Friday, January 2, 2009

Perfunction (as seen on CNN): Caroline Kennedy, You Know

First Person: Israel-Gaza Crossfire Unrelenting

Rice Vows Hard Work on Arranging Gaza Cease-fire

Too Many Bowls, Too Few Black Coaches, George Curry

Basketball’s “March Madness” has nothing on the college football bowl frenzy – 34 games over a 19-day period spanning the last month of the old year and the first month of the new one. Let’s face it, not all 68 teams deserve to be in a bowl.

Some -- including North Carolina State, Kentucky, Bowling Green, Southern Mississippi, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt – got invitations after winning only 50 percent of their games.

Even worse, nine teams – including Florida Atlantic and Memphis – are going to bowls after accumulating losing records. Unfortunately, bowl games are no longer rewards for an excellent season.

Now, it’s all about the money. And the more bowls, the more money. An oversaturation of bowl games is not my No.1 complaint against college football. Rather, it’s the fact that approximately
half of the players are African-Americans yet only 3.4 percent of the college football coaches are Black. That’s four among the 119 major division coaches.

According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at Central Florida University, that’s the fewest Black coaches in 15 years. As recently as 1997, there were twice as many African-American coaches as there are now.

Evidently, the football sidelines suffer from the same on-field racial stereotypes of the past. For years, they said Blacks were excellent players but didn’t have the intellect to play the so-called “thinking positions” – quarterback and middle linebacker. Of course, that was pure hogwash.

For years, Grambling, Florida A&M and Tennessee State were football powerhouses and it wasn’t because they played 10 men on each side of the ball – or without a coach on the sideline.

And if there were any lingering doubts about the Black gridiron intellect, they were removed by Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams’ MVP performance in Super Bowl XXII and when two Black head coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, paced the sidelines in Super
Bowl XLI.

Of the 32 NFL coaches, seven are Black, largely because the league adopted the Rooney Rule requiring teams to interview at least one person of color for all head coach vacancies. If African-
Americans can coach in the pros, they certainly can succeed at the college level.

In addition to the failure to interview an ample number of top-flight Black assistant coaches for openings, many universities are still more willing to recycle failed White coaches than take a chance on a promising African-American. Two examples immediately come to mind.

Auburn University hired Gene Chizik as its new head coach after he went 5-19 over two seasons at Iowa State, including 10 straight losses. Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee, eager to get back on the winning track after forcing out Phillip Fulmer, hired another losing coach, Lane Kiffin, formerly of the Oakland Raiders. Kiffin was fired by the NFL team after compiling a record of 5-15.

These two losers were hired while promising African-American coaches were ignored, some of whom had turned around losing programs. For example, Turner Gill took over a program at Buffalo that had not won five games in a season for nearly a decade. Within three years he
turned it into Mid-American Conference champion and this year had a record of 8-5.

When Auburn selected Gene Chizik over Gill, one of its most famous alums, Charles Barkley, was livid.

“I think race was the No. 1 factor,” said Barkley. “You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”

How do we put an end to this nonsense? One approach would be to adopt a college version of the Rooney Rule. Some have suggested calling it the Robinson Rule, in honor Doug Williams’ former coach, Eddie Robinson of Grambling. For that to work, however, penalties must be
assessed against universities that fail to cooperate.

A sure-fire way of forcing change would be for star high school players and their parents to spurn athletic programs that spurn Black leadership. If players refuse to enroll in universities that have never hired a Black head coach in any sport or an African-American athletic director at any time, universities would finally get the message. What I like about this approach is that it empowers the athlete and does not rely on the so-called good will of schools eager to exploit Black athletes.

Five bowls – the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, and BCS championship game – will each generate $17 million for schools and their respective conferences. If Blacks stop playing for schools that refuse to hire African Americans in leadership positions, that would lessen the chances of universities getting a share of that lucrative pie.

With so much money in jeopardy, universities will be forced to do the right thing.

Forget the Magic Negro, it’s the Star Spanglish Banner

Much has been made of the fact that RNC Chairman candidate Chip Saltsman sending off a CD that included the song “Barack the Magic Negro”. As happens with anything with even a whiff of race politics (and this has more of a stink) an unbelievable firestorm unfolded after the distribution, causing many in the Republican Party to denounce Saltsman. As Michael notes below, the backlash to the backlash is benefiting Saltsman.

In a process almost as common as crying racism is, the “common man” of the base of the Republican Party is declaring Saltsman a PC martyr. They may sincerely believe that Saltsman is innocent of any foul play. They may be disgusted with their party elites for throwing him under the bus, but they also ought to listen to their party elites, because they understand something that Saltmans defenders might not; demographics.

First to the issue itself, such as it is. Though I’ll readily agree that political correctness has gotten entirely out of hand and that hyper-sensitivity to racial issues is excessive, one should not underestimate just how offensive this is to African Americans (and a large number of non-black people who are not included in the Republican base). It’s like if German conservatives had distributed a song mocking a Jewish politician as a “magic Kike”. The media has focused on the “Magic Negro” song because it targets the president and it uses a no-no racial term, but quite possibly worse is the “Star Spanglish Banner”, which Saltsman also sent. Though offensive, the “Magic Negro” at least only targets one individual. The “Star Spanglish Banner” mocks Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans as a group.

Jose can you see
By the dawn’s early light
Cross the border we sailed
As the Gringos were sleeping

Now it’s one thing for Limbaugh to broadcast these songs. I may not like them but he’s an entertainment guy and his crowd finds this stuff funny. Fair enough. I’ve seen some left-wing stand-up that made me laugh but would undoubtedly not at all amuse some of the targets of the digs. Comedy is sometimes the last refuge for unpopular opinions, and I think that offense is a very small price to pay for our essential freedom of speech.

Saltman is also entitled to his freedom of speech, but I cannot help but be boggled by the sheer political stupidity of what he did, and stand in awe of those who are willing to make him the face of the Republican party. Again, not because of the “Magic Negro”, but because of the “Star Spanglish Banner”. African Americans will not be voting Republican in 2012, save for a very few exceptions. This is hardly a revelation to anyone and unless Obama eats a child on live TV he can count on near-universal African American support. However the Republican Party is fooling itself if it believes it can continue to ignore racial minorities and be relevant as a national party. This is especially true of Latinos. George Bush, for all his multiple faults, understood this. He made a concerted effort to appeal to Latinos and tried to force his party to take a more moderate stance on immigration issues (and I say this while being to the right of even Bush on that issue). He also appointed the most racially diverse cabinet in history. Both of these things are to his credit. Latinos are not nearly as monolithic in their voting habits as African Americans. But the Republican Party continues to fail miserably at appealing to them and has allowed itself to be identified more by the stop-the-Mexican-menace of Tom Tancredo than the moderate approach of George Bush or John McCain. The latest consequence of this was that Obama won two thirds of the Latino vote on November 4th, including important contributions to wins in such essential states as Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. Their influence will only get stronger in the next election.

I suspect that the Republican Party leaders understand these numbers, and realize that racially-charged humor is not the kind of official face they can afford to put on their party any longer. The “base” may not realize that Latino Americans must not be treated as punch-lines but as potential allies, but the leadership must. “Jose can you see” is not the way to welcome in new allies. If the GOP as a party does not figure this out in time, they will be in for a rude reminder in coming elections.