Alexander Hampshire isn't the only observer with an opinion on the NCAA's controversial Proposition 48. But he's the first one I've met whose opinion cost him his job.
Hampshire, a 37-year-old former football lineman at Georgetown University, is now a former assistant football coach at Bowie State. John Organ, Bowie's head coach and athletic director, didn't like Hampshire's opinion--or the fact that he expressed it publicly.
Proposition 48 would require a prospective college athlete to maintain at least a "C" average in high school and score at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Hampshire thinks the rule is unfair because it applies to athletics but not to other extracurricular activities. He also thinks it is "morally wrong" because it is calculated, he believes, to reduce the number of black athletic stars.
It's not exactly a radical opinion. How did it become a firing offense?
It seems that a reporter for the Prince George's Journal called Organ to seek the head coach's opinion on the proposition (he favors it) and learned during the interview that Hampshire had expressed the opposite view.
"I was utterly disturbed once I explained my position and (the reporter) informed me that my position was in conflict with yours," Organ wrote Hampshire in his letter of dismissal. "First, I didn't know your position because you didn't provide me the courtesy to discuss Proposition 48. Secondly, when he informed me you called him to volunteer your opinion, I found it even more disturbing because you are an assistant coach. How many assistant coaches have you heard or read about making comments pertaining to policies and procedures affecting the athletic program? . . . You know my philosophy about team work, and you violated this principle. Coaching staff can disagreee, but this should occur behind closed doors."
Hampshire points out that Proposition 48, which applies to Division I schools, has nothing to do with either "teamwork" or the "policies and procedures affecting the athletic program" at Division II Bowie State. His opinion, based on what he considers to be in the interest of black student-athletes, is "irrelevant" to his relationship with his former head coach, Hampshire said. "It's about as relevant as my opinion as to who should have won the Super Bowl."
Hampshire, who like Organ is black, says he has a special feeling for black student-athletes whose academic credentials are below par. He struggled through high school in Highland Park, Mich., after leaving Little River, Ala., a community so small it got its first telephone service last year and, until 1968, was without electricity. "My first week in class, the teacher asked me about Byron, Keats and Shelley, and I had never heard of them."
He later struggled through Georgetown, as a sociology major, after begging his way into the school. "On my academic record, I shouldn't have been there." Football, he says, gave him a focus for his life and a sense of accomplishment that Proposition 48 would have rendered impossible.
He still finds it hard to swallow that he should have been fired for saying what seems so obvious to him. Not that the firing will send him to the soup kitchens. "Would you believe I was making $1,850 a season?" he says of his part-time employment at Bowie. At one point, he offered to give back his salary to help Bowie with its recruitment program. He supports himself with a tiny construction firm that he heads.
And he's still working to help black athletes turn their athletic talents into a college education. "Football has been good to me and my brothers," the 280- pounder says. "I think it can be good for a lot of other black kids who would otherwise be on the streets."