MIAMI — Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, clarifying comments this week in which he said he identified “as a human being,” affirmed that his racial background is not something he simply identifies as — it’s what he is.
“First and foremost, I’m biracial. My mom’s white, my dad’s Black. I’ve been extremely proud of that my whole life,” McDaniel told ESPN on Friday. “It is a unique experience, being a race and then fully acknowledging that most outside observers, when they perceive you, they identify you as something other than the race you are. When you’re younger and that is happening, it’s very, very confusing.”
The Dolphins introduced McDaniel as their 14th head coach this week. During a news conference Thursday in Miami, McDaniel was asked what his experience was growing up and whether his success can serve as an example for people with similar backgrounds.
He called the idea of identifying as something “odd” and added that he didn’t necessarily identify as anything but a human being.
“I think people identify me as something, but I identify as a human being,” McDaniel said Thursday. “It’s weird that it comes up because I’ve just tried to be a good person, and I think my background opens my eyes a little bit. I don’t have any real experience with racism. But I know my mom experienced it when she married my dad. I know my dad experienced it and that it’s in my family. I guess that makes me a human being that can identify with other people’s problems.”
McDaniel’s biracial background did subject him to bigotry as a child, however. On multiple occasions, his friends weren’t allowed to spend the night at his home. McDaniel initially had “no idea” why, but after a series of temper tantrums, his mother, Donna, finally told him. He and his mother were also ostracized by members of her family for her decision to marry and have a child with a Black man, which McDaniel called “eye-opening.”
McDaniel said a trip to his paternal grandmother’s home when he was 5 years old was the first time he realized he was different, when he noticed his skin was a far lighter shade than that of anyone else in his grandmother’s photographs. As he grew up with people not identifying him as biracial, he said he attempted to find a way to make sense of the confusion.
“I think what I was saying [Thursday] is that you have to come to a realization at some point, you have to have a comfort level, you have to have a resolution when you’re younger and you have these odd things happening to you,” he said. “And for me, it was, ‘OK, you’re a human.’ That was my resolution. For me in my experience, that’s how I resolved that. I think it’s something that helped me not feel so confused through the whole process.
“It shaped a very unique perspective for me because I am biracial and I know these things are wrong, but people are identifying me as something else, so it’s not happening to me. It’s a conflicting emotion.”
McDaniel joins the Dolphins after four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, having served as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2021. The 49ers will receive a third-round pick in each of the next two drafts as part of the NFL’s diversity development and hiring incentive program.