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Mike Tomlin On Weathering Racially-Fueled Criticism: ‘I Can’t Fight Hate’, So ‘It’s Irrelevant To Me’

When it comes to NFL head coaches, there are a lot of fair criticisms that you can levy against any one of them. That includes Bill Belichick, who is one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of American professional team sports, not just the NFL.

There are always certain head coaches who are regarded as being among the best at what they do. In any given year, a list of top 5-10 of them could include Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers, though depending on the time of the season, his name could also end up in those ‘hot seat’ articles falsely conjecturing that his job might be in danger.

Tomlin is certainly far from flawless, and we try to highlight that when it’s applicable, but we also recognize him as an accomplished and skilled professional who is working up against the highest of possible expectations, in light of which anybody would be doomed to fail.

There are numerous valid criticisms one can lay at his feet, whether one might agree or disagree with what they are. Occasionally, and among a small but occasionally vocal segment, you also hear the ad hominems, the bad-faith criticisms rooted in something other than critique. These often show up in the form of race-based attacks, whether thinly-veiled or bald-faced.

It’s irrelevant to me”, he recently told Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about dealing with such criticisms that are clearly racially charged. “I just do my job the best I can with class and honor. I can’t fight the hate. I can’t win that fight. Especially now, with social media, there are a lot of people who live in dark places where the hate grows and festers. I don’t deal with it. I don’t worry about it”.

As the winningest black head coach in the history of the NFL, and just the second to ever lead a team to a Super Bowl title, Tomlin is sensitive to his role as something of an ‘example’. He is also, by far, the longest-tenured active minority head coach, with the other four minority head coaches having been hired to their current posts since 2019, two of whom have never served as head coach for a game as of yet.

“Hate is winning in 2021. What we saw in 2020 as a society is proof of that”, Tomlins aid. “That’s why it’s hard for me to be optimistic. I have sons who are young men now. They are facing the same situations that I did when I was their age. We’ve gone a generation without improvement”.

He added that being silent in the face of hate is contributing to it, urging people who oppose it to “stand up and be heard”. He has encouraged his players to be active in their communities and causes, but to do so “thoughtfully and with class”.

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