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Whitlock: The Ron Rivera-Eric Bieniemy controversy points to black matriarchy issue sports media want to avoid
Scott Taetsch / Contributor | Getty Images

Whitlock: The Ron Rivera-Eric Bieniemy controversy points to black matriarchy issue sports media want to avoid

Of the many dishonest media discussions we will be treated to this NFL season, none will match the level of fraudulence surrounding Eric Bieniemy’s debut as Washington Commanders offensive coordinator.

Bieniemy is the chosen one, the Barack Obama of football.

White sports pundits fear Bieniemy because of the reputational hazard associated with publicly second-guessing black men. Black sports pundits worship Andy Reid’s former understudy because they believe his competence says something about their own.

The NFL’s media partners – ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox – will broadcast an avalanche of misinformation, distortions, and outright lies regarding Bieniemy. What they won’t say will be far more telling than what they will say.

Two weeks into training camp and before Washington’s first exhibition, the lies and unspoken truths have already begun pouring out of Washington.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, the NFL’s lone Hispanic coach, displayed obvious discomfort working alongside the assistant coach hired to replace him. Rivera is "sleeping with Bieniemy" and knows it.

That’s the only explanation for Rivera’s odd decision to openly discuss that Washington players have approached him concerning Bieniemy’s “intense” coaching style.

“I kind of have to assimilate and get a feel for everybody,” Rivera elaborated. “Eric has an approach and it’s the way he does things and it’s not going to change because he believes in it. [Defensive coordinator] Jack Del Rio has his approach. Having been a head coach, I think Jack has a tendency to try to figure guys out a little bit more as opposed to, ‘Hey, this is it, this is the way it’s going to be.’ Eric hasn’t had that experience yet.”

Let me translate. Rivera is arguing that Bieniemy isn’t on the same page with the rest of the more experienced coaching staff. This issue should have been addressed privately. And perhaps it has been. Perhaps Rivera and Del Rio have been signaling privately to Bieniemy to tone it down.

Based on Bieniemy’s history in Kansas City, Andy Reid had to referee multiple conflicts between his offensive coordinator and players. It was much easier for Reid to micromanage Bieniemy because Reid conceived and controlled the offense. Rivera, a former NFL linebacker, is a defensive-minded head coach. Bieniemy has a level of autonomy in Washington he never enjoyed in KC.

Rivera’s comments certainly tossed Bieniemy under a bus. Rivera copped to making a mistake earlier this week. He walked back his observations in a prepared statement.

Talking heads across the sports landscape criticized Rivera for mishandling the chosen one.

But did he?

We’re likely never to know, because the conversation surrounding Bieniemy will remain surface-level across corporate media.

Here’s what won’t get discussed that should be: Can the average NFL coach succeed using an in-your-face demanding style in a league dominated by black players raised in a matriarchal culture? And is it even more difficult for black coaches?

Is there a chance Eric Bieniemy has no idea he got away with his old-school coaching approach in Kansas City because Andy Reid was the ultimate offensive authority?

Perhaps Rivera is trying to warn Bieniemy that won’t work in Washington because Bieniemy is the offensive authority figure.

Seventy-five percent of black kids are raised in single-parent families. Black culture is dominated by women. They are the authority figures in black homes. Black men struggle in dealing with stern male leadership, especially when it comes from men who remind them of their absent fathers.

The “culture” that young black athletes celebrate makes it difficult for them to accept “intense” male leadership.

For the most part, other than the Bill Belichicks and Nick Sabans, modern leaders coddle players and let their position coaches impose order. Bieniemy isn’t a position coach in Washington. In KC, he was offensive coordinator in title but not in deed.

Bieniemy likely picked up some bad habits while masquerading as KC’s play caller. I suspect Rivera sees this and is struggling to get Bieniemy to adapt. Why would Bieniemy adjust? He thinks the Chiefs won two Super Bowls because he yelled at Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce.

“I’m always going to be loud, always going to be vocal, always going to demand from my leaders,” Bieniemy told reporters, making the kind of statement Mike Singletary would make during his short tenure as 49ers head coach.

“I want our guys to clearly understand we don’t take anything for granted. You see me pull players and have long discussions with them so we’re always on the same page. Eric Bieniemy is who he is. Eric Bieniemy knows how to adapt and adjust. Eric Bieniemy is a tough, hard-nosed coach, but also understand I’m going to be the best and harshest critic but also their No. 1 fan.”

That type of third-person rhetoric would be ridiculed if corporate and social media had not anointed Bieniemy as the chosen one.

Right now, Bieniemy can do no wrong. He could fart in the face of every Washington player, and Ryan Clark, Dianna Russini, Damien Woody, and Stephen A. Smith would claim the smell of Bieniemy’s farts made Patrick Mahomes a two-time MVP.

Ron Rivera made an obvious mistake airing his sincere thoughts on Bieniemy’s coaching style. But that mistake does not negate the possibility that Bieniemy’s approach is mistaken, too.

It would be nice to have legitimate dialogue about the challenges Rivera, Bieniemy, and the Commanders face as Washington ownership tries to replace the respected Hispanic coach with the black golden child.

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