AN ODDSMAKER'S ODD VIEWS
This is an article from the Jan. 25, 1988 issue
The speed with which the electronic media can make or break a career is breathtaking. Within 24 hours of the time Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder made his absurd and offensive remarks about black athletes last Friday in a TV interview at Duke Zeibert's, a Washington restaurant, he had lost both his job as CBS's pro football prognosticator and his credibility.
Snyder's firing by CBS was swifter than the resignation of the Dodgers' Al Campanis last April for similarly stupid remarks. Snyder said in the interview that blacks have "been bred" to be better athletes than whites. "This goes all the way back to the Civil War, when during the slave trading the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid," he said. "That's where it all started." Snyder said that the black man was "bred" to have "big thighs," which gave him a genetic advantage in athletics.
Commenting on blacks and coaching, Snyder said, apparently facetiously: "They've got everything. If they take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there's not going to be anything left for the white people. I mean all the players are black. The only thing the whites control are the coaching jobs."
Some of Snyder's friends stood by him. One of them, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, said that CBS was right in firing Snyder but met with him and praised his plan to write letters of apology. "He's not a bigot," said NBC sportscaster and former NFL star Ahmad Rashad, who is black. SI's Paul Zimmerman, who is white, said, "I've known him for more than 20 years, and I've never seen any of the telltale, giveaway signs of the closet racist—the offhand good-ol'-boy remark when there's no one around, the nasty slip of the tongue."
But Snyder's ramblings betrayed an ignorance of both U.S. history and sport. Though cruel indignities were heaped on American blacks through the centuries of their enslavement, selective reproduction was rarely one of them. Snyder made it sound as though blacks were thoroughbreds who have been taken out to the breeding shed to be mated.
Snyder was also guilty of the sort of sweeping generalization on which racial stereotypes and prejudice are built. Blacks are not "better" athletes than whites, as Snyder said. Some blacks are better athletes than some whites; if a disproportionate number of players in pro football and basketball are black, the reverse is true in tennis and hockey. Snyder's suggestion that coaching jobs were "all that's left" for white people was particularly offensive. As for the business about the thighs, The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon, who is black, suggested that Snyder "check the size of Michael Jordan's thighs. He'd find they're almost nonexistent."
Friends said Snyder's actions speak louder than his words, pointing out, for example, that without fanfare he has helped pay for the college educations of many black students from poor backgrounds. Nevertheless, Snyder made his living with words, and if that living was a good one, it was because so many people listened to him. What they heard last week was the voice of ignorance.
The case of Tracy Graham has been an embarrassment to the NCAA. Graham is the Iowa State women's volleyball recruit who lost her freshman eligibility because, unwittingly, she took her college entrance exams on a date not approved by the NCAA. Her appeals for relief to four different NCAA committees all were turned down (SCORECARD, Sept. 28 et seq.).
So embarrassing, in fact, was Graham's case that at last week's NCAA convention in Nashville, Dick Schultz, the new executive director, referred to the situation in his opening remarks to the delegates: "On the one hand we have a football player who takes money from an agent, but because he pays it back and sits out a game or two, he is allowed to play again. And on the other hand we have an honor student who isn't allowed to play. That doesn't make sense."
Sensibly, the delegates unanimously passed a measure empowering the NCAA Council to make exceptions in eligibility cases where an athlete's superior academic record warrants such action. Max Urick, Iowa State's athletic director, says an appeal to restore Graham's eligibility will be filed with the council immediately.
GOING, ALAS, FOR FOUR
That battered political football, the Olympics, is in the air once again. Two days before Sunday's deadline for countries to accept invitations to compete in the 1988 Summer Games, Cuba announced that it wouldn't send a team to Seoul because North Korea's demand that it cohost the Games had not been met and because of fears for the safety of Cuban athletes. The action came as a surprise to most Olympic officials since earlier the Soviet Union, China, East Germany and other communist countries had accepted invitations to the Games.
The Cuban decision also cast doubt on whether the 1991 Pan American Games would be held as scheduled in Havana. In awarding those games to Cuba in 1986, some members of the Pan American Sports Organization's executive committee had indicated they were doing so on condition that Cuba send teams to both last summer's Pan Am Games in Indianapolis—which it did—and to the Seoul Olympics. In electing to pass up Seoul, the Cubans may have put Pan Am Games officials over a barrel. If the '91 Games are now moved from Havana, the Cubans would almost certainly refuse to compete anywhere else, and the Pan Am Games without the Cubans, who in '87 won more medals than any country except the U.S., would lose much of their appeal.
Cuba's absence from Seoul will also be felt, and Olympic officials, including those in the U.S. and other Western countries, expressed keen disappointment at the Castro government's decision. The International Olympic Committee has shown considerable flexibility in dealing with the North Korea issue; although the IOC has refused to let North Korea formally cohost the Games, it has invited Pyongyang to stage archery, table tennis, women's volleyball, some preliminary-round soccer games and one men's cycling road race. It seems at least remotely possible that an arrangement may yet be worked out that would satisfy both North Korea and Cuba. If, as seems more likely, the Cuban decision seems more likely, the Cuban decision stands, the Seoul Games will be the fourth straight Summer Olympics marred by political boycott.
POPS, YES...BUT THE SPACEMAN?
When the baseball writers association of America (BBWAA) announced the results of its annual Hall of Fame balloting last week, there was joyous news for Willie Stargell, who was elected in his first year of eligibility, and bad news for Congressman Jim Bunning, who fell only four votes shy of the required 75% of the 427 cast.
Controversy has often accompanied the Hall of Fame voting, but the voters have, by and large, shown good judgment over the years. In our view, it's a shame that Bunning, who won 224 games and who pitched no-hitters in both leagues, missed this time around, and that Roger Maris, whose record of 61 home runs in 1961 is approaching the longevity of the Babe Ruth mark that Maris broke, received only 184 votes in his last year of eligibility as a contemporary player. (After a wait of three years, his case will be considered by the veterans committee.) But we can understand the arguments of those who didn't vote for Bunning and Maris. We can even understand why nine voters thought nobody was deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown and returned empty ballots—although one of them, Ken Nigro, a former newspaperman who remains a voting member of the BBWAA, has no business voting now that he's employed by the Baltimore Orioles.
What we can't understand is why some voters insist on making a mockery of the process by casting ballots for the likes of Al Hrabosky (1 vote), Lee May (2), Reggie Smith (3) and Bill Lee (3). And if it is true, as Maury Allen, a columnist for the New York Post, said recently, that some baseball writers use their ballots vindictively—"paying back" certain players for personal slights by withholding their votes—then the selection procedures are in need of reform. Perhaps the BBWAA should make public the individual Hall of Fame ballots, just as it does MVP and Cy Young ballots, and thus hold voters accountable. Baseball fans deserve to know if any of the three writers who voted for the Spaceman did not vote for Bunning.
THEY SAID IT
•Reggie Jackson, on a $1 million-plus offer he has received to play ball in Japan next year: "Guys who play there say it gets awfully lonely. Hell, for the money they're talking, I can buy some friends and take them with me."