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Clinton Needles Sports World For Not Hiring Minorities

'If you make a real effort, there are lots of people out there'

Johnson, Clinton and Brown
Clinton makes a point as Keyshawn Johnson, left, and Jim Brown listen   

HOUSTON (AllPolitics, April 15) -- President Bill Clinton said Tuesday night that "there is something wrong with the recruitment system" if college and professional sports find it difficult to hire minority coaches and administrators.

"I've hired hundreds and hundreds of minorities" as governor of Arkansas and as president, Clinton said. "Nobody ever accused me of giving jobs to people that weren't qualified."

Speaking to a town meeting at the Wortham Theater Center and a national cable TV audience on ESPN, Clinton said that if professional and college sports do not have networks to draw talent from, "there is something wrong with the recruitment system.

"My personal experience is that if you make a real effort, there are lots of people out there. Since I believe intelligence and ability are evenly distributed across racial and ethnic groups, if you look at it, you can find it."

Clinton participated on a panel with 10 sports luminaries, including former NFL running back Jim Brown, Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson, former major league infielder and broadcaster Joe Morgan and Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

The meeting, broadcast live on ESPN, was the second of Clinton's three planned nationally televised town meetings on race. The first was in Akron, Ohio, last December.

'The right to get a chance to fail'

An avid fan of college basketball and major professional sports, Clinton showed that he was well versed in sensitive issues like white dominance in coaching and sports team ownership.

Black men have found enormous success in American sports. Many of the best marketed and highest paid professional athletes, such as basketball's Michael Jordan and baseball's Ken Griffey Jr., are black. Yet certain glamour positions, such as quarterback in professional football, are dominated by whites.

The 11-member panel discussed several topics but returned often to the relative shortage of minorities in top sports management jobs. Georgetown's Thompson said blacks must be given more opportunities, even if they are not seen as sure-fire successes right away.

"I'm sick of us having to be perfect to get the job," Thompson said, taking issue with University of Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley, who praised Thompson and Tubby Smith, coach of the University of Kentucky's national championship basketball team.

Thompson and Smith are African Americans, and Thompson said, "There are a whole lot of whites who aren't successful. All we want is the right to get a chance to fail."

Brown

Thompson also took exception when Brown suggested that black college stars should use black lawyers, black agents and black financial advisers.

Thompson said that when he started as the coach at Georgetown, the only agent who took an interest in him and his players was white.

"Now that John Thompson is successful," Thompson said, "I find it very difficult to fire him because the pigmentation in his skin is white. Besides, he's competent and he's my friend."

Morgan says baseball made some progress

Morgan, a member of baseball's Hall of Fame, said baseball had made some progress, notably in the hiring of a black manager, Jerry Manuel, by the Chicago White Sox.

But he also noted that while some of the greatest players in baseball history are black, "once they're finished, there is no place for them to go" in the sports business.

Morgan said baseball has failed to recruit talent in urban black areas, while spending large sums of money to set up baseball academies in other countries. He said that if baseball were to hire more black scouts and to support the game more in this country, "you would see more Willie Mays coming out of the inner city."

Kersee

Brown and Joyner-Kersee engaged in a spirited exchange over Brown's contention that African Americans should pool their money and invest in their own neighborhoods.

Joyner-Kersee, who has a sports foundation and is also an agent, argued that if blacks "don't want to put that capital in there, we can't force them as human beings. We can't do that."

"Does that go for whites, too?" said Brown.

"That goes for whites, too," Joyner-Kersee said heatedly, adding, "If I made all this money and I want money invested here, I have a right to do that. That is my choice. That is why we live in America, because we have choices."

NFL approaches 'an age of awakening'

The town meeting also featured New York Jets wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, San Francisco 49ers president Carmen Policy and San Diego Padres owner John Moores.

Policy said the National Football League, which has only three black head coaches among its 30 teams, is more aggressively addressing race issues.

He said the NFL is on the verge of "an age of awakening. We sort of drifted off into slumber when we felt there was no overt racism (in the league). Our heart was pure, and we got kind of lazy. But the alarm clock's gone off. We now realize there's a lack of opportunity created by a flawed process."

The forum's makeup angered Latino activists who complained that too few Hispanics were represented. Felipe Lopez, a basketball star at St. John's University, was the only Hispanic on the panel. ESPN added Lopez after a Latino group wrote to Clinton to protest.

Latinos are making a growing impact in Major League Baseball, where they comprise 24 percent of all players, compared with 17 percent for blacks, according to Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Clinton said, "I feel better about my country than I did before."

He said it was "obvious that athletics are leading America toward a better, more harmonious society," and that he hoped that those involved in sports would also learn "good life skills and to make good decisions. It's important that the lessons they learn carry over to good citizenship, including attitudes about people of different races."

In Other News

Wednesday April 15, 1998

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