Jack Del Rio's father, high school teammates, and players help shed light on controversial comments

Josh Peter
USA TODAY

Jack Del Rio’s father paused during a recent phone interview. 

“You caught me at an emotional moment,’’ Jack Del Rio Sr. told USA TODAY Sports. 

He got choked up while talking about the diverse group of athletes he said he coached in youth sports decades ago in Northern California.

“I didn’t care if they were Black, Puerto Rican, whatever they were,’’ said Del Rio Sr., 85, whose four sons are white. “I loved these boys.’’ 

Later, the discussion shifted back to his oldest son, Jack Del Rio Jr., a longtime NFL coach who this month made comments that prompted NAACP president Derrick Johnson to say Del Rio should resign or be fired as defensive coordinator of the Washington Commanders.  

FALLOUT:  Del Rio's comments 'nail in the coffin' for Commanders' stadium bill

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Anger spread across the country, in fact, after Del Rio called the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol a “dust-up’’ while comparing the violence at that insurrection to the violence at riots during the mostly peaceful protests after the murder of George Floyd. 

“What he said was the truth,’’ Del Rio’s father said of the controversial remarks. “He didn't say anything wrong. 

"I hear stories of people turning against him and all this stuff. I don’t understand it. He is just a good person.

“It’s been a difficult time because this great nation of ours, I don’t know what the hell’s going on.’’ 

Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio looks on before a game against the New York Giants on Sept. 16, 2021.

The man who raised Del Rio Jr., 59, has offered fresh insight into the comments that prompted the Commanders to fine Del Rio $100,000 and resulted in him issuing a public apology. It was not the first controversy involving Del Rio since the Commanders hired him in January 2020.

In June 2020, Del Rio retweeted a Twitter post that said Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver, “faked’’ a noose found in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway.

“Really dude, WTF?” Del Rio wrote in the retweet.

At that time, a Washington spokesman said the team would not comment on Del Rio’s tweets, according to the Washington Post, which noted it was unclear if Del Rio had directed his comment at Wallace or the person who had criticized Wallace.

The FBI said Wallace cooperated with an investigation that determined there was no federal crime. The pull rope fashioned like a noose had been in the garage months before Wallace arrived at the track, the FBI said.

When Del Rio came under criticism after the Wallace retweet and a Twitter user lamented that Del Rio had come out in support of then-President Donald Trump, the coach wrote, "I’m 100% for America, if you’re not you can kiss my A$$.”

He also retweeted a fake picture attributed to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It falsely suggested the New York congresswoman said an extended lockdown during COVID-19 was worth the cost because it would prevent Trump from winning a second term.

Del Rio did not respond to requests for comment made late Monday afternoon through the Commanders' Director of Football Communications, Sean DeBarbieri, email and a text message and voicemail to a phone number listed in Del Rio's name.

Del Rio’s history helps explain how the comments affected men like John Bedford, who is Black and played high school basketball with Del Rio, a three-sport star in Hayward, California. 

“It was shocking at first,’’ Bedford said, and he traced his reaction to a memory from more than 40 years ago. 

During their days at Hayward High School, Bedford said, Del Rio slid behind the wheel of his El Camino. Before he drove off from school, according to Bedford and two other former teammates of Del Rio, they would squeeze into the cab of the Chevrolet coupe truck. 

One of the teammates, like Del Rio, was white. Three others were Black. 

“We turned him onto soul music,’’ Bedford said. “Before we knew it, we had all kinds of music going on. Rap and soul and AC/DC and Van Halen and Journey.  

“Jack hung around a lot of Black dudes. Basketball players, football players, it was like we were all friends. 

“When we were playing ball in high school and stuff, some of (the white students) would use the n-word pretty frequent. But I never heard Jack say it.’’ 

Bedford said he has not spoken with Del Rio since the early 1980s but added, "I still care about him as a friend.''

Ronald Moss, another former high school teammate of Del Rio's, said he hasn't spoken to Del Rio in decades but was surprised by the comments about the Jan. 6 attack — until learning Del Rio had expressed public support for former President Donald Trump.

“Oh, he’s a Trump supporter?'' said Moss, who is Black. "Well, that speaks for itself. But Jack as an individual has been a very good guy.''

OPINION: No, Jack Del Rio: Jan. 6 was not a 'dust-up'. It was a violent act of treason

Then there were the memories of Jack Del Rio Sr., who ran a construction business and built a powerhouse of winning youth sports teams that featured his own sons and athletes of color. 

“He stood up for us Black boys when it was a white man’s world, and he respected us as athletes,’’ said Moss, whose brother Wendell said Del Rio Sr. once intervened when two white men threatened three Black high school basketball players with a knife outside a restaurant. 

Added Bedford, “Jack’s dad would invite us all over to spend the weekend and spend the night and he became like our second dad.’’ 

Jack Del Rio Sr., center, coached his son, far left, and other athletes of all backgrounds during his tenure as a youth coach in California.

Alfonzo Davis said he is among the Black teammates who spent nights at the Del Rio’s house and now finds himself perplexed by Del Rio’s controversial remarks. 

“I was more like, ‘Man, Jack should have not even commented on that if that’s how he feels,’’’ said Davis, who said he hasn't talked to Del Rio in 35 years. “I was like, ‘Why?'’’ 

There are other clues and contradictions along Del Rio’s path from a three-sports star in Hayward to an All-American linebacker at Southern California to an 11-year pro in the NFL and finally to the apology he issued June 9

"Referencing that situation as a dust-up was irresponsible and negligent and I am sorry," Del Rio wrote on Twitter. "I stand by my comments condemning violence in communities across the country. I say that while also expressing my support as an American citizen for peaceful protest in our country.’’ 

Jack Del Rio, Chiefs great had altercation

History casts doubt on Del Rio’s commitment to peaceful protest. 

During the NFL labor strike in 1987, Del Rio played for the Kansas City Chiefs and got into an altercation with Otis Taylor, the retired All-Pro Chiefs receiver who was working for the team as a scout.

On that September day, Taylor walked out of Arrowhead Stadium with a tryout player. Del Rio, one of the picketing players, was waiting outside.

According to the Kansas City Star, Del Rio called Taylor and the replacement player a “dirty scab” and a “lowlife,” then pulled Taylor to the ground before the two men exchanged punches.

A photograph of the incident shows Del Rio, then 24, on top of Taylor, then 45. 

Randy Covitz, a former writer for the Kansas City Star, recently wrote on Twitter, “I was inches away from the Del Rio vs. Taylor melee. As the two were flailing away, and Del Rio heard peacemakers shouting, 'Otis,' Del Rio stopped punching and asked, 'Otis? Otis Taylor? I loved watching you as a player.' End of fight.’’ 

But not the end of the matter. 

Taylor, who is Black and reportedly suffered a bloody lip, filed a criminal complaint; Del Rio filed an assault complaint; but prosecutors did not file charges because of “insufficient evidence,’’ according to the Kansas City Star. 

The Star also reported Taylor filed a $1 million lawsuit against Del Rio, the NFL Players Association and player representative Nick Lowery, and that two years later the matter was settled out of court. 

“I’ve let bygones be bygones,’’ said Taylor’s wife, Regina, who added her husband has Parkinson’s disease and has been unable to communicate for several years. 

In 2017, Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Del Rio was adamant when Barber asked if he would have done anything differently during the strike. 

“No,’’ Del Rio said. “No.’’ 

That same year Del Rio was a veteran NFL coach, and in his third and last season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. His defensive coordinator, Ken Norton Jr., was Black, as were about half of his position coaches. So was his punter, Marquette King, who played for Del Rio for three seasons, from 2015 to 2017. 

“I thought he was an awesome person,” King said. “I enjoyed being coached by him. He’s never given me any weird vibes at all. It’s hard for me to say something negative because my experiences were always positive and super fun with him. Everything was good. We had a really good relationship.” 

Jack Del Rio and the 'dust-up' at the Capitol

On June 6 came Del Rio's reply tweet about the then-upcoming hearings about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He wrote, “would love to understand ‘the whole story’ about why the summer of riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property is never discussed, but this is ??? #CommonSense”. 

A reporter asked Del Rio about that tweet two days later during a press conference at the Commanders’ minicamp.

“I can realistically look at it, I can look at images on the TV, people’s livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem,” Del Rio said. “And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we’re going to make that a major deal. I just think it’s kind of two standards, and if we apply the same standard and we’re going to be reasonable with each other, let’s have a discussion.  

“That’s all it was. Let’s have a discussion. We’re Americans. Let’s talk it through.” 

Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio jokes with guard Tyrese Robinson during a workout this month.

Brian Mitchell, who played for Washington’s NFL team from 1990 to 1999, took aim not only at Del Rio but also at Commanders head coach Ron Rivera..

"Where we have a coach (Rivera) who we sit up here and we try to put on a pedestal as 'he's this disciplinarian,' and he's got a damn defensive coordinator who constantly pokes the (expletive) bear,'' Mitchell said on 106.7 the Fan during "BMitch & Finlay,'' a daily show he co-hosts with JP Finlay. He later added, "I care about somebody stopping this man (Del Rio) from constantly poking this little racial bear.''

Del Rio deleted his Twitter account on June 11, and at the time, he was following Tucker Carlson, the Fox News TV host who in July laughed on-air after he played a video clip of Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone testifying that he had been left with “the psychological trauma and emotional anxiety of having survived such a horrific event.” 

Remarked Carlson: “Now not to underplay the crimes that were committed on January 6, and there were crimes committed on January 6, but compared to what? What’s interesting is that Michael Fanone didn’t mention experiencing any trauma during the time he spent last year,” in reference to the unrest in Washington D.C. after the killing of George Floyd. 

Del Rio also followed Candace Owens, the conservative commentator who on Jan. 6 posted images of riots on her Twitter account and wrote, “These images capture the horrific scene that took place outside of the Capitol building today. Truly disgraceful. Oh wait—my mistake. These are actually from the BLM 'protests' over the summer.’’ 

Bedford said he wonders how much of such content Del Rio consumed before his former teammate sounded off and found himself at the center of a firestorm. 

“I’m a firm believer of junk (goes) in, junk comes out,’’ Bedford said. “Therefore, he must have been around some junk.’’ 

Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes, Chris Bumbaca

Follow Josh Peter on Twitter @joshpeter11.