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The Greek's Apology Is Difficult to Accept

by Michael Wilbon
Sunday, January 17, 1988; 8:00 AM

DENVER -- Well, here we are again. Only the names have changed. The ignorance and the insensitivity remain unchanged. Was that Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder on television Friday in Washington, or was it Al Campanis?

If Al Campanis, the former Los Angeles Dodgers executive, got himself fired for saying that blacks might "lack some of the necessities" to manage major league baseball teams or work in their executive offices, it comes as no surprise that CBS did the proper thing today and fired Snyder.

What other fate is there for a man who says "[blacks are] bred to be the better athlete . . . This goes back all the way to the Civil War when, during the slave trading, the owner, the slave owner, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he would have a big black kid, see? That's where it all started . . . "

The Greek started the interview by saying he couldn't understand this latest preoccupation with the lack of black participation in the administration of sports.

He said coaching is about the only thing left for whites. "If [blacks] take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there's not going to be anything left for the white people. I mean all the players are black; I mean the only thing that the whites control is the coaching jobs."

My immediate reaction was part laughter and part rage. I wanted to hear his apology; maybe he would make some sincere, heartfelt plea and say that it just didn't come out right (although that didn't save Campanis). Reached in his Washington hotel room early this morning, the 70-year-old Snyder told United Press International, "I want you to listen to everything that was said and then you make your own decision as to what I said that was wrong."

Well, I've listened. And what you said, Greek, was wrong. Even if you felt that way, why in light of the infamous Campanis blunder, why would you say what you did? And keep saying it?

The events of the past 24 hours make it all too difficult to accept The Greek's apology. I am black, and I am offended as much by his apology as his initial remarks.

The shame is not only that The Greek said what he and others like him have believed all their lives, but that he doesn't understand what he did wrong or how it could offend people.

The Greek went through a long explanation on how black people's thighs are bigger than whites' and that makes them better athletes.

Somebody should suggest that The Greek check the size of Michael Jordan's thighs. He'd find they're almost nonexistent. How about those four-inch hams on Minnesota wide receiver Anthony Carter?

Once again, we have a television commentator generalizing about blacks and making statements about why blacks excel in sports.

If blacks are such invincible "athletes," then how does white Steve Largent -- a man who will retire as the NFL's all-time leading receiver -- get open so often against those well-bred black cornerbacks? Maybe, just maybe, because Largent is a pretty good athlete himself.

The Greek is hardly alone, although that does not mean he should be excused. CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer, week in, week out, is as bad as anyone on television in perpetuating stereotypes. Turn away from the TV set and listen to Packer. "What an athletic move!" means a black player made the shot. "What a smart, gutty decision that was!" means a white player hit it.

Packer, during the Pan American Games, all but called a black USA player Aunt Jemima. A CBS employee later sat with Packer and tried to explain that some of what he was saying was insulting to blacks.

I have a little bet with a friend over how long it will take Packer or any other white basketball analyst to say (or sportswriters to write) that Kentucky's Rex Chapman, a kid who has about a 40-inch vertical leap and the speed of a fired bullet, "is a great athlete." It won't happen.

David DuPree, USA Today's basketball writer who played with the Celtics one exhibition season, came away from several weeks of practicing and playing with NBA players saying that Danny Ainge, who is white, is easily one of the best athletes among the shooting guards in the NBA. But all you read about Ainge is his determination and fire.

And, of course, it's not just whites guilty of making such remarks.

Isiah Thomas saying Larry Bird would be "just another good guy" if he was black may not be as offensive as what The Greek said, but it's also ridiculous. Why should black people think it's their inalienable right to be better at basketball than whites?

And that brings me to the WRC-TV-4 news anchors, Jim Vance and Susan Kidd. It's interesting that Snyder made his remarks to News 4, because it almost balances the ongoing bias exhibited by Vance and Kidd, who root, root, root for Georgetown's predominantly black basketball team and Doug Williams -- who is black -- while they generally rip into the Celtics or Jay Schroeder, and a lot of other talented white athletes.

If you buy into the theory that blacks are in some way physically superior, you leave open the door for those who propose that white athletes are smarter or work harder. And if you don't have the sense not to say these things on network TV, then you ought to wise up, shut up or find another job.

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