Steelers-Bucs epitomized why Todd Bowles’ ‘stop making a big deal’ comments were so dangerous

Estimated read time 5 min read


Todd Bowles

Todd Bowles
Photo: Getty Images

Todd Bowles has forgotten where he came from — and who he is. Hopefully, Sunday’s loss from Mike Tomin (and Brian Flores) helped him remember.

When Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers defeated Bowles’ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-18 in Pennsylvania on Sunday, it was bigger than a much-needed victory for the Black & Gold — who snapped a four-game losing streak as they were 10-point underdogs. For Tomlin, a Black man who was the youngest coach to ever win a Super Bowl, until Sean McVay supplanted him in February, Sunday was a must-win for a coach trying to make sure his 16th season isn’t a losing one — something he’s never experienced.

For Bowles, Sunday’s game was karma. Days before the game, he made some infuriating and pathetic comments about a matchup that was the lone scheduled meeting of Black coaches when the season started. That changed when Steve Wilks became the interim coach in Carolina after Matt Rhule was fired.

“I have a very good relationship with Tomlin,” Bowles claimed. “We don’t look at what color we are when we coach against each other, we just know each other.

“I have a lot of very good white friends that coach in this league as well, and I don’t think it’s a big deal as far as us coaching against each other, I think it’s normal. (Steve) Wilks got an opportunity to do a good job, hopefully he does it. And we coach ball, we don’t look at color.”

And then Bowles said one of the most out-of-touch things a Black man connected to football has ever uttered outside of one of Herschel Walker’s most recent soundbites.

“I think the minute you guys stop making a big deal about it, everybody else will as well.”

The “you guys” that Bowles was talking about was “the media,” but more specifically, a white female reporter.

For those of you that might be thinking, “What was so bad about what Bowles said?” it’s because — like Bowles — you’ve chosen to ignore what’s been going on, and is still going on in the NFL right now, as Flores’ class-action lawsuit against the league for its racist hiring practices is still a very important thing that’s hovering over the NFL. Flores is now an assistant with the Steelers.

In case you didn’t know, Bowles started his career as an assistant coach at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), with stops at Morehouse College and Grambling State University before heading to the NFL. And when Bowles finally got his first shot to be a head coach with the Jets — one of the few Black men that have had that honor — he was ultimately run out of New York because fans and pundits thought he “sucked.” However, since 2010, Bowles and Rex Ryan are the only coaches to produce winning seasons for the Jets. And when Bowles was promoted to head coach of Tampa Bay after Bruce Arians stepped down to take a consulting role with the team, it was due to Bowles being championed by one of the few white coaches in the league who kept a diverse staff.

If anyone should know why the conversation around Black coaches in the NFL is such a “big deal,” it’s Bowles. But, to him, I guess “all coaches matter,” although he didn’t even think his current position was possible at one point.

“I didn’t think I could be a head coach until I got to Dallas in 2005 under (Bill) Parcells,” Bowles told the Washington Post in their recent series on Black coaches. Mind you, Bowles said this in a story titled, “The Ones Who Made It,” as, at the time of publication, only 26 Black men had served as head coaches in the NFL’s 102-year history.

“I didn’t think I could be a head coach,” he continued. “I didn’t try to be, but I didn’t try not to be, either. I tried to be the best coach that I could be.”

Weirdly, a regular-season game between the Steelers and Bucs became a case study about Black coaches in the NFL, and how they think. In the case of Tomlin, we have someone who threw Flores a lifeline, but who’s also the man that never brought Colin Kaepernick in for a workout despite having a thin quarterback room, didn’t “have an answer” for why Eric Bieniemy and other Black coaches keep getting overlooked, nor had a Black coordinator while working for the team that brought us the Rooney Rule, until hiring Keith Butler to run his defense in February.

And when it comes to Bowles, given his resume, the way he’s been treated, and the atmosphere he’s currently working in, he should be one of the loudest voices in the room when it comes to making a “big deal” about diversity.

Sunday could have been so much more than a thrilling win for the Steelers and a head-scratching loss for Tom Brady. But in the end, it wound up being a missed opportunity for two of the four Black coaches in the league to add context to one the biggest ongoing stories in America’s No. 1 sport.

For the optimists, there’s still some hope that it could happen. This Sunday the Bucs travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers. And for the second week in a row, Bowles will see a Black coach across from him — which is a true rarity in this sport. And given that Steve Wilks has joined Flores’ lawsuit, maybe he’ll be able to teach Todd Bowles something — like how to remember what they had to endure to get here. 


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