Racism Among College Football Coaches

BY MICHAEL MCCANN

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Next time you hear someone say that racism no longer exists in America, just direct them to these benighted comments made by two prominent college football coaches during this past week (and thanks to Offwing for their discussion):

“[T]he black athlete has made a big difference. They have changed the whole tempo of the game. Black athletes have just done a great job as athletes and as people in turning the game around.” Joe Paterno, Penn State Head Football Coach, 11/4/2005

Then there is this beauty:

“[Texas Christian University] had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did. Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn’t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can’t run, but it’s very obvious to me that they run extremely well.” Fisher DeBerry, Air Force Head Football Coach, 10/28/2005 (after loss to Texas Christian University)

You would hope that these comments were made in 1955 instead of 2005, but they weren’t. And you would hope that they were made by socially-irrelevant persons instead of high-profile, supposedly father-figure types for parents to send their 18-year old sons to learn from, but they weren’t.

These comments illuminate the broader notion that the college game is anything but the romanticized image often portrayed in film and by those who have financial stakes in seeing players not enter pro leagues. There is racism at the highest of levels. There is crime without deterrence. There is a glaring absence of positive social norms.

In other words, 18-year olds who seek the NBA or NFL may not be doing so merely for monetary reasons. Maybe their parents don’t want them to play for coaches who talk about “the black athlete.” And maybe their parents don’t want them to watch juniors and seniors on the team break the law and suffer no consequence. In other words, maybe it’s not just about young men getting rich. In fact, as we saw back in July, there appears to be a correlation between skipping college and not getting in trouble with the law.

And maybe we shouldn’t find that conclusion surprising after-all.

Michael McCann (HLS LL.M. ’05) is an assistant professor of law at Mississippi College School of Law. He and Greg Skidmore (HLS J.D. ’05) run Sports Law Blog: http://sports-law.blogspot.com/.

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