November 4, 2005

Rosen: DeBerry speaks truth

Mike Rosen

We owe a great debt to Air Force Academy head football coach Fisher DeBerry. To be sure, the initial knee-jerk reaction to his recent comments about black football players being generally faster than white ones caused him to be treated like a "politically incorrect" piñata (my God, I hope I haven't offended Latinos).

Upon reflection, however, his statements were so obviously true that something of an anti-PC backlash has materialized in his defense. To their credit, Sam Adams and Thierry Smith, two African-American Denver sportswriters, both agreed on their KKFN radio talk show that DeBerry's remarks weren't racist and that they, as black men, weren't offended by them, adding that just because something is race-related doesn't mean that it's racist. Even Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson, an African-American with a hair-trigger for political correctness, let DeBerry off the hook. Can it be that there are actually rational limits to political correctness? Apparently, yes. And DeBerry, inadvertently, exposed this sacred cow for what it is.

After the uproar, DeBerry's contrite public apology was predictable. The last thing the Academy needs now is more bad publicity, deserved or not. But it doesn't alter the fact that truth is a defense. And there was no foul here. Whom did DeBerry injure? There was clearly no animus toward black speedsters in his statement. In fact, he'd like more of them on his squad.

In his book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It, " Jon Entine takes this issue head-on. He addresses the cultural, socioeconomic and, yes, physiological, explanations for the dominance of black athletes in certain areas of sport. On the physiological side, he provides convincing research from doctors and anthropologists who are by no means racists. A chart shows the monopoly of world running records held by those of West African descent in sprinting events, and North and East Africans in distance events. The inescapable conclusion: at the highest levels of competition, blacks are generally better runners than whites. It's not a racist slur; it's a benign racial observation, complimentary if anything. What's the big deal? Do you suppose blacks dominate the ranks of college and NFL running and defensive backs because the teams engage in unfair racial discrimination against whites? Of course not. Teams simply discriminate, justly, against slow whites - and slow blacks, for that matter.

After his Air Force Falcons were shellacked 48-10 by Texas Christian University, DeBerry was understandably envious of the legions of TCU's fleet-footed black players. Much has changed since the glory days at West Point when the running-back tandem of Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis - two white guys - led Army to national championships in the 1940s. Segregation and limited opportunities kept many blacks out of colleges back then and excluded them from football varsities. Today, football teams that can't attract superior black athletes are at a decided disadvantage.

If the Air Force Academy's first priority were its football program, it might lower its academic standards to attract the best athletes. But football isn't a top priority; training future Air Force officers is. Football may be big business at many colleges. At the service academies it's still sport.

When I made this point on my radio program, an outraged listener responded by e-mail: "You talk about how the standards need to be lowered for black people to enter the Air Force Academy. Why? You think they are just dumb black people." In fact, I said nothing of the kind, but such is the nature of PC paranoia. Academic standards don't have to be lowered to admit blacks. Just check out the current cadet squadrons. Young black men and women who can meet the high standards are already there, distinguishing themselves by their performance. The point is that standards shouldn't and won't be lowered to attract football players - black or white - who can play for other colleges but aren't academy material for a variety of reasons.

Fisher DeBerry's frank remarks were most likely expressed out of frustration. In essence, he was saying that the colleges against which he competes that have lower academic standards have a clear advantage over the service academies in recruiting the nation's top football speedsters, an inordinate share of whom are black. Another factor may be that physically gifted high school tailbacks dreaming of a lucrative NFL career may not be interested in a five-year commitment to military service following graduation. This explains why the service academies are often overmatched these days against NCAA Division I opponents. Can anyone rationally dispute that?