During Black History Month, with the series 28 Black Stories in 28 days, USA TODAY Sports examines the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials face after the nation’s reckoning on race in 2020.
Marty Schottenheimer was a treasure for national NFL writers. I always considered him one of the most decent and honest people I've met in three decades of covering football. There's one specific reason why.
When Schottenheimer was coaching Kansas City and then later San Diego, we'd talk once a week, at least. We were not close; but we were friendly. When I say he was the nicest guy, I mean, he was incredible. Many of the conversations were strictly about football on the field, and the majority were off-the-record.
There were, however, occasions when we'd talk about race. They were some of the more informative talks about race I've had while covering sports.
28 STORIES IN 28 DAYS: How America's racial reckoning impacts the world of sports
In 10 seasons under head coach Marty Schottenheimer, the Kansas City Chiefs finished first or second in the AFC West division nine times. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)
I don't think Schottenheimer would mind if I spoke about one conversation in particular. It was in the early 1990s and my memory is trash, but I think it went something like this:
Schottenheimer wanted to know my thoughts on why the NFL had such a hard time hiring Black head coaches. It was a big topic then (like now), and Schottenheimer did something you rarely heard anyone in the NFL do. He took accountability.
I remember this line the most: This problem is on most of us, the white coaches. I need to do better. We all need to do better.
Schottenheimer got emotional. This was far from unusual but his passion, and a sort of personal mea culpa, still caught me by surprise.
This was one of the few times I'd ever heard a white NFL coach say anything like this. What was mostly said then, both by coaches and the league office, was that there weren't enough Black coaches in the pipeline. That wasn't true then and it's not now.
Schottenheimer made it clear he didn't believe this, and as a Black journalist who knew this excuse was false, it was nice to hear a white coach speak the truth, even if it was done privately.
This isn't to portray him as Martin Luther Schottenheimer. I'm not sure what he was like in his personal life. I can only guess.
In the instances that we spoke, he had a handful of Black coaches on his staff, including names like Jimmy Raye and Herm Edwards, among others. He was right. He could have done better, but at least he acknowledged it.
With me, in our talks about race, he was open-minded, warm and empathetic. This will sound weird, but I felt like he understood me, and his Black coaching counterparts, or at least tried to, better than almost any white coach I've been around with the exception of Bruce Arians.
The biggest thing was that Schottenheimer listened.
You'll hear lots of nice words about Schottenheimer and they are well-deserved. I just wanted to add three more: He got it.
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