Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson, who appeared on the same CBS "Face The Nation" show Sunday on which George Steinbrenner referred to his New York Yankees team accountant as "a young black boy," yesterday defended Steinbrenner.

"I don't think the man intended any offense," said Thompson, who is black. "We need to focus on the issue more than the terminology he used."

Steinbrenner, who owns the Yankees, was referring to Warren Atkinson, 30, the team's chief accountant, during a discussion on racism in sports and the number of blacks in front office positions. Later, Steinbrenner issued a statement reading:

"I've always referred to my team as the 'varsity' and to my players and the younger members of the front office as my 'boys and girls' and I ain't about to change for nobody," read the statement. " . . . if that offends someone, that's tough."

Atkinson, an employe since 1984, said he doesn't feel he was slurred. "I have no gripes over race," he told the Associated Press.

Thompson noted Steinbrenner hired John McLendon to coach the Cleveland Pipers of the old American Basketball League "at a time when there was no pressure to hire" black coaches. "You have to be more knowledgable about what kind of a person he is," Thompson said. "I'll bet a lot of people didn't know he hired John McLendon. That ranks higher than a statement he may have made inadvertently."

Thompson, who in 1984 became the first black to coach an NCAA championship team, calls McLendon "the father of black coaches, if there is such a person."

Of the term "boy," Thompson said: "It's something you like to avoid, but, everytime it's used, it doesn't have the inference it implies . . . {People} shouldn't hop on it but get to the meat of the issues . . . Give George a break. I don't think the man meant any harm."

In New York, Harvey Greene, the Yankees' director of media relations, said Steinbrenner, in Chicago at the baseball owners' meetings, has not spoken with his staff about Don Buford and Ray Burris, two black former major league players Steinbrenner pledged on the show to contact as part of a commitment to hire more minorities.

Staff writer David Aldridge contributed to this report.