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Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellWilliam PfaffRobert Scheer
Don FederCal Thomas
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 23, 1998 / 20 Nissan, 5758

Larry Elder


THE BRILLIANT DOCUMENTARY Hoop Dreams follows two young inner-city black boys who envision careers in the NBA. Neither makes it. Sadder, though, were the kids' parents. So convinced of their children's NBA destiny, they spent little time encouraging their children to hit the books. Ouch.

An article in U.S. News and World Report places the odds of a high-schooler making it to the pros at 10,000 to 1 or as likely as tossing a coin and getting "heads" 13 times in a row.

A jock's education The Northeastern University Center for the Study of Sport in Society says that 66 percent of all black males between 13 and 18 believe they'll make it to the pros, twice the number of whites who see themselves hitting threes at Madison Square Garden. And four times as many black parents see their kids playing pro ball than do white parents.

I thought about Hoop Dreams while watching the recent Town Hall Forum on race and sports. There, President Clinton, surrounded by a mostly black "All-Whine" squad of athletes and former athletes, urged white team owners to hire more minorities in staff and executive positions.

After all, said the president, "if you cannot find qualified minorities, then something is wrong with the recruitment process." In short, in hiring, race counts. Or should.

Wait a sec. Remember the Piscataway, N.J., case? There, a white teacher lost her job due to budgetary cutbacks. An equally qualified black woman, who got hired on the very same day as the white teacher, retained her job. Why? The district wanted "diversity." A clear-cut case of race-based preferences.

Given the president's Town Hall prodding of whites to hire more minorities, you would think that he backed the school board's decision to retain the black teacher. Wrong. Oh, his Justice Department initially sided with the school board. Then came the flip-flop. Clinton's acting solicitor general, Walter Dellinger, said, "The school board has failed to satisfy the heavy burden of justification applicable to the use of race in layoff decisions." Huh?

The Town-Hall Clinton urges executives to "do more" to reach out to minorities. But in Piscataway, the president failed to walk the walk. Well, which is it? Should race be a factor, as urged by Clinton during the meeting, or should race not be a factor, as urged by the Clinton Justice Department in Piscataway?

Clinton said no one ever accused him of hiring someone "not qualified" for the job. True but irrelevant. Lost here is a simple proposition: Business people should hire whomever they want. Does this mean, therefore, that employers have a license to exclude?

The question underestimates the principal driving force behind business -- profits. Some years ago, a businessman bought the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, then a competitive and commercial disappointment. He publicly stated that, in order to attract more suburban fans, he'd hire more white players. Well, he did! The result? A competitive and financial disaster. Lo and behold, white suburban fans showed no more interest in watching a bad white team than in watching a bad black one. Losing was losing. The guy didn't last long as an owner.

What about Marge Schott, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds? She collects Nazi memorabilia and used racial epithets against black employees. But check out her lineup. Black and Latino ballplayers. Certainly not because Schott enjoys their company during high tea and bridge. No, she wants to win and simply cannot do so without talented black and Latino ballplayers.

A mere 36 years after slavery, the great black educator and ex-slave Booker T. Washington put it this way, "When a Negro girl learns to cook, to wash dishes, to sew, to write a book, or a Negro boy learns to groom horses, or to grow sweet potatoes, or to produce butter, or to build a house, or to be able to practice medicine, as well or better than someone else, they will be rewarded regardless of race or color. In the long run, the world is going to have the best, and any difference in race, religion or previous history will not long keep the world from what it wants."

Post-athletic career options exist, if the athlete educates himself -- before, during and after the cheering stops. Just ask Oscar Robinson, Mel Farr, Julius Irving, Magic Johnson, Dave Bing, Anthony Davis, Willie Davis and numerous others who transitioned from players to businessmen. Ask Alan Page, the former defenseman for the Minnesota Vikings. He, too, has a new gig -- justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The gap is not white vs. black, but prepared vs. unprepared.

So, instead of leading yet another whine session, Mr. President, how about advocating choice in public schools to break up the rotten education monopoly? We need fewer Hoop Dreams and more "briefcase dreams."


4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder