THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Houston, Texas) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release April 14, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ESPN LIVE A CONVERSATION WITH THE PRESIDENT SPORTS AND RACE: RUNNING IN PLACE?
Cullen Theater Wortham Theater Center Houston, Texas
7:00 P.M. CDT
MR. LEY: Thank you, Mr. President, for being here. We deeply appreciate it. I know your race initiative has been underway for seven or eight months. There are problems in this country, issues in this country. As we talk tonight race and sports, what can this dialogue bring to the nation at large, for there are bigger issues than simply those in sports?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me thank you and ESPN for doing this for the second time, and thank our panelists for being willing to put themselves on the line and be honest and open and accountable to the audience.
I'd like to say a couple of things I think we can achieve. First of all, America, rightly or wrongly, is a sports crazy country and we often see games as a metaphor or a symbol of what we are as a people. So I think by dealing with both the positive things which have happened in terms of opportunity for people of all races, and people getting together and working together, and the continuing challenges in athletics, I think just by doing that we learn more about the rest of the country and what needs to be done.
Beyond that, I think that it's important that people see that in athletics in America, that the rules are fair, that people get their fair chance, and I would hope, too, that the concern for the lives of the players off the field, off the court, and what they're doing when their athletic careers are over and whether they still will be full and equal members of society, closing the opportunity gaps that have existed historically between the races in our country -- whether there's something we can do about that, because that clearly will have larger implications for the society as a whole.
But all of us as Americans, I think, should be both proud of how far we've come when we see what racial and ethnic and religious tensions are doing in other parts of the world, and at the same time, should be very determined to continue to meet the challenges that still exist, because our country is becoming more and more racially and ethically diverse, and if we can be one America, celebrating our diversity, but knowing what we have in common, then it's the greatest asset I can imagine for us to take into the 21st century. But it's something we really have to work at as I'm sure all these folks will tell.
MR. LEY: Well, we've got 90 minutes to try.
Let me turn to the gentleman seated to your left, Jim Brown. You were on our panel 14 months ago. Put your finger in the water here, take the temperature -- what's the last 14 months brought to your mind on this continuum of race of sports?
MR. BROWN: Well, the first think I'd like to say is that I'm very happy that the President visited Africa and deal with the scientific fact of humankind. For all of my black brothers and sisters out there, I would like to say there's no reason to feel inferior because, as the President pointed out, mankind started in Africa, and we're all of that particular race.
Having said that, I would like to say that I feel that in the last 14 months that we have made tremendous progress. Contrary to common belief, white America has stood up in so many cases -- going back to Paul Brown, dealing with the 49ers, dealing with Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots -- we have had tremendous opportunities. If we take advantage of those opportunities and use the rules of economics, we will then find our rightful place in this society.
Use the positive spin. Talk to those who have been positive who have helped us, rather than addressing the negative aspects of racism.
MR. LEY: Well, John Thompson, several times in the last few years -- '89 you walked off over issues with the NCAA; '94 there was nearly a boycott by the Black Coaches Association. Is it still an issue, though, in sports where you have to almost verge on civil disobedience '90s style and bring attention to these issues?
MR. THOMPSON: I don't know whether you have to do a civil disobedience, but I think you've got to create a consciousness of the fact that there's still a lot of people who are able to participate in the cotton field who is not able to be the foreman or not able to be the boss, or not able to have that opportunity. And that's what I think you try to do. You've got to be able to talk about it sensibly without people becoming so sensitive to it and acting as if it doesn't exist.
Several kids who are able to play at universities in this country who wouldn't even be considered for a job. And that's a fact. It's a sensitive subject; it doesn't mean that you become hostile, but you cannot close your eyes and act as if this doesn't exist. And I think that that's very important for us to discuss it, and that's why you need to be commended for having this type of a show, so we can discuss it intelligently.
MR. LEY: Well, why is it so sensitive?
MR. THOMPSON: Why is it so sensitive -- it's very sensitive because of the very fact that, first of all, a lot of folks want to act as if it doesn't exist. It's obvious by the fact that if you look in our society today at the number of kids who participate particularly in basketball, which is the area that I'm in -- if you look at the number of athletic directors that are in this country, if you look at the number of basketball coaches that are in this country, it's amazing to me how a person can be so competent as a player and so incompetent and his knowledge leaves him once he graduates from a university. And that same university does not select him to participate at any level.
I think that becomes sensitive when you discuss that with folks. It shouldn't be sensitive. You should be able to openly sit down and you should be able to talk about it. But it's a fact.
MR. LEY: Keyshawn, you're of the young generation of athletes. Your experiences vary, certainly, from many of the other people on the panel. You talk in your book about your perceptions of racism in sports. Give me the box-top answer. Where is it now to your mind?
MR. JOHNSON: I think when I first got drafted into the National Football League there were things that were said to me as an individual player as everything being treated fairly and equally. I didn't see it that way my rookie year, which is a very sensitive subject. But also, in my mind, I wanted to do these great things for this team and help this team win, and at the time, we had individuals working within our organization that for some reason they didn't see it in the same point of view. So when I decided to write my book, those are things along the line that were race topics and issues that preyed in my mind and I thought that needed to be discussed.
MR. LEY: You take none of it back?
MR. JOHNSON: Excuse me?
MR. LEY: You take none of it back? You stand by what you wrote two years ago, right?
MR. JOHNSON: Oh, yes, definitely.
MR. LEY: Oh, Carmen Policy, you work in football, and you have to make personnel decisions. I'm sure you're familiar with Keyshawn, with what he had to say about the Jets and personnel decisions. What was your reading of that, and as you look at personnel decisions that have to be made, how they can be interpreted?
MR. POLICY: Well, I think what you had in Keyshawn's book was a young man speaking his mind. I think he was speaking his heart, as well. I think that having talked to Keyshawn before tonight's program began, he feels differently about his experience with the Jets today than he did last year. And I think he'd write a different book if he had the opportunity to do so in five years.
And I think that you have to understand that we're dealing with very young athletes who are expected to be professionals. We're dealing with 21, 22-year-old passionate young men. And we have to take that into consideration when we bring them into the ranks of the pros.
MR. LEY: Let's talk about hiring practices, though, in your league. You know, two winters ago there were 11 vacancies -- 0 for 11 on minority hires. Even in the past year, with a special head hunter in place for the NFL, reportedly that head hunter was not even contacted -- a gentleman who was supposed to find minority candidates -- as these positions were filled. Are you satisfied with what the NFL is doing?
MR. POLICY: I think we have to understand a given. I don't believe there's an owner in the NFL that if he felt that an individual was the best candidate to be the head coach of his team and if that candidate were black, he would not get a job. There's no question in my mind he'd be selected. But I think the process by which we go about selecting our head coaches and the time frame into which it's squeezed is so flawed that we don't have the opportunity to reach out, go through the kind of barriers that are there and find that talent pool that's available -- and should be available -- to make our business a better business and make our sport a better sport.
MR. LEY: Denny Green, how did you break through that barrier?
MR. GREEN: Well, I don't call it a barrier, I call it a hurdle. And I think a hurdle is something that you can jump over, and I'm clearly ready to jump over that hurdle maybe for the rest of my life. I don't want my three children to have to jump over the exact same hurdle.
I think one of things that we're doing here now is we're bringing a tremendous amount of focus on sports because we love sports. And I look at the National Football League; I've tried to be as involved as I can, as well as trying to bring a championship to the Vikings, but also to try to be involved with the Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, and the rest of the, I think, leadership of the National Football League. But if you have a goal, you have to be able to measure the goal. If you measure the goal, 0 for 15 in the last three years, we have to say that the goals are specific, they're measurable, they're attainable, they're realistic and timely, and we failed in reaching our goal. We have not had any coaches hired in the last two years and I think that's wrong.
MR. LEY: Let me ask the President, if I could, sir, so much of this is about numbers in sports and you know Dr. Richard Lapchik (phonetic) very well and his numbers that take into account -- should we be drawing conclusions from the numbers -- 0 for 15 over the course of three years -- does that say something?
THE PRESIDENT: It says something. We just have to make sure we know what it says. For example, very often we assume that those numbers are there, there's some maybe even an illegal practice, which may not be true. But if you go back to what Carmen said, one of the things that I've seen -- or go back to what John Thompson said -- and you know, Georgetown is my alma mater so I always try to cheer for John and try never to disagree with him. (Laughter.) But there's some -- let's assume that there is absolutely no conscious racism in any of these decisions. I have been now in an executive position, I've been President for five and half years nearly. I was governor of my state for 12 years. I've hired hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. And every position I've ever held, I've always hired more minorities than my predecessors. When I was governor, I hired more minorities and -- more than all my predecessors combined. No one ever accused me of giving anybody anything for which they weren't qualified.
But what I found out was, if that was goal, and you knew it was important, there was a certain network by which -- the easy network by which those decisions are made, and you've got to break through the network and change the rules if you want to do it. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: So the numbers are important then?
THE PRESIDENT: Number are important. But my reaction was, when Keyshawn's book came out -- you know, I'm a big football fan, I saw this and I saw him play in college. You know, if I were running his team, I'd just want to make as many touchdowns as I could, you know. And what I think you have to do is to kind of -- Carmen went around here and he really prepared for this tonight. So I think that's what we need people to do for these coaching positions. We need to think if this is a problem, we want more minority coaches in the NFL, we want more minority coaches in the college ranks, you have to say -- and we're making an honest effort to pick the most qualified people, why aren't we producing them?
I'd say there's something wrong with the recruitment system, with the pool, and you've got to rethink that and make a real effort. My experience, my personal experiences, if you make a real effort there are lots people out there. Since I believe intelligence and ability are evenly distributed across racial and ethnic groups, if you look at it, you can find it. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Let me go to John Moores who owns the San Diego Padres. John, we're very happy that you're here tonight. We did this 14 months ago and baseball was unable to give us an owner. And going through the Commissioner's Office this time around, I will tell you, it was difficult, and finally we directly asked you and you did appear. Baseball, when it's graded out, subjectively, doesn't grade out well in this category. Are you satisfied with what your industry is doing, as an equity shareholder, to hire fairly?
MR. MOORES: Oh, absolutely not. I think baseball is clearly the most diverse sport and it has more opportunity to show that diversity in hiring. One of the surprising things I found in baseball is that there are a number of extremely qualified people who have been passed over for reasons I don't understand. In particular, I'd like to put a plug in for Davy Lopes, who I think is probably the most qualified person on the planet who's not a manager of a major league team. And even though I would hate to lose him as one of our coaches, he clearly would add something to another club. I'd like to see him in the American League rather than the National League. (Laughter.) But that does give me pause and you wonder why those things happen.
MR. LEY: Why do you think they happen?
MR. MOORES: Well, I think the country has come a long way. And I'm terribly pleased to be in Clyde Drexler's hometown right now, where -- (applause) -- Clyde will restore the University of Houston and Phi Slamma-Jamma to its rightful position. (Laughter and applause.)
MR. LEY: You're playing to the house. (Laughter.)
MR. MOORES: But I must say, what Clyde would do -- the reception this community -- you just heard it -- has given Clyde is overwhelming. The university is having trouble keeping tickets in stock. That would not have been the case when I was a student there many years ago. We had a great white coach, but under no circumstances could that school have thought about anybody other than a white guy. So I think society is clearly moving in the right direction. But obviously, we have miles to go before we sleep.
MR. LEY: All right, you're a baseball owner, Joe Morgan, you made your name and your fame in baseball. You were in our first town hall meeting 14 months ago, at which baseball did provide an owner at that point. What is your take of the temperature of the water of the last 14 months?
MR. MORGAN: I think it has made a slight change. I think sometimes progress is subtle, like racism. It's hard to measure sometimes the progress. For instance, we have now -- meaning we, baseball -- has hired another minority manager, Jerry Manuel, but prior to that, there had been, like, 33 job openings and minorities had not even been given interviews.
You can't say that we should have X-number of major league managers who are African Americans. I don't believe that. All I've ever wanted or asked baseball to do is to make sure that when an opening occurs, that African Americans are part of the interview process. There's no way in my mind that if Davy Lopes -- who I happen to agree with John -- Chris Shambliss, Cito Gaston -- there are a lot of players who are qualified to major league manager and they're not even interviewed when these job openings occur. And that's the problem I have. Like I said, you can't use numbers. I just feel like if you put them in the interview process, maybe, as Ron Shuler said, you can be overwhelmed -- as Jerry Manuel did, to get the job. But if you're not interviewed, you're not going to get the opportunity to prove that you're capable of being a major league manager.
And I guess I go back to what John said; some of the greatest players in baseball history have been African Americans. Yet once they're finished, there's no place for them to go. And that includes the broadcast booth; that includes management positions, front office positions, even coaching positions. I think you'll find that there have been more African American hitting coaches than anyplace else -- not bench coaches who are helping make the decisions, but hitting instructors, because they're able to get along with the players well.
So my point is, I just want them to be part of the interviewing process. Give them an opportunity to prove to the management people that they are qualified. If you don't ask them the question, they can't give you the answer. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Vince Dooley, in Division One college football, over half the players are African American, 93 percent of the head coaches are white and 94 percent of the time in the last three years, the job has been filled from a white coach to a white coach. Are those numbers -- can you explain them and are they defensible?
MR. DOOLEY: Well, before speaking about the numbers -- and I will answer that question -- I would like to make this comment to the President, because as some point in time in his life, the history will be written about his administration and there will be two sides to that history. But I think that one focus that will be true of any historian that will write about the President, that this initiative, this particular initiative of getting people to talk about race relations and about diversity, is going to be the most positive thing that ever happened. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
MR. DOOLEY: And I say that because I see it around the country and I see it in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, where the University of Georgia is. My wife has a radio call-in show and she now has a series on race relations where leaders of black in the community, and in the white community, and the Asian community now come together and discuss this.
In college football we've made a lot of strides -- we've made a lot of strides in inter-collegiate athletics. What we need more of is the John Thompsons, we need more of the Tubby Smiths in the world. When you have a Tubby Smith -- he came with us only two years, but we can at least brag that he got some of his last training before he went to Kentucky to win the national championship. (Laughter.) But when we have those -- and we have a lot in basketball and I think that a Tubby Smith in the south has done more for sports and the opportunities than a lot of things that have happened recently. What we need is more success in college football. Dennis Green was a very successful college football coach, but he left us. And what we need is more Dennis Greens, and when we have that, that's going to help our situation.
MR. LOPEZ: Well, for myself, I don't really think so. I think that I got the help that I really needed within the people around me. I've been fortunate to know a lot of great people within the basketball area, and those have been some of the things that have helped me be the person that I am. And I think the opportunity that people could get by just being in such a different racial community is that you can get so much out of -- from so much different people. And that definitely you can learn from anything that the race can bring to you. And I've just been fortunate, because of what I have learned from other people.
MR. LEY: Well, Jackie, let me ask you, in East St. Louis, so involved with the kids, and also on the flip side now, the business world -- where do you think it's easier to talk about it, among kids -- among suits?
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, personally, I think having the dialogue, it starts there, but we can talk and we can talk, but people need to listen and people need to do something about it. And for me, even working with kids, we talk about diversity, a melting pot, you're hearing from great players, coaches, owners, and you're talking about also that setting an example -- and you wonder why kids don't want to be in administration or why they don't strive to want to be a major league owner, or NBA owner -- because they don't see that.
But then you see, we come together and we talk about this race initiative, this program that we're trying to do and trying to not just reach kids or reach the suits. For me, as a woman, there are things that we have to deal with, just being a woman in general. It's obvious the color that I am; that should not be an issue. It should be that if the person is qualified, that person is qualified. But then you talk about the networking. If we don't have the opportunity to be in that environment, to be a part of that network, I don't see how you're going to get to that next level.
Even with myself, with trying to run a foundation, and you bring in people to set up -- to ask questions. They ask questions that's not really related to what you're trying to do. They don't even share your vision, so that automatically eliminates somebody that might be qualified because they did not ask the right question, or they're on a quota or point system and those points don't add up.
So it's subtle racism, it's hidden racism. There's hidden agendas and there are things that we as people have to deal with. But also we as people have to be listening and want to deal with it, and not just brush things under the table and say, oh, well, when the next person comes along -- because it's going to be the next person, the next person after that. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Well, we are talking about it tonight. We are going to step aside for a commercial break, and as we continue we'll look at the issue of stereotypes in sports -- images such as Cordell Stewart quarterbacking for the Steelers; or Keith Van Horn taking it to the hole for the New Jersey Nets. Things that people think about and sometimes talk about, as we continue live from Houston.
MR. LEY: Let me ask Keyshawn this. You've got Rich Chrebet on your team -- Wayne Chrebet, excuse me -- and you've got Jason Seahorn who plays in the same stadium, a white cornerback that has been talked about in stereotypes. We talked to some NFL players who line up against Seahorn and they told as black players, I can take this guy. Do you think that there is a subtle point even in a professional athlete's mind about the stereotyping by position, by appearance?
MR. JOHNSON: I think so because it comes, first of all, it comes from the media. I think that's where it starts, because back a while ago, the media points and targets certain athletes at certain positions. Most runningbacks are African American; most quarterbacks are white; most cornerbacks are African American except for Jason. I played with Jason in college; I line up across from Jason -- I don't even look at him like that, I look at him as a cornerback.
Then on the flip side, you walk back and somebody says, well, a white dude, he beat you up. (Laughter.) Afterwards, he's done a great job, then the media takes it and turns it into wanting to make him into the next great white corner. I don't know what cornerback was a good white cornerback in the day from -- (laughter.)
MR. LEY: Do you think it is the media, the media is the reason, or there are other reasons why he is the only white cornerback in the National Football League?
MR. JOHNSON: I think so. I think there's a reason why he's one of the only white cornerbacks. It has to do with the people upstairs and some of the coaches. They go out and they time these players and in that position you have to run a certain time, you have to be fast, you have to be aggressive. And a lot of times, because of the stereotypes, white athletes they feel are not aggressive enough to play that position to stop individuals like myself or individuals like Jerry Rice, big receivers.
So a lot of time you don't find an athlete -- Jason Seahorn's bigger than me. He stands about 6'4", about 220 pounds, and can probably run like sub-4-3, which is on the board, on paper, is like a superstar athlete. I guess in so many words, certain white athletes, you just don't find that. They say that you find the smart quarterback that can make the quick decisions, when an African American quarterback can't make that quick decision.
MR. LEY: Let's go outside for our first question, and we'll get back to the panel. Let's go over to microphone B here for a question.
Q Good evening. My name is Michael Waters. I'm 18 years old and student vice president at my high school. Mr. Brown, I've heard that many people believe that blacks are physically equipped better to play sports than many whites. Do you feel that this statement is a form of discrimination against whites, and more in particular, white athletes?
MR. BROWN: I think the lack of education -- I think these stereotypes that we're talking about, these cliches that we're using up here is really not getting to the point. If I might make this one point -- Keyshawn, I understand what you say, but in the '60s and the '50s we dealt with discrimination. No one up here has made an important point about economics. We have -- (applause.) We have athletes and coaches that are black that are making millions of dollars. You have not brought that subject up. You have not said to them, why don't you hire black lawyers, agents and managers? (Applause.)
Those black lawyers, agents and managers would be handling those investment dollars. Right now the black investment dollars go into other neighborhoods. (Applause.) We stood up and we talk about one more black coach. One more black coach is a symbolic situation. Those investment dollars are the way to rebuild communities, show people that we can have racial unity, and that we understand the principles of economics.
So I'd like to see someone address that and get away from these simplistic stereotypes. I don't particularly care about what anybody thinks about -- (applause.)
MR. JOHNSON: I have an African American attorney. (Laughter.) But I didn't hire him because he was African American, I gave him the opportunity for the application, to fill it out, to inquire, but I wanted to know if he could handle the job. I interviewed many whites, all across the board, some of the top agents in the business -- as well as my investment financial people happen to be black. But they fit the mold of things that I want to do. I want to get back into my community, put the dollars in industry -- (applause.)
MR. LEY: Well, Jackie, you're an agent now. How important is that to you to have African American clients and to begin to do what Jim talked about?
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: Well, for me personally, when I brought up the issue about time to find an executive director for my foundation, and working with a board, but I also having them to understand, too, that if I don't give this person an opportunity, who will? And I'm in a position where I can do that. And this is just working from the community base, but also trying to be an agent, trying to work with other just young athletes.
Because I find that sometimes athletes take for granted that they're just going to get certain things, and you have to make sure that you put them in a position or they're in a position where they can take care of their business, and can take care of their finances, but also trying to help you along the way, too. But I think there's a fine line there, that as an agent, I have responsibilities, too, but also as I've tried to go after student athletes, I want to make sure that they not only represent themselves in a good way, but also represent and stand for some of the same things that I stand for.
MR. LEY: Let me ask John Thompson, if I could -- just quickly, John, what went through your mind when you heard Jim Brown talk about the need to have African American attorneys? You have David Faulk, one of the most powerful legends in sports.
MR. THOMPSON: I can't use profanity on the show.
MR. LEY: Well, we're cable, John.
MR. THOMPSON: No, well, I think that's the struggle that we're in in society. I probably receive a lot of criticism because of my outspokenness about racial issues, and David Faulk represents a lot of my players. Unfortunately, I find it very difficult to fire David because he's white when I started out as a young coach at Georgetown and no African American wanted to help me, but David did. And David took the time to work and be concerned about players that weren't superstars.
Now that John Thompson is successful and has successful players, I find it very difficult to fire David Faulk because the pigmentation in his skin is white, besides the fact that he is competent and he's my friend. (Applause.)
But let me caution you about that statement. It pulls at me and it also hurts me because I am also very sympathetic with what has occurred in our society, and I am very sensitive to the fact of what Jim is saying and what she is saying. But how far do you go? Do I pick a black dentist, do I pick a black lawyer, do I pick a black -- society has caused that. I didn't cause that. Society made us racial -- I hate to use the word "racist" because we all get very nervous when people start talking about racism. But society has made us racial. But you have to constantly be in that struggle of being able to deal with that.
I had a young man that happened to be white, was the only young man that wanted to do the broadcasting at Georgetown when I started off. We couldn't get on television, we couldn't get on radio. A young white kid came up to me at a game one time and said, if you let me do it, I'll go out and sell the advertisement. I let him go out and sell the advertisement, and once he sold the advertisement and put us on the air, some blacks came to me and said, you're an Uncle Tom because you got that white boy. That's the struggle that society has caused, and that's why these kinds of conversations are extremely important.
The racial composition of my team -- whites will come to you and say, because my team is predominantly black that you're a racist. Well, I'm an Uncle Tom to blacks; I'm a racist -- (laughter) -- and I'm going to tell you something. I don't give a damn what either side says. (Laughter and applause.)
MR. LEY: You want to win, right? You want to win.
MR. THOMPSON: What is very, very important for a John Thompson is consciously in my mind to know that I am doing what is best. But society created that problem. I have to question myself in everything that I do.
Let me just say one thing to speak on what Mr. Dooley said. You know what I have a problem with? I have a problem with the John Thompsons and the Tubby Smiths of society. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it. And I'm going to why I'm sick of them. It's simply because there are a whole lot of white coaches who aren't successful. Blacks don't have to win the national championship to get an opportunity to coach. (Applause.) And you hear that in relation to education, you hear that in relation to professors. You ask, why don't you have more black professors. I will take a black if he's competent. Well, hell, there's hell of a lot of white failing. (Laughter.) All we want is an opportunity to get out there and to try and a right to fail also. And respectfully I am saying that to you. (Applause.) I'm sick of us having to be perfect to get the job. (Laughter.) I don't want to be perfect to get the job. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Having said that, Vince, when you hired Tubby Smith several years ago you were quoted as saying, he's the only guy I wanted, I went after him, he was the only guy I interviewed. And I know a columnist in Atlanta raised the question, could you, would you have been able to say that about a white coach -- the flip side of the coin? Could you have said that or would you have been under such political correctness pressure to say, no, we canvassed and this is my coach? Tubby Smith, African American, that was your hire.
MR. DOOLEY: Yes, I could have said that if I knew in my mind who I wanted and that person, white or black, was the one I wanted, then he would be the only one that I would interview -- that's right. I think I would do that, because, going with what John said, I believe that I'm doing what I believe is right, regardless of whether --
MR. LEY: Don't you acknowledge, though, the reality in 1998 that if an athletic director said, I've got -- especially in college basketball, where you have such a majority African American composition of athletes, you have to give at least the appearance of a fair and open search, but that to take a Tubby Smith, who had been trumpeted in the media and is African American, that's a politically safe choice. It's a good choice, but it's politically safe.
MR. DOOLEY: Well, when one searches, one does not necessarily have to interview. If you look -- that the interview might be the least most important thing of all the things that you'd like to find. The history of success -- and we do want to hire good coaches. I mean, as an athletic director I'm not just looking to hire coaches, I want to hire good coaches, the best coach that I can hire. But it may not necessarily be that I interview that individual. Certainly the history of success of that individual goes a long ways and rates much higher than how someone can be able to give just an interview.
MR. LEY: We've covered a lot of ground. Mr. President, I'd just like to get your impressions of the last 15 minutes at this point -- kind of a mid-point.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I appreciate the honesty of the interchange and that shows basically the -- actually the progress that's been made on this issue in athletics. Why? Because I basically -- I agree with the point Jim Brown made, but I respect what John Thompson said. That is, if you have personal experiences with people who have helped you to achieve your goals, even if they're of different races, and you're not going to turn around and abandon your friends or abandon people who are doing a good job for you. And that's good.
The point Jim is making, however, is a different one and I'd just like to sort of -- because when we get to the last section, there's another issue I want us to get to, which is related to this -- but what he's pointing out, there's still a huge opportunity gap in our society by race in terms of economic standing. That's the only point he was making -- and that if we want a stable society, we want large middle classes among African Americans, large middle classes among Hispanic Americans, large middle classes among Asian American immigrants -- first generation immigrants. That's the point Jim's making. And that if a group, a certain group within the African American community, let's say, has amassed his wealth and then has to reinvest it, to the extent that they can also help to create this larger middle class while helping themselves and doing something, that's a good thing.
I think you can say that and still respect John's decision, which I think we all do, and respect any other individual decisions that would cross racial lines. But the effort to create a middle class, people whose names will never be in the newspaper but who helped to build a big, stable society, I think that's a very important goal for us here. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Do you think athletes have a special responsibility to have a social conscience to act, to be involved in the communities, or is that unfair?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think it's unfair. I think, first of all, I think anybody with a special gift has a special responsibility. And if you've got a special gift, whatever the gift is -- if you're a great singer, if you're great at making money, if you're a brilliant scientist -- I think if you have a special gift, if God gave you something that other people don't normally have, and no matter how hard they work they can't get there, then you owe more back. That's what I believe. So, yes, I believe that. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: We're going to step aside for just a moment. We'll continue -- Felipe will get to that point -- as we take a commercial break and we'll be back in Houston in just a moment, continuing with our town meeting, live on ESPN.
MR. LEY: Welcome back to Houston as we continue live with the President and our panel here in Houston.
Denny Green, I know you wanted to jump in. You talked in your book about a scenario that you'd like to buy an NFL team, a specific team at the time. You've also been outspoken in trying to help assistant coaches learn how to interview. How do you see the access to the power structure?
MR. GREEN: I think the access has to be improved greatly. I think there's some attempts to get there, but we have a long way to go. I remember on March 20th, last month, screaming headlines in The New York Times, "give us a chance to compete." That was not by a coach to the National Football League or any other special interest group, it was by the CEOs, chief executive officers, of the banking, insurance and the security business. Why? Because everybody wants to have a chance to compete on the level playing field. The President is going to have his hands full because they have taken matters into their own hands.
What we want as coaches is a criteria that will give us a chance to compete in the National Football League. And what I said in my book, "No Room for Cry-Babies," was the National Football League has a new way to pick its players. This is not the '60s or the '70s, '80s, and '90s, a level playing field for the players, but it's still using the same old system of picking its coaches. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: What about picking its owners? If you had a group together with $300 million in credit and somebody with a heck of a lot of money -- you talked about it and it stirred up a hornet's nest -- about buying the team. Could you buy a team?
MR. GREEN: Well, you can buy the team because no one puts their own money into buying the team. They borrow the money from the banks. And I think -- (laughter) -- as long as you can service the loan, you can buy the team. (Laughter and applause.)
MR. LEY: But how do you explain the fact throughout all of major professional sports there's not one top guy of color?
MR. GREEN: Well, first off, you have to have focus, you have to have opportunity. And I think that's what it comes down to. I never had an opportunity to buy a team in the National Football League and I know of only a few African Americans that have had a chance -- or basically even people of color who have had a chance to be involved in the ownership level. I think it's a process. We all were players; at one point you become coaches, managers. At one point, if ownership is going to be there, it comes from the same idea of equal access, equal opportunity, looking at me as a man first, and not a black man. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Jim, go ahead.
MR. BROWN: It isn't a matter of a chance of acquiring a team. It's a matter of amassing the amount of dollars. And I'm sure that any African American group today that raised enough money could purchase a team. In my mind, there's no doubt about. I'm sorry, sir, in that sense.
We talk about chance and opportunity and being allowed, yet our economic dollars are never pooled in a manner to give us that kind of power. If you talk about access to a major corporation, you talk about Michael Jordan, you talk about Tiger Woods -- they're with Nike, right? They have the ear of Phil Knight. On a massive scale, from the standpoint of delivering black folks into any arena, what are they doing? That's all I'm saying. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: John Thompson, you're on Nike's board of directors -- (laughter) -- I'm sorry, but let me ask you first the question as a capitalist. I mean, when prominent black Americans and people in athletics get together and chat, do they float the idea, gee, you know, a couple of million here or there -- men of substance could get it together. Why hasn't it happened?
MR. THOMPSON: I think it hasn't happened for a lot of reasons. I think, first of all, in defense of my great company, Nike, I think -- (laughter) --
MR. LEY: You've done it again, Jim. (Laughter.)
MR. THOMPSON: I think one of the things that we have to remember and give Phil Knight credit for is the fact that Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods were put in a position that very few blacks in the history of this country have ever been placed in, including this gentleman who is probably one of the greatest ever to be in athletics. Never was he provided with an opportunity to have national commercials or national dollars with his talents. So let's give credit where credit belongs first.
MR. LEY: Mr. Brown?
MR. BROWN: Because Nike is benefitting --
MR. THOMPSON: Very much benefitting --
MR. BROWN: Those individuals have made that company very successful. (Applause.)
MR. THOMPSON: I also feel you would have made a lot of companies extremely successful had they given you the opportunity that these people did not get. (Applause.) That's the point. The point is, is that Phil Knight was one of the very first in the history of this country to ever give blacks that kind of opportunity. Do they talk about it? Certainly they talk about it.
I think also what the gentleman to my right, who sees the seams in a baseball, says -- (laughter) -- is that you have to be able to get the money from the bank, as Coach Green said. Those are relationships with people from financial houses which we don't have. We don't have those relationships. Nobody -- Michael Jordan would be an absolute idiot to take his money and put it into a baseball team. He would be an absolute idiot. What Michael Jordan has to be able to do is to be able to get that money from the financial houses and that is extremely difficult for any black in this country to do.
MR. LEY: Jackie, jump in. Go ahead.
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: I also like to add, too, whereas taking a company like Nike -- they are reinvesting into the Boys and Girls Clubs, putting $5 million to $10 million across the country, trying to help inner-city programs throughout the country. And that's a great program -- (applause) -- as well as taking old shoes, recycling those shoes and turning them into different courts across the country.
And then you have -- even with Michael Jordan now, to brand Michael, now to have his own, say, company, he is his own CEO. Those are things that -- I think they're doing a great job. I mean, you use Michael as one example; then you have Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods is 21 years of age. He's embarking on a whole new realm of things and he's having the Tiger Woods Foundation, he's doing different things in the inner city. And that's also bringing dollars into those inner cities. When Tiger Woods goes into that city, people are coming out to see Tiger Woods. And that's reinvesting into that community, bringing dollars that wouldn't ordinarily come there, and also bringing different races all together to be a part of a great event. (Applause.)
MR. BROWN: Sophistication and sentimentality is two different things. John says that -- when I brought the subject up of the millions of dollars within the black athletic community, I was talking about a capital base. That doesn't have anything to do with a bank. There are entrepreneurs all over this country that have gotten together, pooled their money and created mammoth businesses.
Jackie, it is great that these individuals go into the community, work with the Boys and Girls Clubs, and so forth. That's wonderful because they're working with children. But when you talk about what white America doesn't do, and you ask this man to hire somebody because he's black, or you talk about the numbers and you skip right over the fact that we have the resources to create any industry that we want to if we come together and use the same principles. That's just the way it goes. (Applause.)
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: But also, you could talk about creating those resources, but you've got to deal with the individual. Do I want to do that? You've got to take it to each one of those individual you're talking about and building that base.
MR. BROWN: You have a choice.
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: If you don't want to do that -- you can't force them to do it. I understand --
MR. BROWN: We all have a choice.
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: Yes, we have a choice, and that choice is not for us to do that.
MR. BROWN: And so does that man, and so does that man.
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: Right, that's true.
MR. BROWN: That's my only point.
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: But when you talked about blacks building that capital, they no sooner got that capital -- if they don't want to put that capital in there, we can't force them as human beings.
MR. BROWN: Does that go for whites, too?
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: That goes for whites, too. But they go and they do that. They would do that. But you can't criticize one if they don't want to do it. If I made all this money and I want my money invested here, I have a right to do that. That is my choice. That's why we live in America, because we have choice. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Let's go upstairs for a question.
Q Hello, my name is Fernando Tamayo. I'm a senior at Washington High School. My question is, you, the panel, mentioned white, black, Asian. Not once have I heard you mention Hispanic. (Applause.) Not only are we the fastest minority growing, we are also helping America grow economically.
MR. LEY: Let me ask Felipe. Felipe, do you think Hispanics are lost in the -- especially the sporting world?
MR. LOPEZ: It's a great point which he made. We are one of the communities that every day is growing rapidly. And I think the things that we are doing for this country should be pulling out there, into the world, because people really have to realize that we are making a great contribution to this country.
And I think one other thing that we, as Hispanic people, should realize is that the more we work together, the more opportunity we are going to get in society. And that's why we all have to stick -- as a community we have to stick together, because no matter what, we want to be looking out for each other. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Let me make one observation about this. Hispanic Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group in our country. Historically, they have done very well in America through an enormous work ethic and an enormous commitment to family.
There was a wonderful movie a couple of years ago with Edward James Olmos and a number of other Hispanic actors and actresses called Mi Familia. It was a wonderful movie -- some of you may have seen it. But we have a problem today that athletics could play a role in solving with the Hispanic community, and I hope we'll get into this a little more in the last section -- that is, what about all the athletes whose names you never know, who play in junior high or high school or college or even in the pros? And what about the rest of their lives? I hope we can talk about that a little bit before we leave.
But last year, for the first time in modern history, the graduation rates from high school of African Americans and white Americans were virtually identical -- the first time ever. The graduation rates of Hispanics is much lower; the dropout rate is higher. Part of that is because there has been a heritage in Hispanic immigrant families of kids dropping out of school and going to work to support the family.
The problem is, today if you don't have a high school diploma and a couple years of college, it's hard to get a job where your income grows over time. So one of the things that I'm hoping is that we'll have more Hispanic young people in athletic programs and at least in high school; that will get more big coaches to convince them and their brothers and sisters to stay in high school and hopefully go on to college. Because America is not going to function very well if we have a Hispanic dropout rate that's 20 percent higher than the rest of society. (Applause.)
MR. LOPEZ: I agree with the President, because that's one of my points of view. As a basketball player, I just try to use my basketball skill just not to be a basketball player, I want to be someone in life besides a basketball player. I want people to see me not just, oh, that's the guy that played basketball. Obviously, I go to school and I'm getting educated because I want people to respect me, not just for the individual that I am.
And for myself, I just try to use my knowledge to enrich a lot of independent kids, to a lot of Spanish-speaking people, especially in the area of New York and other areas -- to see not just the -- of being better by just trying to go to school, just trying to get themselves better, just trying to find themselves -- not just a job, just to survive right there. To try to see the future. Because if we see ourselves in the great future, we're going to be a greater community.
MR. LEY: Do you feel a special burden because there are so few Hispanic basketball players? You're going to be visible next year as a rookie. You're going to be drafted in two and a half months. Do you feel that?
MR. LOPEZ: I feel like I'm one of the few. And basically, it's like I say -- I just try to use any type of opportunity for me to spread myself out, basically to get a better idea, to get more information to those people who are there. Obviously, not everyone got the same talent. For myself, I feel that if I get the opportunity to play in the pro league, I'm going to be one of the great influences to give back to my community. Why? Because in order for me to be successful, I have gotten the help from a lot of people in my community.
MR. LEY: Okay. Let's go outside here for a quick question.
Q Good evening. My name is Martin Garcia. I'm from Jesse H. Jones Senior High School. And my question goes to Mr. John Moores. Mr. Moores, the majority of Hispanic players are from foreign countries. Why isn't anyone doing anything to promote Little League in the inner cities?
MR. MOORES: That's a good question. Actually, baseball is doing a lot currently and something that I'm real proud of. When I was a kid, a lot more baseball was played than it is today, and there may be a lot of reasons for that, but baseball is a great game. It, as someone once said, can be played by people that are not 7' tall or 7' wide. More like a lot of Americans. And I think the country has lost something as more kids do not play baseball.
In my adopted state of California, that state has not done a very good job of keeping kids in middle school active in sports and it's a shame. Nothing would make me any happier than to see a lot more kids playing Little League, Pony League baseball.
MR. LEY: Let's hold up on the numbers, Joe. I know what you want to say. Go ahead.
MR. MORGAN: Well, to answer his question a little further, baseball does have a program called RBI. But in my opinion, that is not sufficient, because when you look at what baseball has done in foreign countries -- they built academies in foreign countries to find athletes to play in major league baseball. Yet, we haven't tapped all the resources that we have in this country -- in the inner cities.
I'm often asked the question of why there are fewer African Americans in major league baseball now than there were 15 years ago percentage-wise. The answer is there are not any black scouts hired by major league teams; they're not any academies like basketball -- they have clinics in the inner cities to give these kids an opportunity to know that they're wanted. Baseball has not reached out to the African American in the inner cities in the last few years.
If they were to have more African American scouts, you would see more of the Willie Mayses come out of the inner city because people would feel like there is an opportunity for them. But major league baseball has chosen to spend their money overseas -- they've built academies in a lot of different countries, and that's fine.
I think everyone should have the opportunity to play major league baseball. But I think there are resources here in this country that we have not tapped. I have personally dealt with Leonard Coleman, the National League President, sent him resumes of a lot of kids who have played minor league baseball, did not reach the major leagues, but want to stay in baseball. I sent him their resumes. Leonard Coleman sent those resumes out to a lot of the major league teams, with assurances that these kids were qualified to be major league scouts. Not one of those kids have ever been hired to be a major league scout. Therefore, we continue the same process. And my point is without more African Americans going into major league baseball, the talent pool for managers, coaches, executives -- which we have none -- you're not going to have that opportunity. We're not going to have that pool to choose from.
All the African Americans who have been given the opportunity in baseball have been very successful as far as management is concerned. Bob Watson won a world championship as the only African American general manager. Cito Gaston, all the managers who have been given opportunities have been successful. Yet, there has been a six-year interval period since they have hired another one before Jerry Manuel was hired.
So it's hard for me to say that major league baseball is doing a lot to help in the inner city when I look at what basketball has done and Nike in the inner city, and Michael Jordan and so forth and, of course, Jackie. But I just feel that baseball needs to do a little bit more. I still believe that baseball is America's game -- I still believe that. I mean, I still believe that still should be our sport. And I just think that we need to do a little bit more in the inner cities to give these kids an opportunity. And I think that needs to start with African American scouts. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: John, let me ask you this question -- I know you probably don't know the entire flow-chart -- do you have any African American scouts with the Padres?
MR. MOORES: You know, I do not know that.
MR. LEY: Honest answer, thank you.
MR. MOORES: But, you know, I'll tell you what, if we can get a Willie Mays, we'll have a serious talk about it when I get back. (Laughter.)
MR. LEY: Mr President?
THE PRESIDENT: I just wanted to follow up on something Joe said and something that the questioner said because he made a slightly different point. You know, we had one of the best World Series last year we've had in a month of Sundays. I mean, everybody loved the World Series -- it goes down to the last game, at the end of the game. And everybody was thrilled with the story of the young Cuban pitcher and how his mother finally got out of Cuba to come watch him pitch. And he's saying, but I've got a brother at home who's an even better pitcher than I am. And as strained as our relationships with Cuba are, it's virtually more likely that you can be a Cuban player in major league baseball than a Cuban American from Miami or New Jersey.
And so it's not just African Americans. You've got all these Hispanic Americans here who are in inner cities. (Applause.) And we now have got the very exciting Asian -- Japanese players in major league baseball. But America is full of Asian immigrants. And, the baseball folks who are here, I really think that we haven't answered it fully. The truth is that there are tens of thousands of kids in every state in this country who are not in any kind of athletic program unless they're in a football or basketball program.
Now, the mayor here and the former mayor, Mr. Lanier is also here, he started a program with thousands of inner city kids in soccer and golf programs. (Applause.) And it may be that -- I'm just saying that maybe one specific thing that could come out of this meeting is if we could actually bring baseball back to kids who aren't in the football or basketball programs, it might be a great gift to the future.
MR. LEY: It's certainly a question that has been out there for the last few years -- African American involvement in the major leagues. We'll get to that in just a second. We're dreadfully behind on breaks. We're going to take a break right now and continue in just a moment with our town meeting -- the President and our panel talking race in sports, whether we're running in place. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: And welcome back to Houston. We continue our conversation on race in sports, whether we are running in place.
Little role reversal here, Keyshawn, you don't want to answer a question, you'd like to ask one. Go ahead.
MR. JOHNSON: I want to ask a couple of powers that be -- the athletic director, the owner of the Padres, and Mr. Policy -- like, when I'm done playing professional sports I want to know when you guys are going to put something together to -- not only do we put money in your pocket as players, but when it's all over and said and done, put us in a position to be the vice president of your team or in a power position to help other minorities out.
MR. POLICY: Well, if I may start, Keyshawn I might remind you that the teams put some money in your pocket, too. (Laughter and applause).
MR. JOHNSON: I remember putting the money in the pocket when I put all that money in the university's pocket -- now, I'm not getting the education part of it. But that for so many years, the education part goes out the window when you're done athletically. They say they're training your athletic skills for an education, but when we go back to these universities to try and get hired as athletic directors or head coaches or any power position, nine times out of 10 the door is slammed, and you're not given that opportunity. And that's the same way in professional football.
Even though you put dollars, millions of dollars, in our pockets, it wouldn't be there if the television rights weren't there and the money wasn't there for that. (Applause.) On top of that, I want to know why the owners -- we put this African American thing together to own a team, these new franchises coming up in the next few years. If an African American team, an African American group put this money together, would we get the opportunity to put the team in Los Angeles or put the team in Cleveland?
MR. POLICY: Your question -- or Houston -- (applause) -- they're waiting for their Oilers. (Applause.) Your question sets the stage for a pretty good analysis as to what's happening in the NFL today, and really, I think, that the President's initiative, and the country as a whole are going to be able to enjoy some victories that are going to be accomplished in the area of race relations and the area of the advancement of minorities -- not only to the head coaching ranks, Coach Green, but also to the front offices of the NFL, to the executive positions, to the vice president's desk and offices, and to other positions where decisions are made.
I think that what you're witnessing is an age of awakening. We sort of drifted off into a slumber when we felt that there was no overt racism -- everybody's heart was pure. When I look and see a candidate in front of me, I don't see a black candidate, a white candidate -- whoever is the most qualified is going to get the job and our hearts, our souls were comforted, and we've kind of gotten lazy.
But the alarm clock went off. The alarm clock's gone off, and we now realize that there is a lack of opportunity that's created by a flawed process. So we've got to correct the process, and we're doing it in the NFL. The Commissioner has taken a very, very strong stand, and I think he is going to be successful -- not only because he is committed to the changes that he wants to bring about, but because ownership is behind him a thousand percent.
And just like the President's initiative on race, the perfect time is now for the NFL to strike. We don't have a crisis within; we don't have a crisis without. We have labor peace. We have a very comfortable TV contract -- thank you very much. (Applause.) We have a situation at hand, where we're now able to look internally and deal with our infrastructure and, in effect, repair it, give back, as the President said, because the nation has been so good to the NFL. We're the number one passion of sports viewers in America. (Applause.)
Yes, Joe, even greater than baseball. (Laughter.) So let's not forget the good things that are happening. Positive things are occurring. We're having a meeting as you know, Denny, down in Florida in May. It's a first in the history of the NFL, where not only the owners and top executives are getting together, but we're bringing approximately 200 coaches -- not only head coaches, but coordinators and assistants. And for the first time, this pool of talent is going to mix, truly mix, with the decision-makers and create, Jackie, the kind of network you've been talking about.
So there's positive things happening, Mr. President. And I think the alarm went off -- we're up now, we're paying attention to it. To Keyshawn, I think you'll be playing for a lot of years, and apply for a job. (Laughter and applause).
MR. LEY: Let's go upstairs again to our balcony for another question. Your question upstairs, please.
Q Good evening to you, Mr. President, and other panel guests. My name is Dennis S. Brown, and my question would probably go to Keyshawn Johnson. I recently heard an NFL quarterback state that he got so excited after one game that he decided to go in and shower with the black guys. And then the question was asked, are you saying that blacks and whites don't even shower together. And he said, well, for the most part, no. My question is, is that true and if it is, what message is that sending?
MR. JOHNSON: I don't know what NFL quarterback that you heard, but, obviously, he's not educated to the fullest. Whoever it is that's out there, he's left out somewhere in the cold because we all shower together -- (laughter) -- you set me up. I mean, you know, for the most part, everybody mingles in the locker room. On every team, there's sections -- whether it's black, white, Hispanic, whatever it is -- individuals mix. You know, you especially mix in a locker room. Off the field, you do what you want to do, you be around whom you want to be around. But in terms of the New York Jets locker room -- and that's the only professional locker room I've been in -- there was nothing ever said around my locker room that had anything to do with race, other than jokingly statements. And we all understand that is jokingly. And sometimes that can offend certain individuals, but at the same time, we do know it is jokingly.
MR. LEY: All right, we were at this point supposed to be wrapping things up, but the President has graciously agreed to spend a little bit more time with us this evening, so we'll have a chance to ask some more and answer some more questions. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: That little boy --
MR. LEY: We're going to him.
Q My name is Jesse. I'm 13 years old, and I'm half Mexican American and half Irish. This question is for Mr. Morgan. I was wondering that since it's almost impossible to make it big in professional sports, I was wondering do you discourage minority youth in trying to achieve this goal in sports and instead, encourage them, more towards making their studies in school work? (Applause.)
MR. MORGAN: My answer is that both mix very well. You can play athletics, but you have to think about school, just like Keyshawn said. He got an education going to college; now he plays professional sports. After professional sports, he can use that education to further his lifestyle and to improve his lifestyle even. But I never discourage a kid from trying to chase his dream of being a major league baseball player or a professional athlete. But I think it's up to you -- the kid -- and the parents to make sure that they do their studying and get their education because education is far more important and will last longer than the claps you get for hitting the homerun or scoring a touchdown. (Applause.) But I never discourage a kid from trying to be a professional athlete. I think they can go hand in hand. I'm very fortunate I was able to play professional baseball, but I also have a college degree. So you can do both.
MR. THOMPSON: Well, I think it's very important. You know, I get a little fed up hearing people say that it's very important for kids to get an education. Very few people in our society educate themselves for the sake of enrichment. They educate themselves for the sake of opportunity. And if we provide an opportunity, people will be educated. (Applause.) So it's not it's a little bit ridiculous. (Applause.)
People strive, blacks strive to be athletes because that's what they see. That's what that little Hispanic kid was saying up there when he indicated that you're not talking about me, I don't see me, I'm not going to go get an education if I don't see me. (Applause.) And I think it's very foolish and a lot of wasted time when we harp on people getting an education if we don't provide them with opportunity. We don't do that. I don't educate myself for anything that I can't make a dollar from. And that's what you do. (Applause.)
And I think that we've got to stop living this dream. These kids aren't stupid in the street. I mean, if you see -- if I have an opportunity to be the President of the United States, I'm going to go out and work to be the President of the United States. I know damn well I can't be the President of the United States -- (laughter) -- so I'm not going to do it. But I also will not work hard in school if I'm in a position where I cannot be a professor at a university, or I cannot be a basketball coach. So it is really fruitless for us to keep harping as if people aren't interested. They're interested in education, but we've got to have opportunity. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Okay. Let's get this question out here. Go ahead please.
Q Good evening, my name is Tiffany Singleton. I'm a 17-year-old senior at a high school in Houston. My question is for Mrs. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Mrs. Kersee, I am a female African American honor student at my high school and oftentimes I'm burdened with the obligation to carry the expectations of both my race and my sex. As a female African American and sports star, do you ever -- and also as the only female upon the panel -- do you ever feel -- (applause) -- have you ever felt the obligation to carry the expectations of an African American and also as a female?
MS. JOYNER-KERSEE: Thanks for the question. For me, it's just as a person, I try to do my best. And I try to live up to my own expectations. I know what it is my family asks of me and what I try to do, but I've never tried to put myself in a pressured situation or try to do more than what I am. What you see is what you get. I don't try to be someone else and I don't try to live out someone else's dreams or be someone else. I go out there and do what I can do. I know the things that I'm capable of handling and I try not to put myself in a position where I can't handle certain things.
So, as a woman, yes, I try to work hard to make my dreams become a reality. These are the things that I worked for and these are the goals that I set for myself and now I'm going to find a way to attain those goals and make my dream become a reality. So I know I am in a position, but I also realize, too, that I want to be in a position where I can make a difference. And I want to make sure that, while I am the only woman here, I pray and hope that I do a good job so there will be other women, so other women can be here as well, and the doors will continue to open. (Applause.)
Q My name is Matt Sharp. I'm a junior at Elks Lake High School. Mr. President, as a young man about to enter college in the next few years, one of the things that's very important to me is scholarship opportunities. And I was wondering -- my question is, do you believe it is fair for minority athletes who have not necessarily done poorly academically, but average to poorly, and have relatively low SAT scores to be given scholarships over those white students that are not athletes who have excelled academically and have relatively high SAT scores?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer the question. I had a problem in California when they voted -- and California has been very good to me, but the people and I disagree with these things -- (laughter). California voted to repeal their affirmative action admissions policy. And I made the argument that they would give a minority athlete a scholarship under the new system because of his or her athletic ability and have another member of a minority group who had higher grades and higher SAT scores, but no athletic ability couldn't get a scholarship. So it wasn't just a race issue.
Let me say what I think about that. First of all, I think college and universities have a right to have athletic programs and they have to recruit if they want to have them. The real issue is we should have a system in America, since we now know that it is necessary to have at least two years of education after high school if you want to have even a good job with a growing income for younger people, and it's better -- we have a vested interest of the nation in seeing that every young person like you gets to go to college. What I've tried to do is make sure that money would never be an obstacle to anyone, and that's really ultimately the way to resolve that. Every college and university has to make up its mind, do they want to have an athletic program; then they'll want to compete for the best athletes -- they're going to do that. But it should never, ever be at the expense of providing academic opportunities to people who are qualified.
Let me just say, since I've been in office, we passed a HOPE Scholarship, which gives everybody a $1,500 tax credit for the first two years of college, tuition and tax credits for junior and senior year and graduate school. We've got more Pell Grants, more work-study positions, more national service positions -- we've got more opportunity. (Applause.) And, I think -- I'll say this -- for me, that's the answer. I don't think -- otherwise, a college simply can't have an athletic program or recruit its athletes.
My view is they ought to be able to recruit athletes, but they ought to give enough scholarships so that every young, gifted person who can get admitted to the school should be able to go without regard to the money that they or their families have. That's what I believe. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: We have to go. I've got to take a break. I answer to a higher master at this moment, so we're going to step aside for just a second and come back with our final moments of our town meeting live here in Houston. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: And our final moments. John Thompson, you wanted to continue the discussion, the question -- young man painted it as a zero sum game on scholarships of athletes versus scholarship for academics.
MR. THOMPSON: Well, first of all, I respect the young man an awful lot for asking the question because I think that's what these meeting are about. However, I think I need to bring to his attention that the athlete is not the only one that gets special preference. If your folks have a lot of money, you get special preference in university. (Applause.) If you are a son or daughter of an alumnus, you get special preference. So our society is about special preferences. The athlete markets his talent and that's what America is about. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: We've come to this point, the evening has flown by. We've even gone a little over time. Mr. President, we're just about -- with a few minutes left, I know you'd like to summarize your thoughts on this evening of what you've heard and what you may have learned tonight.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I feel better about my country than I did before we started. And I think all of you do, don't you? (Applause.)
I want to applaud the panelists for their candor and their honesty. I want to thank the members of the audience for the questions that were asked.
I want to say just two things. Number one, I think it's obvious that athletics in a way is leading America toward a more harmonious, united society, but we still have work to do -- in the coaching ranks, and the management, and the scouting and all of that. We ought to keeping working on it.
The second thing I'd like to say is, I hope that everybody who's in an athletic program also learns good life skills to make good choices, good decisions; can take something out of the teamwork, the rules of things that you get from being in athletics so that if they play in high school but not in college that they're still better off and they're better citizens.
The same thing if they play in college, not in pros. The same thing when they finish their pro career. We didn't talk much about that tonight, but I think that's important -- that the lessons learned from athletics carry over into good citizenship, including attitudes about people of different races. If that happens, we're going to be a lot better of. (Applause.)
MR. LEY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. We appreciate your being here tonight and adding to this dialogue. Your race initiative has talked about a need for a national dialogue, and as we said, we had it for a period -- if only a brief period -- and I thank you, our panelists. Thanks to our audience for their questions, and thanks to everyone at home. The ESPN Town Meeting from Houston, whether we are running in place. (Applause.)
END 8:44 P.M. CDT