Good grief, now I have unintentionally annoyed the Quakers, or at least two of them, who tookexception to a comment (on cornrows and other hair styles) that not everything has to be as gray as the dress of the communists or the Quakers.

Some of my best friends are Quakers. I have had the honor to speak at Quaker schools. One of my relatives had a Quaker wedding, which took quite a long time, and another one went to a Quaker school, and I am quite aware they play football, get into large mischiefs, make large incomes and in general have given up much of the austerity for which they were once famous or notorious.

The ones I know have been both intelligent and humane, a very good combination. This may indeed be the place to remind us all that earlier in our American history Quakers were criminals and could be harshly treated for their beliefs and style.

If Thomas Jefferson may be believed, and he is generally reliable on matters concerning the great Commonwealth of Virginia, Quakers were not so highly esteemed then as they are now:

"Several acts of the Virginia assembly of 1659, 1662, and 1693, had prohibited the unlawful assembling of Quakers; had made it penal for any master of a vessel to bring a Quaker into the state; had ordered those already here (and such as should come thereafter) to be imprisoned until they should abjure the country; provided a milder punishment for their first and second return but death for their third; had inhibited all persons from suffering their meetings in or near their houses, entertaining them individually, or disposing of books which supported their tenets."

Their worst crime, needless to say, was failure to adhere to the Anglican Church, which retained full possession of the country for a century or so. No Quakers were actually executed in Virginia, possibly because none of them insisted on coming back a third time, but also because (as Jefferson goes on) the clergy became indolent and Anglicans fell into moderation, almost as if they didn't give a damn any more what the heathen believed. Still, it is worth remembering from time to time that religious intolerance is very much a part of the American heritage and that it did much harm.

As for Quaker gray and their speaking only in yea and nay, perhaps the temper of America now is such that even an allusion to it is unwise and may give offense. Insofar as anybody considers Quakers to be generally colorless and dismal he commits the offense of lumping all Quakers together, and this is an instance of prejudice and perhaps bigotry.

Carrying it a step farther, you may reflect on Jimmy the Greek's impromptu analysis of black athletic prowess in a recent television report. Blacks are better athletes, he said, because they have longer thigh bones, and because they were bred to strength selectively by their former masters in slavery.

Thank God, I said when I saw it on television, that he is white, and not a Catholic bishop or a Jew, not an elected official, not a widely respected spokesman for anything, and is himself a member of an ethnic minority.

Also worth giving thanks for is the private nature of CBS Inc., which fired him for saying such things. Thus there is no question that I can see of First Amendment free speech rights. CBS has always had the right to fire its workers for a variety of reasons. My own view is that CBS is quite likely to fire anybody who alienates or even slightly annoys any detectable group that the network wishes not to offend. Very simple.

I am sorry, but the idea of perhaps measuring everybody's thigh bones to prove or refute the allegation strikes me as rather merry in an absurd sort of way. Of course "thigh" might be found more offensive than, say, "pitching arm."

And it should not be hard to imagine blacks do not care to attribute anything good, including athletic ability, to their period of American slavery. It is not like saying white Anglo-Saxon Protestants tend to go bats in the full moon because of their heritage of Druid priestesses and the chemical effect of painting themselves blue with woad.

Jimmy the Greek has undoubtedly had the misfortune to read something in Reader's Digest about selective breeding, eugenics, anthropology and such subjects, and made a few unwarranted leaps in reasoning from imperfect or casual comprehension of those subjects.

As a beginning, in his anthropological education, he might start off easily by observing the blacks of this capital. I do not detect anything particularly wonderful about their thigh bones, and it is reasonably clear that only a few of them look like athletes. It is also extremely unlikely that slave owners cared much about the physical strength of slaves, or tried very hard to "breed" the strongest with the strongest. Longevity would, in any case, be more useful to a master than massive physical stature, and athletes are not famous for long life.

Granted, then, that comments about thigh bones and breeding would annoy or offend blacks, who are probably weary of pop science, and granted that it is both unrealistic and likely to be offensive to say that blacks are naturally better athletes -- as if this were true of blacks in general -- granted all that, there remains the question whether Jimmy the Greek meant to be offensive. Or if, even if no offense were intended, the remarks were so hostile and vicious as to make their intent a matter of irrelevance.

I think a careful viewing of the television segment in question indicates Jimmy the Greek, in his somewhat backhanded and boomeranging praise of black athletes, meant no insult. His offensiveness, while detectable, was of a far lesser degree than I have often heard, in cases where the speaker meant to be abusive and derisory and contemptuous.

Jimmy the Greek, while a major ornament of CBS Sports, is not and has never pretended to be a major intellectual ornament of that institution, and this should be weighed in one's judgment of the affair.

I do not think CBS should have fired him, at least not on high moral grounds. But that may be because I have a greater faith in the American ability to comprehend a situation, even so abstruse a situation as the remarks of a CBS sports person, and a greater fondness for uninhibited speech, than other people. Or possibly a quicker appreciation of absurdity, finding it hard to keep a straight face when it comes to who has which thigh bone.