National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle today called charges of league racism made by the head of the players' union "absolutely ludicrous."
"To single the NFL out for racism is ludicrous," Rozelle said at a press conference prior to the Eagles-Cardinals game. "I think if you were to single out a number of companies around the country and say they don't have any blacks in management you'd find that they don't.
"In fact, I'm sure if I walked into your (newspaper) management offices or into the network's executive offices I wouldn't find very many black faces in there either.
"We recruit our players and our coaches from the colleges. There is exactly one head coach of a major college who is black. And that's where we look for coaches."
Last week, in a memo to players representatives , union head Ed Garvey called the league "a monument to racism," pointing out that even though almost half the players in the league are black, not one head coach or general manager is black.
In the memo he asked the players to lend support to a press release he was planning on the issue.
"Given the number of black head coaches in the major colleges, to say that the NFL must have a black coach is ludicrous," Rozelle continued. "You might be able to say that we've been unsuccessful in recruiting blacks for management or in development but you can't say we're racist."
Rozelle said the NFL had trouble "competing" with other businesses for outstanding blacks and singled out former Eagle Irv Cross and former Green bay Packer all-pro Willie Davis as examples of blacks the NFL wanted for management positions but could not get.
"We couldn't make Willie Davis an offer as good as Schlitz breweries," he said.
Rozelle said he believed Garvey had sent the memo in an effort to take pressure off himself.
"I get rumblings that there's pressure on Ed sometimes," Rozelle said. "I heard that a lot of players weren't too happy that he took $200,000 out of the treasury to use for the soccer union and I think a lot of players were upset with the last deal (contract) he made.
"I think this is a smoke screen. That's why we labeled it a red herring in our original statement."
In reaction to Rozelle's remarks, Garvey said yesterday, "Whenever management is attacked, the first thing they do is deny it and then attack the attacker. That's what they're doing here. First, they're denying there is racism and then they're attacking me for raising the issue."
Rozelle said he had been urging owners in the league to be conscious of hiring blacks since the 1960s.
I've been telling owners consistently since Ed Garvey was at the University of Wisconsin years ago that they have a responsibility to hire blacks. I think they've done it."
Asked about blacks on his staff in New York, Rozelle said he had "two men and several girls."
"I don't think there was an awareness of the responsibility to hire blacks or minorities in this country until the 1960s," Rozelle added. "I can't give you a timetable as to when there will be a head coach any more than you can tell me when there will be a lot of black executives in your offices."
In an apparent attempt to illustrate what he says is the NFL's plight in hiring qualified blacks, Rozelle recalled that several summers ago his office had tried to recruit a black summer intern and had asked Grambling, a predominantly black college, to "send someone who's interested in sports management. They sent us a white," Rozelle said, laughing. "So you see how hard it can be."
Chain smoking throughout the 45-minute meeting, Rozelle appeared relieved when several reporters changed the subject.
But asked if he was concerned about what the Garvey memo might do to the NFL's image, Rozelle went back on the attack.
"I am not concerned about the reaction of anyone who read the entire memo because they'll see it for what it is," he said. "I am concerned internally. At best, the memo is potentially inflammatory at a time when the teams are coming into the stretch run. If Ed felt that strongly I wish he would have done this in less inflammatory language and during the off-season."
Asked if he planned to talk to Garvey about the memo, Rozelle said, "I don't see where that would serve any purpose. If Ed wants to talk to me, he can call."