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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Senator Joe Biden Under Fire Over Controversial Remarks; Has NFL Moved Beyond Racist Past?
Aired January 31, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everybody. Glad to have you all with us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open tonight.
You're not going to believe what one presidential candidate said about African-Americans and Indians.
Plus, why has it been 98 years since America elected a fat president?
And they will make history on Super Bowl Sunday, but how far has the NFL really come in breaking free of its racist past?
The story we're bringing out into the open first tonight: Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who, just today, announced what everyone expected. He is going to run for president. But it's not his presidential announcement that we're focusing in on tonight. It's a couple of other things he said that raise a lot of questions about his feelings on race.
Today, "The New York Observer" quoted Biden talking about his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I mean, you have got the first sort of mainstream African- American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, it's -- that's a storybook, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And it's not the first time we have heard something like that from Biden. There was this on C-SPAN just last summer about Indian Americans while he was touring New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: So, what is going on with Joe Biden?
Let's bring in tonight's "Out in the Open" panel. Stephen A. Smith is an ESPN analyst and a sports columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Also with us tonight, attorney and conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Karen Hunter, who is a journalism professor at Hunter College in New York.
Before we begin with all of you, I want to show you all Senator Obama's reaction late this afternoon.
He says: "I didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but, obviously, they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."
Senator Biden then tried to explain himself in a conference call today, saying: "My mother has an expression: clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack. That's the context. He's crisp and clear."
And he says he regrets that it was taken out of context.
You heard all these comments. Do you think Joe Biden is a racist?
STEPHEN A. SMITH, HOST, "QUITE FRANKLY WITH STEPHEN A. SMITH": No, I don't want to go as far as saying -- I don't know the man personally, and I certainly don't think that you can classify him as a racist just because of a comment like that.
What I will say is that it gives credence to a lot of African- American -- particularly African-American males, when you talk about African-American men being inarticulate and what have you, and you point to something like that, you make that kind of statement.
It's almost like that backhanded compliment that is consistently accorded to African-American men, when you say: You speak so well.
Well, what are you implying, that most of us don't speak that well? I don't think that's a problem.
ZAHN: So, if I were to turn to you and say, you're articulate, which you are, you would be insulted by that?
ZAHN: Would you think...
ZAHN: ... that carried a double meaning?
SMITH: No. I wouldn't be insulted.
KAREN HUNTER, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR, HUNTER COLLEGE: I would be insulted.
ZAHN: You would be insulted?
SMITH: She would, maybe.
SMITH: But I wouldn't be insulted.
ZAHN: Well, you are articulate. And I'm not comparing you to white people or black people or any people.
HUNTER: But you're making a comparison. Compared to what?
HUNTER: Al Sharpton's speech at the last Democratic National Convention was stellar. Many people said it was one of the best speeches that they had that year. I did a book with him. And I know he's clean. He showers every day.
HUNTER: Stephen is absolutely right. And it's that -- and I will disagree with you. I will say that he's racially insensitive and definitely, to me, very American, because it's the kind of thing that you see a lot in this country, where people put you in a box. And, if you don't fit that -- like the party you had last night, where, you know, if you're not drinking malt liquor -- most black people I know are articulate.
My father is one of the most articulate people I know. Everyone in my neighborhood, the schools that I went to, I don't know too many inarticulate blacks, personally. So, what is he talking about?
ZAHN: Debbie, we know...
DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL, ATTORNEY: Yes.
ZAHN: ... Jesse Jackson came out today. And he says: I personally don't think he's a racist.
But it certainly raises questions by the kind of tone of the language he used.
SCHLUSSEL: Well, I think it's interesting. The guy that calls Jews in New York Hymie and Hymietown is talking about who is bigoted and who isn't. I think that Joe Biden has shown a record of being bigoted.
But it's interesting how everybody wants to -- and I know I'm the only non-African-American here on the panel.
HUNTER: What is Paula?
SCHLUSSEL: But it's interesting how...
ZAHN: I am the moderator.
HUNTER: Oh, OK. Sorry.
SCHLUSSEL: Yes. She is not on the panel.
But it's interesting how everybody is willing to forgive him and say he's not bigoted, but, yet, when Rush Limbaugh, for example, says something on ESPN that -- that was not racist about Donovan McNabb, he's a racist, and he's kicked off ESPN. And he's not running for president.
This is a man who has consistently stuck his foot in his mouth, not just about blacks, not just about Indians. But he actually delivered a speech when he was running for president in 1988 that was plagiarized from British labor member Neil Kinnock.
This guy is -- should not be excused. I think that he should be denounced a little bit more. It's the same thing as when Senator Robert Byrd, also a Democrat, used the N-word on TV. Why are these people forgiven, but a Trent Lott, for example, is not?
ZAHN: Do you think he's getting a free pass?
SMITH: I don't think he's getting a free pass.
And I would agree with Karen when she says, there's a difference between being a racist and being racially insensitive. The reality of the situation is, I don't know this guy personally.
And, when you talk about somebody being a racist, as a black man, I have seen individuals. And I can point to a lot of things considerably more harsher than what we have heard or what you may have witnessed from Joseph Biden that would fall under the category of being a racist.
You can be racially insensitive, because it comes from ignorance, as well. That doesn't necessarily make you a racist. So, that's where I draw the line and say, I don't know that.
HUNTER: Is this the man that we want representing this country?
SMITH: I didn't say that either.
SCHLUSSEL: What if a Republican that was running, like, say, Rudy Giuliani, had said that? I think these comments would be a lot more different.
I think these people would all be calling on -- and I'm not just talking about you. I'm talking about everybody in the media, whether you're African-American or not. Everybody would be calling for him to get out of the race now.
HUNTER: I think he should get out of the race.
HUNTER: I'm calling on him to get out of the race right now.
HUNTER: And I don't think it's a partisan issue.
ZAHN: You don't think a GOP candidate would be taking more heat tonight?
HUNTER: I think this is about the underpinnings of this country. And it's one of the subtle things that you can't quite put your finger on, but it's always there.
And I hear it a lot. And what he said about this guy being clean and mainstream, it's all these buzz words that basically say: You're OK. You're a safe black. You're not like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Who are you to determine that? Who defines that?
ZAHN: How did you interpret that word clean?
SCHLUSSEL: I don't know.
SMITH: Well, again, that's what I'm saying.
When you say something along those lines, again, you're talking about racial insensitivity. So, in that regard, like I said, I would agree with that. But that is as far as I'm willing to go, unless I know the man personally.
ZAHN: All right. Please stay with me. We have a lot more to talk about with all three of you here tonight.
Coming up, the issue of presidential politics continues, and something that really got us interested, and that is the question about weight. More Americans have been gaining weight. But we noticed that none of the presidential candidates are what you would really call fat. And some have taken even extraordinary measures to lose weight before they declare. Will voters reject a candidate simply because he or she has some extra pounds?
We asked our Dan Lothian to look into that for us.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): When it comes to picking a president, would you vote for this candidate or this candidate? It's the same person, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who announced he's forming an exploratory committee for the 2008 presidential race.
Your choice could reveal what some say is an uphill battle for overweight candidates. In a nation obsessed with dieting and the perfect image, some Americans see weight as an obstacle in the race for the White House.
ROBERT PIERCE, VOTER: It would be something that I wouldn't actually consciously think about, but I'm sure, subconsciously, it would affect me in some way.
FLORENCE IVES, VOTER: I would hope to say no, but it might lead me to, you know, wonder how -- about their habits.
SUZANNE DESANCTIS, VOTER: Because people look at looks. Let's face it. They do. People are judged on their looks.
LOTHIAN: Some point out, Huckabee jumped into the presidential race after an astounding weight loss, shedding 110 pounds over the last few years. This is Huckabee in 2003 and now.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: Well, I think image is important. But more important is that people see that you can set goals, that you have a sense of discipline and focus.
LOTHIAN: Huckabee chronicled his weight loss, from a peak of almost 300 pounds, in this self-help book.
HUCKABEE: I was thrilled when people all over the state and, for that matter, the country, would come up to me and say: Aren't you guy that lost all the weight? And I will tell them, yes.
LOTHIAN (on camera): While diabetes and dire warnings from his doctor forced the two-term Republican governor to confront his weight program, could the new look lead to more votes?
ELAINE KAMARCK, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: It's not about looking like Hollywood. It's really about being vigorous enough to convince people that you're healthy and you're up to what can be a very demanding job.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): Other politicians have seemingly taken notice, like Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who made political hay of his weight loss, and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, who went public with his big effort to slim down. Even though there's no polling to back up the politics of obesity, expert says, sadly, weightism is happening.
CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Weight is a means that we judge a person based on the shape and size of their body.
LOTHIAN: Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist at Harvard, says, the young people she studied tend to see someone who is thin as in control, intelligent, and just the opposite for someone who is overweight.
STEINER-ADAIR: We are actually teaching weightism as a form of prejudice in our country that's just as harmful and cruel and hurtful to people as is racism or sexism.
LOTHIAN: So, how does so-called weightism play out in presidential politics? America's most notable obese president was William Howard Taft, but he held office nearly a century ago. Bill Clinton wasn't obese, but comedians had a field day poking fun at his fast-food habits.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
PHIL HARTMAN, ACTOR: That's a good question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAMARCK: In Clinton's case, you know, the fact that he was kind of on the pudgy side actually helped people identify with him.
HUCKABEE: I think they want their leaders to be real and authentic. They don't expect them to be perfect.
LOTHIAN: It's too soon to tell if Huckabee's weight loss will help him gain votes. But, ultimately, experts say voters should test candidates on how they weigh in on the issues, not on how they weigh in on a scale.
Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.
ZAHN: And, in just a few minutes, we're going to ask two longtime political consultants who worked with a lot of candidates if they think an overweight person could ever make it to the White House.
Also, we're going to see proof on Sunday just how far the NFL has come. It's come a long way, baby. Two black head coaches face each other off in the Super Bowl. But has the league gone far enough to end discrimination?
Also ahead: He has dreamed of being a firefighter for decades, so, should an artificial leg be enough for officials to deny him that?
Those stories and more out in the open -- when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAHN: We have been talking about whether America would ever vote for a fat person for president.
Let's dig deeper into that now with two political pros -- in Washington, Democratic political consultant Michael Berman. He is the author of "Living Large: A Big Man's Ideas on Weight, Success and Acceptance." And with me here in New York, Mike Paul, president of MGP & Associates, who advises political candidates from both parties.
Good to have both of you with us tonight.
Michael Berman, do you think America would ever elect an overweight person?
MICHAEL BERMAN, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: No, I don't, Paula. The last time we did was Taft. The time before that was Cleveland, who preceded him. I just think a really fat person would get elected in this day and age.
ZAHN: Are we really that shallow?
BERMAN: I don't know whether we're shallow or not, but there's certainly a fair amount of discrimination against fat people generally, and I think against political people in particular.
ZAHN: Mike Paul, we saw just pictures of the new svelte Mike Huckabee.
MIKE PAUL, PUBLIC RELATIONS CONSULTANT: He looks great.
ZAHN: And we know what a struggle it was for him to lose that weight.
But we're going to put up on the screen now some pictures of Al Gore when he was at his fighting weight during the campaign, and what he looks like today. Given what Michael Berman just said -- there is buzz, of course, that he might run again for president -- would you advise him to lose weight?
PAUL: Well, one of the things I have to interject is that there's branding going along with that as well.
Obviously, he was branded by our minds. And our mind's eye is seeing him at a certain weight. And now we see him at a heavier weight. And we say, you know, he's gained weight the first time that we see him.
And, unfortunately, this weightism that we're talking about, I think the psychologist was right on point, in that we don't want to admit it, but we're making judgments about everybody a million times a day.
ZAHN: Michael Berman, you have been involved with politics for a long, long time, involved with a bunch of really heated political campaigns.
Do you really think weight has been that big of an issue in any of these?
BERMAN: Well, I think, in most campaigns -- I can't remember ever really working for a candidate that I would describe as really fat.
One of the things that happens -- and you -- you mention Al Gore. If you look back to 2000, when Al picked up some weight after he had lost the election, there were stories in all kinds of newspapers across the country making all kinds of pejorative remarks about the fact that he had gained weight.
And, if you look around at various other places, other people who have had large amounts of weight, the media is not very kind to people. So, it really puts them on the spot. And I don't think a fat person, in ordinary circumstances, would get elected.
ZAHN: Do you think looks, Mike, matter too much in politics?
PAUL: I think they do. Do I think it's going to change any time soon? No. It's part of the game. It's part of what you sign up for.
When you sign a public contract -- and that's basically what it is -- that you want to run for the highest office in the world, what you look like matters.
ZAHN: And, of course, the way we all look on TV is an exaggerated look of how we really look. We all look present about 10 to 15 pounds heavier than we are.
PAUL: And I also think, as we're talking about the other candidates in this weight -- in this race, beyond weight, a woman is going to have a difficult time being a first, and an African-American is going to have a difficult time being a first.
And what we think about how they look and who they are is going to be very, very important.
ZAHN: On to the issue, Michael Berman, of people who smoke. One presidential contender is Barack Obama. He is the only cigarette smoker among the so far 19 candidates who have set up exploratory committees. Is that going to come back to hurt him in any way?
BERMAN: Well, you know, it's interesting. I don't recall ever seeing Senator Obama smoke in public.
I suspect it will not hurt him. I mean, there may be a few people for whom it will make a difference, but I don't think it will affect him.
ZAHN: Mike can't you just see an ad, though, if someone catches him smoking in public? Isn't that the gotcha moment that any opponent will want to use against him?
PAUL: Well, two key points.
ZAHN: Not that it's against the law or -- or whatever, but it's a key health issue in this country.
PAUL: Two key points.
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America has an ad that is basically telling people, if you are a secretive smoker, you're still a smoker. So, if they're educating other people, it's time for Barack to listen to the same message.
The second is that, when you are a smoker as a presidential candidate, you become a target immediately. There are radio bureaus, print bureaus, TV bureaus, news bureaus that are looking for him to be smoking now.
ZAHN: Not to mention an awful lot of lobbying reason that are just waiting to cream him.
PAUL: Well, I used to be an opposition-research specialist on campaigns. And that's something that we kind of look for...
ZAHN: And look how much he relished it. When he said opposition campaign, he rubbed his hands together like that.
You miss that, don't you?
ZAHN: Mike Paul, thank you for being with us.
Michael Berman, thanks for your time, as well.
BERMAN: Thank you, Paula.
ZAHN: History is going to be made on Sunday, as two black coaches face off for the first time in the Super Bowl. But how far has the NFL really come in overcoming discrimination?
Also ahead: A man with one leg battling to become a firefighter, should he be denied the job, even if he passed the physical test?
ZAHN: Out in the open tonight: the question of race in the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, for the first time since the Super Bowl started 41 years ago, an African-American head coach will lead a team. In fact, both head coaches this year, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears, are black. But why did it take so long to get even one black head coach into the NFL championship?
Keith Oppenheim reports on race in sports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doug Williams isn't celebrating just yet.
DOUG WILLIAMS, PERSONNEL EXECUTIVE, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: When you talk about race in the National Football League, I do feel that we have come a long ways. But I do feel we have got a long ways to go.
OPPENHEIM: Williams knows something about coming a long way. In 1988, he became the first black quarterback to make it to the Super Bowl, the first to break the stereotype that a black man wasn't smart enough to be the lead player.
WILLIAMS: I think it's a little tough for African-Americans to really say it's an even playing field.
OPPENHEIM: Williams' frank conversation with me gave some context. For sure, with two African-American coaches heading to the Super Bowl, the usually touchy subject of race in sports has hit a high note.
Indianapolis' Tony Dungy has been beaming.
TONY DUNGY, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS HEAD COACH: I'm very, very proud. And, as an African-American, it's going to be special.
OPPENHEIM: And Chicago's Lovie Smith knows he's making history.
LOVIE SMITH, CHICAGO BEARS HEAD COACH: I feel blessed to be in that position.
OPPENHEIM: But, behind the euphoria and the pride, Doug Williams painted a more complex picture. Now a personnel executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Williams explained the challenges black candidates currently face in much of the league when it comes to getting top coaching jobs.
WILLIAMS: It has to be something that the owner feels comfortable with and wants to lead this football team and think that he can lead the football team.
OPPENHEIM (on camera): But you use the word comfortable.
OPPENHEIM: Why should we even care if a front office is comfortable with a black coach?
WILLIAMS: That's the code word. It's not so much that's the way I feel. That's the way it is. And I don't know whether sometimes that the people who are doing the hiring or whoever they is hiring can feel as comfortable with an African-American sometimes, because, you know, a lot of times, culture is different. OPPENHEIM (voice-over): To some extent, culture has been changing in the NFL.
(on camera): Consider that more than two-thirds of the players in the league are black, but just six head coaches are black, less than one-fifth. Some see that as disappointing racial inequality. But others point out, that's a big jump from five years ago, when the league had just two black head coaches.
CYRUS MEHRI, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: What the black coaches are facing, have been facing, is that they have to be superstars to even be considered.
OPPENHEIM: Cyrus Mehri is a civil rights attorney who, with the late Johnnie Cochran, wrote a report in 2002 which criticized the league for not providing opportunities for blacks.
MEHRI: So many very talented former players who were -- were denied an opportunity to get into football and coaching or front office as a scout. And, so, these doors were closed.
OPPENHEIM: In 2003, the doors began to open wider, after the NFL adopted a rule which requires teams to interview minority candidates whenever a head coaching job opens up.
Marvin Lewis, head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, believes the new rules are making a difference.
MARVIN LEWIS, CINCINNATI BENGALS HEAD COACH: It's forced people to dig a little deeper, to look a little further, and to make sure that they are really taking the opportunity to understand and get to know where the qualified people are.
OPPENHEIM: Some hope Sunday's game will have a lasting impact, that the image of two black men leading teams in America's biggest game will send an inspiring message to anyone who has a dream of playing or coaching in the NFL.
LEWIS: What I think blacks are excited about is an opportunity to -- that the sky's the limit. And, now, with Lovie and Tony having reached the pinnacle game, I think, for young coaches, for our sons, it gives them something to shoot for.
OPPENHEIM: Keith Oppenheim, CNN, Miami.
ZAHN: Time to bring in our "Out in the Open" panel now, Stephen A. Smith, ESPN analyst and sports columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer," attorney and conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Karen Hunter, who is a journalism professor at Hunter College in New York.
What took so long for blacks to become head coaches on NFL teams? SMITH: Well, I think, if you're going to make an argument for racism, this would be the perfect time.
I mean, it wasn't until the late '80s that the first African- American coach was in the NFL in Art Shell. The reality is, you got that good-old-boy network that didn't have -- that didn't involve inclusion. They weren't interested in including anybody of African- American descent. And they were called on it. Thank the good lord that you have got people in there. You have got the Rooney Rule that was instituted that forces these teams to interview an African- American coach and consider them.
And thank goodness that, you know, it ended up happening in a positive way, because you had seven African-American head coaches this year. Two of them were fired at the end of the season, in Shell and Dennis Green, deservedly so. Sorry. I got to call it straight. They did a horrible job. They didn't get the job done.
But you have got this guy, Tomlin, that was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now there are six African-American coaches in the NFL. Obviously, progress is being made.
ZAHN: Progress is being made, but is there any way to read the slow progress as anything but racism?
SCHLUSSEL: Well, I think that this whole focus on racism, racism, racism -- we are the most unracist country in the world.
Black coaches get this chance to be in the Super Bowl. There isn't a white coach in the Super Bowl. They made it on merit alone, not because of the Rooney rule. Neither of those guys got hired because of the Rooney rule. Nobody has ever been hired because of that rule.
SMITH: How would you know that?
SCHLUSSEL: Because the teams usually know who they want to hire. And they interview somebody and waste that person's time.
SMITH: For decades, there was never anybody else. For decades, there was never anybody of African-American descent that they wanted.
SCHLUSSEL: Name one person you know was hired because of the Rooney rule. The Rooney rule is silly...
SCHLUSSEL: ... because what it does is, it wastes a black candidate's time, when the team probably already decided who they wanted to interview.
SCHLUSSEL: Now Mike Singletary has been interviewed by the Dallas Cowboys. Do you think he's going to be hired because of the Rooney rule or based on merit?
SCHLUSSEL: An owner wants to hire somebody...
SMITH: You ask a question that you don't want answers to. You are obviously asking questions that you don't want answers to.
HUNTER: This is about affirmative action.
And, as a person who has benefited from affirmative action, I can tell you, it's absolutely necessary. People will not hire people who don't look like them, who they're not comfortable with, unless they're forced to.
SCHLUSSEL: Everyone in America is a racist?
HUNTER: No, everyone in America is not a racist.
HUNTER: But this country has a racial foundation that we do not...
SCHLUSSEL: It's time to move on.
HUNTER: Is it time to move on?
HUNTER: It's time to move on when we stop being racist.
ZAHN: Let me move on to another question. Do you think blacks have been held to a different standard?
HUNTER: Absolutely. I have to be twice as good at what I do.
ZAHN: Not even you...
HUNTER: Yes. No, exactly.
ZAHN: ... but specifically when it comes to the NFL?
HUNTER: Both of these coaches, that they are both in the Super Bowl right now says a lot about...
SCHLUSSEL: If you were twice as good, you wouldn't need affirmative action.
SCHLUSSEL: Yes. You don't need it.
SMITH: There is not a black person in America that would tell you differently than what she just said.
Of course we're held to a different standard. We're always held to a different standard. That's why, even more significant than Tony Dungy -- or just as significant as Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith going to the Super Bowl, is the fact that Tomlin was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers, because his resume is not impeccable. Yet, at the age of 34, he was given an opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL.
That's something that simply never, ever happened in this sport's history.
SCHLUSSEL: Why should he get that opportunity just because of color?
SMITH: Because white folks get that opportunity all the time.
SMITH: And, if you're talking about fairness, how about being fair and making sure that black people are afforded the same opportunity as white people?
SCHLUSSEL: OK. Fine.
Do you think that there should be -- do you think there should be Samoan and Latino coaches, because there are Samoan and Latino players? And there hasn't been one of those coaches yet.
HUNTER: Deborah (ph), the NFL is 70 percent black, right? The NFL is 70 percent black.
SCHLUSSEL: Over 75 percent.
HUNTER: OK. Well, I -- right, 70 percent.
ZAHN: But does that necessarily mean that 75 percent of the coaches should be black?
HUNTER: You make -- you make a point.
SCHLUSSEL: Well, then maybe we should have affirmative action for white players on the field. Why does there need to be a correlation between the 75 percent on the field?
HUNTER: It is about opportunity. The fact that Smith is the lowest paid coach in the NFL.
SMITH: $135,000. (INAUDIBLE)
SCHLUSSEL: He had a very bad agent. He had a bag agent
ZAHN: What evidence is that that that's relevant? You know, racism and not bad agent?
SMITH: I'll give you a perfect example, Lane Kipman (ph), new coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was at USC. You got a guy like Norm Chow (ph) who led USC to two national championships as an offensive coordinator, plus he took them to a third. He did a fantastic job at Tennessee. He couldn't get a head coach job. You got Ron Rivera (ph) (INAUDIBLE) Let me just say. The man is 31 years old with no experience whatsoever coaching on the NFL level, but he was given a head coaching job. That simply does not happen for black people in America.
SCHLUSSEL: There are 32 jobs, 32. There are a lot of good coaches of all races that want to be coaches.
SMITH: Let me address my issue. The man is 31 years old with no coaching experience, any NFL and got a head coaching job for the Oakland Raiders. Does that happen for a black man in the United States of America?
SCHLUSSEL: Everybody gets a chance.
SMITH: Does that happen?
SCHLUSSEL: The fact is that (INAUDIBLE) . Why did Art Shell (ph) and Dennis Green (ph) get hired over and over and over again?
SMITH: What are you talking about? What are you talking about over and over again?
HUNTER: Here's the problem I have. When you hire unqualified people and you say, ha, see, blacks can't do it. (INAUDIBLE)
SCHLUSSEL: I think blacks are very qualified.
HUNTER: The Rooney rule works. Affirmative action works (INAUDIBLE).
SCHLUSSEL: These are two great coaches, not black coaches. They're great coaches of any race. They are great coaches in their own right, not because they're black and it's time to move on. ZAHN: And I've got to move on now because I got to hit a commercial break. (INAUDIBLE) I'm bringing all of you back. Please stay with us. I want to move on now.
Also out in the open tonight, this man says he's the victim of discrimination, rejected in his attempt to become a firefighter. Then you might be shocked to learn why.
And a little bit later on, meet a family who says they had to move out of their home because of intense religious discrimination. You'll hear their story when we come back.
ZAHN: Out in the open in this half hour a family's story of fear and intimidation. They say they were driven out of their community because of their beliefs. Coming up at the top of the hour, global warming is the focus on LARRY KING LIVE. He'll be talking with a former government scientist who says his warnings about that were softened by the Bush administration.
Right now we are bringing you a story of discrimination right out into the open that you might find really hard to believe. It's about a man's ongoing battle to become a professional firefighter, a life long dream he spent many years getting ready for. He's physically fit, even athletic. But he's been rejected and he claims it's discrimination. Deborah Feyerick is about to show you why.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Isaac Feliciano has been training to be a firefighter almost his whole life. Ever since that day when he was four years old and a firefighter pulled him from a dark closet where he tried hiding as his house burned. Is it fair to say that there's no way you would ever leave the house unsurged (ph)?
ISAAC FELICIANO, AMPUTEE: I would definitely give it my all.
FEYERICK: Isaac is in such good shape that when it came to taking the firefighters exam for the Patterson, New Jersey fire department two years ago, he passed the grueling physical test in the top 20 percent, beating nearly 500 other applicants. Pretty impressive, especially when you consider the former high school football player has an artificial leg from the knee down.
FELICIANO: If it can't fall off in a football game and I played linebacker and in the trenches, you know, I don't see how it could fall off any other way.
FEYERICK: Isaac says he was disqualified for failing the medical exam after the doctor realized he had only one leg. The left one was amputated when he was a little boy, following a bout of meningitis which also scarred his body. He didn't take into consideration how you had done on the written exam and he didn't even take into consideration really how you performed on the physical exam. FELICIANO: No, I tried to example that to him as well.
FEYERICK: And --
FEYERICK: The doctor said in a written report, Isaac did not meet the criteria, citing national firefighter guidelines, which include disqualifying applicants who have quote a significant lack of full function due to partial amputation. The National Fire Protection Association tells CNN the guidelines are not mandatory, rather open to interpretation by individual fire departments. Isaac's lawyer William Maniatis says the guidelines hardly apply to Isaac.
WILLIAM MANIATIS, ISAAC FELICIANO'S ATTORNEY: When you go out and run that obstacle court with a 60 pound vest on up and down 12 flights of stairs and you're running hoses and adjusting hydrants, that's what a firefighter is going to see when he's out in the field.
FEYERICK: Firefighters like John Downs (ph), also an amputee. Let's say you get the call. What do you do?
JOHN DOWNS: I just pop my good foot in. These aren't the easiest to get in sometimes. Usually I have a nickel or an old key. Just pull the pin like this. That pops out. Put it in like this. Give it a nice turn. And then that's pretty much it. You're set to go.
FEYERICK: Downs put in 15 years as a volunteer firefighter, most recently in Morris Plains, New Jersey where he works alongside chief Michael Geary.
MICHAEL GEARY, FIRE CHIEF, MORRIS PLAINS, NJ: He can do the job just like I can do the job, just like everybody else in this department can do the job. If you can do the job, then that's what we're here for.
FEYERICK: Isaac has appealed the medical ruling which is now before a panel. The Patterson Fire Department would not comment pending the outcome of the decision by the New Jersey medical review board. The Patterson mayor Joey Torres released a statement saying the city would welcome Feliciano if the state clears him medically. If he is still rejected, his attorney says they will consider legal action under the Americans With Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination in the workplace because of a disability. Meanwhile, Isaac says he's not asking for special treatment, just a fair shot like everyone else.
FELICIANO: Just give me a chance. Give me the opportunity to prove myself and prove that I'm worthy to be considered one of the greatest.
FEYERICK: Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Patterson, New Jersey.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: And I think it's important to point out that the amputee firefighters association says there are more than 400 amputees serving as police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Isaac Feliciano should know within a couple of weeks if he'll be joining those ranks. LARRY KING LIVE coming up just about 20 minutes from now, but we get a little preview for him right now. Who is going to join you tonight?
LARRY KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Paula. Coming up, global warming, could it really destroy life as we know it and if so, is it man's fault or Mother Nature's? Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama are all sounding off about it this week on Capitol Hill. So how scared should we be? The debate literally heats up at the top of the hour. We're going to go into it Paula.
ZAHN: Is it something your kids are talking a lot about, because I know mine are. They're learning an awful lot about it in school and constantly debating what's happening to the polar bears, the ice caps and all that stuff.
KING: They're eight and seven so their questions are more like can we have an earthquake, a thunderstorm and a hurricane all occurring at the same time?
ZAHN: You've got to read them different bedtime stories, Larry.
KING: Keep it up, Paula.
ZAHN: Have a good show. We'll be watching you at the top of the hour. When we come back, one family's story they say they were chased out of town over nothing more than their beliefs. We're going to bring that story of religious discrimination out in the open next.
ZAHN: Imagine being chased out of your home, your neighborhood, even your community because of your beliefs. You're about to meet a family who says it happened to them and we're bringing their story out into the open tonight because there are at least three million people in this country like them, people who may also face this kind of discrimination and persecution. Here's faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was scared. I was beyond upset. I have never experienced such anger and hatred.
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This couple, we're calling them John and Jane Smith, are so afraid they asked us not to identify them. Two years ago they say the small Mississippi town where they lived turned against them after they complained to the principal of their son's public elementary school about class time devoted to bible study and prayer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were pariahs. Nobody would speak to us. It was, nobody would let their children play with my son.
GALLAGHER: The Smith's story made local headlines when it was revealed that they were atheists and soon after, tensions at the school escalated. John says members of the community even called his boss at work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they called him to complain about the fact that he had brought an atheist to town.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were absolutely isolated. People would drive the house, park in front of our house and stare like we were in a zoo.
GALLAGHER: Eventually they left town altogether.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... nice place to live.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... nice place to raise them.
GALLAGHER: While some atheists try to hide their secular views, Jean and Mike Rice are atheists who have spoken out.
MIKE RICE, ATHEIST: As an atheist, I'm the last minority that it's OK to really bash or put down.
GALLAGHER: The Rice's say they frequently encountered intolerance.
JEAN RICE: We're regularly told that we're going to hell, that we're sending our children to hell.
GALLAGHER: In the last town they lived, Jean Rice says soon after confiding her atheism to a friend, her landlord told the Rices they would have to move.
JEAN RICE, ATHEIST: Within a few days of my telling her that we are atheist, she -- I started hearing from other people, oh, are you atheist? And it was quite shocking and within a few weeks, my landlord, our landlord gave us notice.
GALLAGHER: The Rices say they can't prove that religious discrimination was the reason they were asked to leave, but they found the timing suspicious.
MIKE RICE: It's hard on the kids, because our daughter had no one to play with for a long time.
GALLAGHER: In the U.S., the number of atheists is estimated between 1 and 3 percent of the overall population. That's at least three million people. A recent study by the University of Minnesota found that atheists are the least trusted minority group in the United States and are less accepted than other marginalized groups, including Muslims and homosexuals.
LORI LIPMAN BROWN, SECULAR COALITION FOR AMERICA: I get calls from all over the United States from people who have been harassed, ostracized, sometimes lost their job because of discrimination against non-theistic Americans.
RYAN ANDERSON, JUNIOR FELLOW, FIRST THINGS: We feel, to a certain extent, that atheists are very much on the attack.
GALLAGHER: Ryan Anderson with the religious journal "First Things" says atheists themselves contribute to the mistrust.
ANDERSON: Part of the public persona and the public image of atheism is what's presented by people suing to remove "In God We Trust" from the coins or God phrase in the pledge of allegiance. And when that militant atheism becomes kind of like the public image of atheism, I think that gives rise to a lot of discontent with atheism.
JEAN RICE: When they can talk about religion and preach on the street corner but if we try to do the equal time, if we try to go out there and say as much about there is no God.
MIKE RICE: I'm the one being oppressed at that point.
GALLAGHER: Delia Gallagher, CNN, Colorado.
ZAHN: And when we come back, tonight's out in the open panel takes on the controversy over discrimination against atheists. There they are lined up, ready to sound off. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And welcome back. We're talking about whether there's widespread discrimination against atheists, folks who don't believe in God. Let's check out with our out in the open panel now. Stephen Smith, Debbie Schlussel and Karen Hunter. Hey Debbie, it took me 10 times to say your name right. (INAUDIBLE) So do you think atheists should keep their religious beliefs secret? What's their beliefs period?
HUNTER: What does an atheist believe? Nothing. I think this is such a ridiculous story. Are we not going to take "In God We Trust" off of our dollars? Are we going to not say "one nation under God?" When does it end? We took prayer out of schools. What more do they want?
ZAHN: Are any of you going to defend them here tonight?
SCHLUSSEL: No, I agree with her 100 percent. I think that the real discrimination is atheists against Americans who are religious. Listen, we are a Christian nation. I'm not a Christian. I'm Jewish, but I recognize we're a Christian country and freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion. And the problem is that, you have these atheists selectively I believe attacking Christianity. You had a case in California where school children were forced to dress as Muslims and learn from the Koran. In Michigan they're saying high school (INAUDIBLE) in high school where they say Muslim prayers at the football games, public high school, (INAUDIBLE) in high school. You don't see atheists complaining about that. I really believe that they are the ones who are the intolerant ones against Christians.
ZAHN: What happened to love thy neighbor, the idea that we should be able to practice free speech?
SMITH: That's nonexistent. We all know that. We talk about that in America, but that's pretty much nonexistent, especially in the red states, particularly in the south. That's where the atheists are having the most trouble. When they talk about violent acts that have been enacted them or (INAUDIBLE) exacted against them or what have you. That's the kind of area they're talking about. I think in New York City, I don't think people care too much about it. We're a Christian country. There's no question about that. I love the Lord. So does Karen, so does everybody that I know. But the reality is that you're entitled to believe what you want as long as you're not imposing your beliefs on other people.
ZAHN: Is that what you think they're really doing?
HUNTER: They don't have a good - marketing. If they had hallmark cards, maybe they wouldn't feel so left out. We have Christmas cards. We have Kwanza cards now. Maybe they need to get some atheist cards and get that whole ball rolling so more people can get involved with what they're doing. I think they need to shut up and let people do what they do. No, I think they need to shut up about it.
SMITH: I don't think they need to shut up. The reason why I don't think they need to shut up is because there's a whole bunch of people in this world that we can look at and say they need to shut up and they certainly don't. You got everybody fighting for their own individual cause. This is their cause. We might not like it. I don't agree with it at all, but they do have a right.
HUNTER: I think they need to shut up about crying wolf all the time and saying that they're being imposed upon. I personally think that they should never have taken prayer out of schools. I would rather there be some morality in schools. But they did that because an atheist went to court and said their child -- don't pray (INAUDIBLE).
SCHLUSSEL: And what about this obnoxious Michael Newdow, who went all the way to the Supreme Court for his child, the child doesn't know what's going on, to try and get under God taken out of the pledge of allegiance. They are on the attack. It's obnoxious and they do need to shut up.
SMITH: They are going on the attack, but the reality, again, is everybody has their own cause. The fact is there's a whole bunch of people in America who need to shut up and they don't. So why should these people be any less. We live in a nation. We're supposed to be tolerant. We're supposed to be accepting of other people's viewpoints, even when they are not our own and the fact is, if they're an atheist, that's their right. They're not going to change my belief in God (INAUDIBLE).
ZAHN: What I find so interesting is when you look at the statistics, that they were the most hated of all the minorities, gays (INAUDIBLE).
SMITH: I'm not even willing to believe that. That's news to me. I heard that, I read that, I just don't believe it.
HUNTER: You can't pick an atheist out of a crowd.
ZAHN: Can you explain to me where you feel the assault? When 97 percent of the folks in this country claim to worship some kind of God, the 1 to 3 percent of this population that doesn't believe in God, who are they hurting?
HUNTER: Eight to 12 percent. (INAUDIBLE) They're not hurting anyone. I personally don't have a problem with an atheist. Believe or don't believe what you want. Don't impose upon my right to want to have prayer in schools, to want to say the pledge of allegiance, to want to honor my God. Don't infringe upon that right.
SMITH: When they want to take - when they want to take God out of the pledge of allegiance or whatever, this is what I'm saying. They're saying, OK, that's Christian. What if you're a Muslim? What if you're someone of a different belief?
SCHLUSSEL: This is a Christian country.
SMITH: I understand that, but what they're saying is how can -- if we're inclusionary, why can't we include all that and we're not. That's my point.
SCHLUSSEL: (INAUDIBLE) Look where there are more atheists and where they've lost God, where the church is not that strong. Europe is becoming Islamist. It's fast falling and intolerance is increasing. That's the one reason our country has not become like Europe because we have strong Christians and because atheists are not strong. And I think that's a good thing.
ZAHN: On that note, I've got to cut it off, except for a quick Super Bowl prediction.
SMITH: Colts, 37, Bears 20.
SCHLUSSEL: The Bears because they have (inaudible) Tank Johnson playing on the field (INAUDIBLE).
HUNTER: Side wager?
SMITH: I'm not going to bet on national television, off camera. (INAUDIBLE)
ZAHN: Debbie Schlussel, Karen Hunter, thank you all.
Now we're going to take a quick biz break. Wall Street, stocks soared after the Federal Reserve decided to keep interest rates unchanged, forecast stronger economic growth. Dow closed up 98 points. NASDAQ jumped 15. The S&P gained 9. President Bush making a surprise visit to the New York Stock Exchange today after a speech on the state of the economy which he said is strong. But he warned the gap between rich and poor is growing and criticized oversized salaries for top CEOs.
And a breakup for two giant American brand name. Altria, the corporate umbrella for Philip Morris tobacco is getting ready to spin off Kraft Foods which stocks grocery shelves with everything from macaroni and cheese to Oreo cookies.
Coming up at the top of the hour, LARRY KING LIVE, Larry takes on the debate over global warming tonight. He's going to be talking with that former government scientist who says the Bush administration has watered down reports about climate climate. We'll be right back.
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