publishing the series 28 Black Stories in 28 Days. We examine the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials continue to face after the nation’s reckoning on race two years ago.

When I saw that Mike McDaniel was hired as Miami Dolphins coach, and the scarily ugly racial twist the hire started to take on social media, the first person I thought of was my daughter.

The McDaniel hire, and subsequent conversations, focused on a central question: what is Black?

And it comes at a time in American history where race is everything. It’s always been everything but the influence of the white nationalist former President is still strong. He inspired a group of mostly white supremacists to storm the Capitol. Not coincidentally hate crimes have risen in recent years. In other words, the uglier parts of racism are making a comeback like the hockey-mask wearing Jason from Friday the 13th.

It’s impossible not to put the McDaniel story in this context.

As for my girl, she is a dream of a daughter: smart, funny, and a stunningly good athlete. My daughter, like McDaniel, is biracial, and she looks white. With straight, blondish hair and blue eyes. Her looks, combined with my dark Black skin, have led to some staggeringly racist moments when we’re in public, since apparently people don’t know how genetics work. Once, a white woman thought I was her babysitter. Another thought I was her driver. “Are you her chauffer?” she asked.

Mike McDaniel (left) and wide receiver Justin Hardy (16) when McDaniel was an offensive assistant with the Atlanta Falcons.

Just recently she was on a playdate with one of her friends. The friend was driven to it by her grandmother who when seeing me hug my daughter and say to her “have fun” had a horrified look on her face.

“Who are you?” the grandmother asked.

“I’m her father,” I said. “Who are you?”

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She awkwardly tried to laugh it off while I didn’t crack a smile. Again, racism is so strong in our society that it blinds people’s common sense and ability to comprehend what melanin is.

My daughter looks white but we often talk about about her Black ancestry, with her asking questions, making her own observations, and a back and forth, with my emphasis on her having pride in her Blackness. We talk race often and she will not be someone who passes: a light-skinned biracial person who can pass as white and does to avoid the stinging and destructive impact of racism.

Which brings me back to McDaniel.

After his imminent hiring was reported, there was a great deal of skepticism and, frankly, vitriol, centered on a 2021 interview in which McDaniel said his grandmother and father are Black. The insinuation, in some cases the direct accusation, was that McDaniel had spent much of his coaching career passing as a white man and didn’t experience the same career difficulties and racism that biracial or Black coaches do.

In other words, many people, including people I greatly respect, and mostly Black people, were basically saying McDaniel wasn’t Black enough. Or, in even worse cases, they were saying he needed to prove his Blackness. It is some of the most vile and disgraceful things I’ve seen on social media and that’s saying something.

There are even people questioning the compensatory picks the 49ers will receive from the league (two third-rounders) for developing a minority assistant coach under the Rooney Rule. The tin foil hat belief is that the 49ers are getting picks for someone who isn’t really Black.

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“I’ve never ever seen anyone in sports have to prove they were biracial, multi-cultural before,” tweeted Omar Kelly, columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “Usually, people just accept it. Or … don’t discuss it. This is a sad time in this country.”

He’s right.

“I guess we need to start doing DNA and ancestry tests next?” he added. “Very disappointing, and it’s more my people I’m disappointed in (than) anyone.”

He’s right again.

Where things go wildly astray is the assumption McDaniel has spent his life passing, refusing to acknowledge his Blackness, until he was in sight of an NFL head coaching job.

There’s a problem with this theory: we don’t know if it’s true.

McDaniel may have talked about his racial dynamics with coaches or players on past teams. The fact he was biracial may have been known. Just because the nature of his race wasn’t discussed on CNN doesn’t mean he was hiding it.

Again, there’s another complicated layer. If he was hiding his Blackness, he was wrong. Incredibly wrong.

That still shouldn’t prevent him from getting an NFL head coaching position. Or the 49ers from getting those draft picks.

Again, we’ve never asked for light skin biracial brotha’ ID cards before. Why now?

I’ll take McDaniel at his word. The people questioning it don’t know him and questioning him is cheap.

McDaniel doesn’t owe anyone, any explanation about his Blackness.

Normally, what people say on Twitter doesn’t necessarily warrant a reaction but this is different. Race is America’s original sin, remains a plague, and was worsened by Donald Trump. The way to address racism, whether it’s Trump’s, or anyone else’s, is to directly confront it.

Now, anyone who says McDaniel’s story, and the story of race in America, isn’t complicated, is someone you should never listen to again. It is immensely complex. In part because of the NFL, which historically, and now, handles issues of race with great putridity. That’s part of the issue here, and I get it, because the NFL is completely untrustworthy on issues of race. It’s why former Dolphins coach Brian Flores is suing the league.

“Your world is kind of changed when you consciously start to understand what race is in general,” McDaniel said in that interview last year. “

I remember one particular day, walking around and all of a sudden noticing that, ‘Hey, I’m the only fair-skinned person in all these picture frames.’  “My grandmother on my dad’s side is Black. My dad’s Black.

“I can honestly say up to that point, I hadn’t noticed that I was different in two fields. I was different in that I was multi-racial to the world. But even within my own family, I was different from them. I was just kind of a unicorn.”

Now he’s a head coach. A biracial one.

Put away your DNA tests.

Sent from Mail for Windows

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