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FEW FIREWORKS FROM ESPN TOWN MEETING ON RACE AND SPORTS
Published April 15, 1998
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).