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NFL reviewing discrimination allegations from ex-player

The NFL is reviewing comments allegedly made to former player and coach Eugene Chung, who said an interviewer told him he isn’t “the right minority” for a coaching position.

“We will review the matter. That comment is completely inappropriate and contrary to league values and workplace policies,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement Monday. “The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all personnel in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Chung, 51, who is Korean, became the league’s first Asian American player drafted in the first round of the 1992 draft by the New England Patriots. He spent five seasons in the pros, playing with teams including the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts. After leaving the game, Chung began working as an assistant coach for the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Speaking to the Boston Globe, Chung said he was interviewing for a coaching position this year when the interviewer said he isn’t “the right minority” for the job. Chung did not identify the team or interviewer.

“It was absolutely mind-blowing to me that, in 2021, something like that is actually a narrative,” Chung said. “I’m not sitting here bashing the league at all, because there are great mentors and there are great coaches that embrace the difference. It’s just when the Asians don’t fit the narrative, that’s where my stomach churns a little bit.”

Eugene Chung working as an offensive line assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. 

George Gojkovich / Getty

Chung said the interview reminded him of growing up in Virginia, where his years at school were full of racist insults. While he often reported the comment to a teacher, Chung said they were rarely addressed — a problem that he believes exists in the NFL.

Chung said he’s proud of his heritage and is sending the same message to his sons. His oldest, Kyle Chung, is an assistant offensive line coach at Virginia Tech. “Look, you’re different, this is how you’re different, this is why you’re different,” Chung said of what he tells his sons. “That doesn’t make you any more or less of a person or a player or a coach.”

The Fritz Pollard Alliance, a non-profit that promotes diversity in the league, had called for an investigation into the alleged comments. “If the comments regarding his status as a Korean American are true, it’s further evidence the NFL’s actual hiring practices are still riddled with discrimination,” the organization said. 

During a Boston Globe panel celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Chung said that while he was stunned at the discrimination he faced while in the league, he still held out hope for how football can create a sense of community. 

In my experience, American football has always been kind of like the glue that brings everybody together,” Chung said. “At the start of every Sunday or Saturday, everything’s put down. It doesn’t matter what color, what race, when that game comes on, they all come together as one group whoever you’re looking for. You always see those barriers get dropped down for that short amount of time. So I always see that as a force that can be like a bond or bridge between people.”

Last year, the NFL made a pledge to increase diversity in its hiring practices. In March, the league hired its first Black woman official.

“The NFL is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, which I believe is critical to our continued success,” Goodell said at the time. “While we have seen positive strides in our coaching ranks over the years aided by the Rooney Rule, we recognize, after the last two seasons, that we can and must do more.”

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