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President Clinton's participation in ESPN's Town Meeting last night was the second in his year-long national initiative on race, and in Houston, Bennett Roth writes that the "sometimes spirited exchanges between panelists came in a setting that [included] a diverse and well-behaved audience." Clinton and administration officials hoped that the ESPN broadcast "would reach a broader audience than had previously been engaged in the race debate," including more white males (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 4/15). In Boston, Brian McGrory also notes that White House officials were hoping last night's forum would attract more white men to its race crusade. McGrory added that during the almost two-hour discussion, Clinton "spent most of his time as a witness to a flowing conversation" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/15). In DC, John Harris writes that Clinton "found himself more a spectator, or perhaps an accommodating referee, than a participant in the provocative exchanges" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/15). On the front-page of today's PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, Jodi Enda notes that Clinton "played almost a supporting role" in the meeting (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/15). In Houston, George Flynn writes under the header, "Viewers On Broadcast: Thumbs Up" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 4/15). But in Philadelphia, Rich Hoffman writes the night "featured a little bit of heat -- mostly involving Brown and Thompson -- but not a whole bunch of light" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/15). In addition, USA TODAY's Tom Weir writes that "even this illustrious panel that included [Clinton] essentially failed to get off the same old treadmill" (USA TODAY, 4/15). CRITICISM OF PANEL: On "World News Tonight," ABC's Jon Frankel reported on criticism by Hispanic leaders of ESPN's having only one Hispanic, Lopez, on the panel at the town meeting. The National Council of La Raza's Raul Yzaguirre: "Our concern is not just with the fact that there's only one Hispanic on the panel. Our concern is that as the process evolved, we were always the afterthought." ESPN said it invited "two dozen Hispanic sports figures to attend, but all declined for various reasons" (ABC, 4/14).
ESPN's "Outside the Lines" and subsequent Town Meeting on race and sports took place in Houston last night, a two- hour plus special called "Race & Sports: Running in Place?" Panelists included President Clinton, Padres Owner John Moores, former Browns RB Jim Brown, Georgetown Univ. coach John Thompson, Olympic gold medalist Jackie-Joyner Kersee, Vikings coach Dennis Green, Univ. of GA AD Vince Dooley, 49ers President Carmen Policy, ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan, Jets WR Keyshawn Johnson and NBA prospect Felipe Lopez. ESPN's Bob Ley moderated. Clinton opened by saying, "America, rightly or wrongly, is a sports-crazy country. And we often see games as a metaphor or a symbol of what we are as a people. It's important that people see in athletics in America that the rules are fair, that people get their fair chance." Topics discussed included minority hiring, racial stereotypes and the lack of minority ownership in sports. Excerpts from the discussion: GIVING BACK? Brown stressed the impact of economics on the issue of race and sports and repeatedly suggested that African-American athletes should hire black lawyers, agents and managers to handle their investment dollars. Brown: "We have athletes and coaches that are black that are making millions of dollars." Motioning toward the panel, Brown said, "You have not brought that subject up. You have not said to them, 'Why don't you hire black lawyers, agents and managers?' ... We sit up and we talk about one more black coach. One more black coach is a symbolic situation." Asked about Brown's comments, Georgetown's Thompson said, "I can't use profanity on this show." Thompson, who is represented by David Falk, said that while he is "very sensitive" to Brown's comments, "how far do you go? Do I pick a black dentist? Do I pick a black lawyer? ... You know, society has caused that, I didn't cause that." Thompson, noting that his teams are predominately African- American added, "I'm an 'Uncle Tom' to blacks and I'm a racist to whites." Clinton, on Brown's comments: "What he's pointing out, there's still a huge opportunity gap in our society by race in terms of economic standing. ... If we want a stable society, we want large middle classes. ... If a group, a certain group -- within the African-American community, let's say -- has amassed this wealth and then has to reinvest it, to the extent that they can also help to create this larger middle class while helping themselves in doing something, that's a good thing" (ESPN, 4/14). CONNECTIONS: Addressing the issue of ownership, Brown added that African-Americans' "economic dollars are never pooled in a manner to give us that kind of power. If you talk about access to a major corporation, you talk about Michael Jordan; you talk about Tiger Woods. They're with Nike, right? They have the ear of [Nike Chair] Phil Knight. On a massive scale, from the standpoint of delivering black folks into any arena, what are they doing?" Thompson, who sits on Nike's board, said, "Phil Knight was one of the very first in the history of this country to ever give blacks that kind of [endorsement] opportunity." Thompson said African-Americans do talk about pooling their resources but have difficulty securing loans from banks in order to buy a team: "Those are relationships with people from financial houses which we don't have." Joyner-Kersee also defended Nike and challenged Brown's statement that African-Americans pool resources. With her voice rising, she said individuals have choices when it comes to financial decision-making: "That's our choice. That's why we live in America, because we have [a] choice" ("Race & Sports," ESPN, 4/14). MINORITY HIRING: The Padres' Moores and ESPN's Morgan discussed minority hiring in baseball. Moores: "One of the surprising things I've found in baseball is that there are a number of extremely qualified people who have been passed over for reasons I don't understand. ... That does give me pause, and you wonder why those things happen." Morgan: "There are a lot of players who are qualified to be Major League managers, and they're not even interviewed when these job openings occur. And that's the problem that I have. ... If you don't ask them the question, they can't give you the answer." The 49ers' Policy acknowledged that the NFL "kind of got lazy," but added the league will implement a program to improve job training and employment opportunities for league personnel and coaches. Policy: "The alarm clock's gone off and we now realize that there is a lack of opportunity that's created by a flawed process. So we've got to correct the process, and we're doing it in the NFL." ("Race & Sports: Running in Place?" ESPN, 4/14).