Dabo Swinney and the White-Man No-Apology Apology

Like Swinney, coaches are the least likely people to accept accountability, and they rarely embody the principals they demand of the players who have no power in their charge.

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Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

After a series of critical challenges to the highest paid college football coach in the U.S., Dabo Swinney, concerning weak responses to the uttering of racial slurs by a Clemson coach (and Swinney) and Swinney sporting a “Football Matters” shirt in the wake of George Floyd’s death underneath the knee of a police office, a calloused death sentence executed in 8:46, Swinney wants everyone to believe he is offended equally by the N-word and GD:

You see, Swinney’s racial awareness is as hollow as his Christianity, worn on his sleeve 24/7.

In a statement lasting about 5-plus minutes longer than Floyd’s last breaths, Swinney launches into the white-man no-apology apology.

Swinney isn’t the first, and won’t be the last, to practice the art of no-apology apologies, but he hits all the key elements.

We weren’t there, and we don’t understand.

There were no racial slurs directed at players, but simply uttered near players.

All the white men in charge took care of the situations, and since we weren’t there, we simply don’t know, and can’t understand.

The assistant coach in question is a fine man, Swinney assures us, as all white men are when they have power and are inexplicably held accountable.

We have watched this play out fairly recently, in gross relief from any kind of decency at Penn State, another fine university where Football Matters, but not the humanity of those consumed in the process.

Swinney, like some of his fellow elite-coaches such as Nick Saban and Mike Krzyzewski, has made his millions and built his authority mostly on the backs of unpaid Black labor. And while, yes, a small percentage of these amateur athletes reap huge salaries as pros and a fair share of them receive mostly reduced college degrees, the elite-coach fraternity is where the real power and money are.

This college football monstrosity of abuse and hypocrisy is dwarfed only by the Holy Grail waiting at the end of some players’ rainbow—the NFL.

An important lesson that seems less obvious during the current wave of civil unrest and calls for racial equity — for an end to racism and white privilege — is that if you are surprised at the corruption and hypocrisy in policing in the U.S., wait until you take a similar critical look at coaching — from the pee-wee leagues all the way through professional leagues.

Like Swinney, coaches are the least likely people to accept accountability, and they rarely embody the principals they demand of the players who have no power in their charge.

Take one of the stumbles in Swinney’s no-apology apology concerning whether or not he banned players from participating in racial protests at Clemson several years ago when See the Stripes and other groups called for the renaming of Tillman Hall.

Once again, Swinney explains that we weren’t there, and that he didn’t ban players from attending the rallies. Swinney did warn in his most Christian fatherly role that athletes at Clemson have lofty statuses and that they should be careful about what they associate themselves with and consider how their presence at the rallies could be interpreted.

[Note: Swinney determines who plays and when on the team, and someone with Swinney’s power need not directly ban player behavior in order to effectively ban player behavior.]

Of course, this is the same Swinney who just recently wore a Football Matters shirt directly in the moments of civil unrest focusing on #BlackLivesMatter, a movement not well supported in the state of South Carolina, where Clemson resides.

Swinney’s supporters are often the Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter folk.

Clemson University, we must note, is a public university whose founding and funding originated from one of the most notorious racists in the state’s history, Ben Tillman, and has until recently also included the honors college being named for another virulent SC racist, John C. Calhoun.

Not insignificant, Clemson University is funded in a state including a population that is nearly 30% Black, but out of the top 100 universities in the U.S., the university ranks 98th in diversity with under 7% of undergraduates identified as Black.

Swinney wants us to believe that for him Black lives matter, but as he so eloquently warned his players, his high profile actions suggest that Black doesn’t matter as much as white or, especially, green.

Since Swinney’s no-apology apology, “hotbed of reality” Don Lemon was taken to task by Dave Chappelle in his 8:46:

Chappelle is not the first to challenge Lemon’s role as a prominent Black voice in the media, but Lemon’s measured, calm response to criticism serves as a powerful contrast to the white-man no-apology apology from Swinney.

Lemon doesn’t tell us we weren’t there, that we don’t understand. Lemon accepts Chappelle’s criticism but also takes responsibility for his own words without denying them or gaslighting his audience.

Lemon makes a strong point about two high-profile Black men agreeing and disagreeing in a very public forum. And unless I am being naive, I have been watching Lemon evolve during the Trump years in a way that stands in stark contrast to the stubborn sameness we watch in Swinney or the “rigid refusal” that seems to have finally begun to crumble in Roger Goodell and Jim Harbaugh.

Swinney’s white-man no-apology apology sits in a long tradition in the South where honor and tradition allow men with power to cling to the rotting corpses of the region’s past without acknowledging that it is far past time to do the right thing, not the thing we have always done.

Like the perpetual gaslighter in the White House, Swinney cannot walk the talk, cannot embody the ethics or behavior he demands of his players; and he will not because he doesn’t have to.

One of the few completely honest things Swinney has done recently is the shirt, Football Matters.

I wouldn’t expect anything more because Swinney has no reason to be the man he demands his players to be.

Written by

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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