Sports provided the focus of President Bill Clinton’s second town
hall meeting on race relations in America. Clinton and leading
collegiate and professional sports figures participated in a lively
meeting and discussion, which was held at the University of Houston on
April 14, 1998. The televised forum was entitled, “Race & Sports;
Running in Place?”
ESPN analyst Bob Ley moderated the meeting, which lasted several
minutes beyond its ninety-minute time slot. President Clinton has used
the town hall meeting format as one of several tools to engage the
American people in the national dialogue on race relations he has led
over the past year. The first town hall meeting was held in Akron,
Ohio, last December.
The wide-ranging discussion, which included collegiate sports icons
University of Georgia Athletic Director Vince Dooley and Georgetown
University Basketball Coach John Thompson, was broadcast live by the
ESPN television network before a national audience. Other town hall
meeting participants included former NFL great Jim Brown, Minnesota
Vikings coach Dennis Green, track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee,
baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, San Diego Padres owner John Moores,
San Francisco 49ers President Carmen Policy, St. John’s University
basketball player Felipe Lopez and New York jets wide receiver Keyshawn
America, rightly or wrongly, is a sports crazy country,” Clinton
declared at the beginning of the meeting. The president noted that
sports are important to Americans because “we often see [them] as a
metaphor or symbol of what we are as a people.”
With most of the overall discussion centering on the absence of
minorities in management jobs in college and professional sports,
Clinton attributed the failure of the sports establishment to hire
minorities in management positions as an indication of “something wrong
with recruitment” efforts. Citing his own record of hiring minorities
in his administration, he added that when organizations make credible
recruiting efforts, “there’s a lot of people out there” to hire.
Thompson, who is regarded as one of college basketball’s most
influential coaches, noted that sports’ managers and owners pretend
that racial discrimination does not play a role in hiring practices. “A
lot of people don’t act as if [discrimination] exists,” he said.
Although Thompson was critical of the sports establishment for
failing to hire minorities into management jobs, he defended his
employment and support of White sports agent David Falk, who also
represents several of Thompson’s former players. Thompson, in reaction
to Jim Brown’s suggestion that Black sports professionals have a
responsibility to hire Black agents and other Black professionals, said
he has hired White professionals who have proved to him their loyalty
and their ability to perform well.
“I find it difficult to fire David Falk because the pigmentation of his skin is White,” Thompson said.
University of Georgia’s Dooley praised President Clinton for
leading the race relations initiative. Dooley, who is White, agreed
with the Black panelists’ complaint that too few minorities have been
hired as coaches and executives in collegiate and professional sports.
He said college sports benefit when individuals, such as University of
Kentucky Coach Tubby Smith, are given the opportunity to coach major
Dooley mentioned that he had hired Smith to coach the University of
Georgia basketball team. Smith held the Georgia position for two years
prior to the conclusion of this year’s national championship season,
according to Dooley.
“We need more Tubby Smiths in college football,” Dooley said.
However, Georgetown’s Thompson said the success of Black coaches,
such as Tubby Smith, has led to a situation where Black coaching
candidates have to meet higher standards of performance than Whites
before they can get hired. “I’m sick of the John Thompsons and the
Tubby Smiths…. I’m sick of us having to be perfect to get the job,”
Felipe Lopez, a Black Hispanic college basketball star, had the
distinction of joining the town hall meeting panel as a last-minute
addition and as its sole Hispanic member. ESPN added Lopez to the panel
after a Hispanic group wrote to President Clinton to protest.
The town hall meeting marked the culmination of a series of
activities of the President’s Initiative on Race. Prior to the meeting,
the race initiative had completed a “Campus Week of Dialogue,” at
colleges and universities around the country. Advisory Board members to
the race initiative and Clinton Cabinet Secretaries participated in
campus events to encourage dialogues on race.
Race Initiative Targets Higher Education
President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race stepped up its
involvement with colleges and universities on several fronts during
About 600 colleges and universities pledged to conduct activities
during the month to identify and discuss racial issues and work on
service projects that limit racial divisions. Activities included a
forum at Howard University carried on C-SPAN, plus other activities at
historically Black colleges and universities and traditionally white
“We wanted as many HBCUs as possible to hold events,” said an administration spokesman.
The initiative is asking colleges to catalogue information on
effective programs for possible inclusion in its final report due later
But the president’s initiative also wants a more permanent
partnership in place to address racial issues at colleges and
universities — one that could work on diversity affirmative action,
and other issues. In recent weeks, White House staffers have asked
college presidents and leading associations to create a coalition that
would promote access and diversity within higher education.
“This is something in the very early stages.” the spokesman said;
although he acknowledged the administration is looking at “more
specific, concrete outreach efforts.”
Word of the new plan prompted skepticism from some educators, who
note that colleges and universities already are working to address
diversity and affirmative action issues. But an HBCU official noted
there is more room for action.
“All education associations are doing something to help in this
area,” said Dr. Henry Ponder, president of the National Association for
Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. “But I don’t think any
association is doing enough — not even NAFEO.”
HBCUs would support an on-going, permanent forum in higher
education to discuss and address issues related to race. “We don’t have
enough experience to know what works:” Ponder said. “Where we are
today, any initiative would do good.”
COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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