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Thursday, April 1, 2004
Hornung's comments could do damage

By Alan Grant
Special to Page 2

The whole race thing is, for me, something akin to a car accident. I know it's ugly and gory, and I know I shouldn't look. Nothing good ever comes from it. Besides, there could be casualties.

Paul Hornung
Hornung probably had no idea his comments would set off such a firestorm.
But I can't help myself. I drive by slowly, keeping my hands at 10 and 2, and I can't take my eyes off this cat they used to call the Golden Boy. He stands there with his pregnant woman's belly hanging over his ugly-as-hell polyester sans-a-belt slacks, the broken capillaries in his cheeks glowing bright red beneath the white cotton candy hair, and he pontificates on the travails of his beloved Notre Dame football.

Like I said, it's not a pretty sight.

But I can't help myself from gawking as he says: "You can't play a schedule like that unless you have the black athlete today. You just can't do it, and it's very, very tough, still, to get into Notre Dame. They just don't understand it, yet they want to win."

Each time someone offers some half-baked theory on a racial issue, I'm compelled to stop, to look, and at times, to respond. When Paul Hornung said that Notre Dame can't compete without the "black athlete," my first response was: This guy has to be senile.

Perhaps he thinks it's still 1956, when the Irish went 2-8 yet ol' Golden Boy snagged the Heisman. It was a time when that trophy still meant something, and also a time when there were no black faces in the team picture. Maybe that's why he said what he did.

Never mind that about half of Notre Dame's current roster is black. Never mind that Notre Dame football doesn't lack black athletes, just great athletes. That's irrelevant. Of significantly greater relevance is Hornung's assumption that academic standards must be lowered to give the darkies, er ... I mean the colored, er ... I mean the black athletes a chance. After all, the white athletes clearly have no problem meeting these standards -- the evidence being the brilliant sociological elucidation offered by Professor Hornung.

Like a lot of Notre Dame's old heads, Goldie just can't swallow the fact that his team isn't the most dominant program in the country any more. Like a few other Domers, Hornung is convinced that there is one easily identifiable obstacle keeping the Irish from the annual success that once came so easily. Never mind that parity, not athletic folklore, rules the college football roost.

Since N.D.'s last title in 1988, Washington, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Miami, Alabama, Florida State, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, LSU and USC have held at least a share of the national championship. Over a 16-year span, that's 14 different teams who have shared the wealth. But the Domers don't want to hear that. They can't accept the fact that they aren't a dynasty, or that dynasties themselves are a rare breed. But that's their problem.

Tyrone Willingham
Ty Willingham sets some pretty high standards for his players.
Oh, sure, part of the problem is most definitely the coach. See, in Tyrone Willingham, the Domers don't have a guy who's big on players prone to felonious behavior. Call it a major character flaw, but offering strippers and other sexual favors doesn't seem to be a Ty Willie thing, while the big-time programs, the ones competing for and procuring that elusive black athlete, are using adult services to lure teenagers onto campus. That's another part of their problem.

My problem isn't Paul Hornung, just his comments. I'm annoyed -- and not because of the reasons you might think. It's not because some privileged white man showed his proverbial ass; that appears to be his birthright. Each time someone makes the obviously stupid comment about race, it makes for easy targets and "quick and easy" solutions. I've said before, and I'll keep saying it until some brave soul seeks an audience with me: The worst thing to ever happen to race relations is political correctness, the premise being that if we just eliminate the words, the ideas disappear with them.

I'm sure when Rush Limbaugh was sent packing, all his racist ideology went with him, right? Notre Dame has already made its obligatory statement distancing itself from its legend, so all will be well again.

But Golden Boy speaks to something I fear could become ugly truth. I fear statements like his will lead to guilt and to standards that are, indeed, lowered, and not just on the field of play. I fear that affirmative action, that complicated, wailing spawn of race relations, could be turned on its tender head.

People of color could say, "Why don't you hire us?" And non-colored people -- the ones who are empathetic but also rather sick of having the terms of their business dictated to them -- will say to themselves, "We really should have some black people around here. OK, we'll hire you. But just to keep the peace, we'll take only the least ambitious, the least dynamic, the ones who are just happy to satisfy a head count."

And those dynamic non-white male types, those who offer a brand of diversity that is more than cosmetic? I fear they'll be the casualties left by the roadside.

Oh, God, I don't want to look.

Alan Grant is a former NFL defensive back and the author of "Return to Glory: Inside Tyrone Willingham's Amazing First Season at Notre Dame"