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ESPN's Town Meeting, "Sports in Black and White," was televised live from Howard Univ. in Washington, DC, on Friday, moderated by ABC's Ted Koppel. The show followed ESPN's "Outside the Lines" special on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. Town Meeting panelists included former MLB player and ESPN analyst Joe Morgan; Professor Harry Edwards, MLB legal consultant Clifford Alexander; the Bullets' Chris Webber; adidas USA Dir of Sports Sonny Vaccaro; NCAA President Gene Corrigan; former NFLer Jim Brown; Pats Owner Robert Kraft; and retired coach Gene Stallings. Koppel moderated short, individual panels on MLB, basketball and football, which was followed by all participants featured in an open discussion. Questions came from the audience. MLB: Koppel opened by saying the show had invited MLB's top officials, team owners and players to attend, only to be turned down. D'Backs Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo was scheduled to attend, but a family illness prevented his participation. Koppel, to Alexander: "It pains me to have a black lawyer to answer questions that should be addressed to white owners." Alexander, on why no MLB owners nor Acting Commissioner Bud Selig were present: "I cannot answer why he is not here. I can tell you that I don't see any other commissioners of major sports here either." Koppel: "This is a show about Jackie Robinson and 50 years in baseball." Edwards: "You don't have the kind of representation here probably from all of the leagues because to some extent they are all vulnerable because of circumstances that we have relative to race and sport." Edwards, on MLB: "Baseball is lagging behind because they haven't come up with a formula where it's worth their time." BASKETBALL: Vaccaro, on black athletes becoming proactive spokespeople for integration and hiring more black coaches: "It's incumbent upon people like Chris [Webber] and Michael [Jordan] ... to take it upon themselves not just to address for a black audience, for a universal audience. And make stands when the stand is right ... I don't think enough of the young kids have done this, I think Michael could have done an awful lot. And I say from a company stand point ... that I would appreciate it more if they did make a stand and they just weren't lily white about everything." Webber: "You say we have the power, we have more power maybe than our colleagues, but we don't have more power than the people owning the team." Webber, on criticism of black athletes leaving school early to play in the NBA: "What we have to do is sit back and look at the reality of it. They aren't black writers writing these stories. They aren't black people commentating shows like this. We don't have the power yet." In the show's most heated moment, Webber and Stallings traded barbs about college players getting jobs. Webber said coaches don't care if players work because they have to practice, Stallings replied, "You are dead wrong." Webber: "Have you been on the side I'm on? You recruit me. You come into the ghetto only to recruit me." HIGHLIGHTS: Brown: "The money that is in the African American community is enormous. The lack of collectively using it is atrocious"....A black woman in the audience, an athlete at George Washington Univ., asked Koppel why there was no female representation on the panel. Koppel's response, booed and jeered by the audience: "Number one, because the program is only so long and there is only so much we can cover. And number two, because we were focusing on the world of professional sports as it is, not on the world of professional sports as perhaps it should be." EXCERPTS: Panelists gave closing statements and the following is a selection of excerpts: Alexander: "There's an enormous amount to be done in this society. It has a lot to do with a lot more than sports. It doesn't happen without pushing and pulling." Morgan: "I would only like to say that on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, I'm a little disappointed in my sport that there's not a Chris Webber here from my sport that is now actively playing and there's not a Bob Kraft here from my sport." Vaccaro: "I'd like to wish for all the future athletes who become endorsers of particular products and become spokespeople, I would hope that they have to understand that they are role models." Edwards: "We have to remember that sport is going to be exactly and precisely where society is. And ultimately ... people get the kind of sports institution that they support and that they deserve. Ultimately, we have to realize that the fault is not just in the sports institution, and most certainly, is not in our stars. It is in ourselves as a society and as a nation" ("Sports in Black and White," ESPN, 2/28).
The following are reax on ESPN's special. In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz called its "fascinating, intelligent television" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 3/2). The Newark STAR-LEDGER's Nat Gottlieb called the Town Meeting "a lively and worthwhile sports forum" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 3/2). But in K.C., Jason Whitlock called the Meeting "too unfocused. Too many panelists. Too many agendas. And way too much posturing" (K.C. STAR, 3/2). In Houston, David Barron wrote the show "had its moments. Unfortunately, there weren't many of them. Perhaps had there been fewer participants, and had many of the speakers been more interested in substance rather than advocating their own agendas, we would have had a panel on which Robinson would have been proud to sit" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/2). NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay added that Webber and Brown received the "most applause," while the "jeers were primarily aimed" at MLB (NEWSDAY, 3/2). In L.A., Mike Penner notes the "lively, often contentious ... discussion was conspicuous by the absence" of MLB officials (L.A. TIMES, 3/3). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand gives ESPN "kudos," but adds the show was "flawed by an inability to ... define key issues" (USA TODAY, 3/2).