View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                            (Houston, Texas)
For Immediate Release                                     April 14, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              JOE LOCKHART
                           Hyatt Regency Hotel
                             Houston, Texas         

4:20 P.M. CDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Houston. We have some people here who can offer you some wisdom on the town hall we're doing tonight. Joining us are Judy Winston, the Executive Director of the President's Initiative on Race; Paul Begala, the President's Counsellor, who has been very involved in putting this event together; and Mr. Carmen Policy, the President of the San Francisco 49ers who will be one of the panelists tonight at the ESPN town hall. I'm going to have them take some questions on that subject. When you're exhausted on that I'll come back and clean up anything else you have on your mind.

Q Why did you --

MS. WINSTON: Well, we find that this is a unique opportunity to reach out to a community of people who might not have been involved in this dialogue on race before. Sports offers an analogy -- race and sports offers an analogy that really can be translated into the larger society. And so we think this is a great opportunity to illustrate some substantial points, using sports as an example of the way we've dealt with race relations, both our successes and continuing challenges.

Q -- right now to say -- the Hispanic community seems to be upset with this, saying that you didn't include -- (inaudible) -- Houston as their home base.

MS. WINSTON: Well, we're here in Houston in large measure because we know there is a great diverse population here, including a substantial Hispanic population which we expect to be well represented in the audience this evening.

Q -- be specific about the group you say you're going to -- this is an opportunity to reach out to? Who are you talking about?

MS. WINSTON: Well, I'm really talking about sports fans, I'm talking about the people who generally tune into ESPN. ESPN has some of the demographics around its viewership, and it was an offer -- an opportunity that was offered to us. We are reaching out to every community and we have been systematically talking with a number of communities and a number of places across America. And this is yet another opportunity to build the audience and the number of people who are participating in this constructive dialogue on race that the President started last summer.

Q The people who tune into ESPN -- that would be white men?

MS. WINSTON: I think there's a large percentage of white men who tune into ESPN.

Q Did the President speak with Hispanic leaders from this community today at lunch? Has he dealt with them about some of the concerns in this community, and what, if so, has he said?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's actually in a meeting with local Hispanic leaders as we speak. It's not related to the questions that came before. We're in Houston and he's just reaching out to some of the local leadership.

On the question -- we dealt with this yesterday, on the Hispanic leaders. But let me point out again that ESPN, we believe, has done a very good job in putting together a program that we think will be interesting and enlightening. They reached out -- they put together the panel, but we did work with them as far as laying out the idea that we wanted a panel that was diverse. We believe we have a good panel. There was some discussion over the weekend while the panel was still being put together about Hispanic participation. We're very excited that Felipe Lopez has agreed to participate tonight.

It is a good panel, bringing a wide variety of opinions and experience. And the President is very much looking forward to having a chance to sit down and talk both to the panel and to the audience that will be there tonight.

Q Can you give us a readout from the meeting that is going on now, some kind of readout afterwards?

MR. LOCKHART: Sure, afterwards, yes.

Q By focusing it on sports tonight, it's obviously generated a lot more interest in what's going on with the race panel as opposed to other town halls where there's been very little interest. Why not do this with, say, musicians or Hollywood stars or people who people are interested in listening to?

MR. BEGALA: Well, let me praise first the President's approach on sports. I think you're right, that people are interested in sports; it is a useful -- it's not a perfect microcosm, but it's a useful prism at least to look at the successes and setbacks we've had on issues of race. And it may well be that there are other similar venues in the future where the President and the initiative might do that. I wouldn't rule that out at all. But, yes, to the notion of we're trying to call attention to important issues that play themselves out in sports, but also are reflected in the larger society. Yes, we plead guilty.

MR. POLICY: I agreed to come up here because I was told you'd only have questions for me about the upcoming draft this weekend. (Laughter.) But I think, speaking again from my own little corner of the world that involves only the NFL, I think that what we are doing in the NFL is particularly relevant in terms of the President's initiative on race because I think we have a unique opportunity to score a victory. I think that we are on the verge of really taking some giant steps in terms of getting something that's very, very productive, very, very positive done.

I feel that we are really on the verge of throwing tokenism out the window. I like the leadership that I see from Paul Tagliabu (phonetic). I think that the alarm clock has gone off with the owners of the NFL. We understand that this is an issue that has to be addressed, and we're addressing it at the right time for the NFL, because we have peace within the NFL -- we have labor peace. We have a significant and rather comfortable TV contract. We have our game pretty well in hand. So now is the time to look at our infrastructure, now is the time to look at the kind of relations that we have with the talent within our own ranks.

Q You say you're on the verge of throwing tokenism out the window. What examples of tokenism are in the NFL right now?

MR. POLICY: Well, there are certainly feelings amongst certain minority assistant coaches and other people connected with the NFL from outside that there is a form of tokenism just by virtue of certain interviews that don't result in jobs, and at times there is not even interviews. So I think there is a perception of tokenism, and in our business, perception is the equivalent of reality.

Q How many African American head coaches are there in the NFL?

MR. POLICY: At the present time, three. There could have been four, but Tyrone Willingham, the head coach of Stanford University, decided to stay in the college ranks.

Q The polls show -- not the polls, but the lineups of which sports have more minorities show that the NFL has the worst record.

MR. POLICY: I disagree with that.

Q Well, 90 percent white head coaches and managers, versus -- in the NFL -- versus 76 percent in the NBA, 86 percent in major league baseball. How can you say that you're at a turning point? What's happened -- what's going to happen in the next year or so that is going to wipe this away?

MR. POLICY: Well, I think just the steps that we've taken as of late. I do disagree with your evaluation. But, forgetting about that, I think the important part is the second aspect of your question -- what are the steps we're taking and where are we going with it. I think that we're really formulating not so much an affirmative action policy as an affirmative interaction program that's going to open up the pipeline to bring that talent pool closer to the decision-makers, closer to the top executives and ownership in the league that traditionally have not been exposed to the kinds of talent that we're talking about -- to the assistant coaches, black and white.

I think that what's happened is the Commissioner has indicated that all doors will be open. We're having an historic meeting in May at our spring league meeting in Florida, at which time head coaches and several assistant coaches, black and white, will be there as part of the ownership meeting, engaging in seminars together, but more importantly, engaging in other meetings together and socializing together.

We're going to probably engage in what I consider to be a major effort to fine-tune the kind of talents that some of our minority coaches already possess, but bring them to a better hue -- just simply, how do they interview, how do they deal with the media, how are they going to approach the family of a man who faces scrutiny every morning when he wakes up because he owns a team in that town and he's got to answer as to whether or not they're winning or losing.

Q You mentioned specific coaches -- what about -- in ownership? There are no minority owners in the NFL currently --

MR. POLICY: I'm not sure I heard your question. Did I hear you say -- question about minority ownership?

Q -- is owned by a woman -- is she still the owner of the Rams?

MR. POLICY: Yes, she's the majority owner of the Rams.

Q So you have no minority ownership in the NFL.

MR. POLICY: Well, I think minority ownership is an issue of dollars. I don't think there's any question that -- for example, if Bill Cosby stepped up to the Commissioner's Office and said, I would like to buy a piece of or all of an NFL team, the Commissioner and several of us in the league would be breaking our backs to find a team that he'd be able to buy. I don't think there's any question about minority ownership -- it's an issue of capital and the willingness of the person who possesses that capital to put it into a sports franchise, which, by the way, sports franchises are not notoriously successful in making money. So you've got to have a special impetus driving you to want to own a professional sports franchise before you put that kind of money into it.

Q -- question of money, critics have argued that a brand of institutional racism are the exclusionary prices. In other words, $124, for instance, towards the Washington Wizards, play basketball in Washington, a predominantly black city, the crowd is white. You're own program, you fill up your stadium with a predominantly white crowd. Is there any talk whatsoever of beginning to get to the root of the problem in terms of ticket prices so that people from neighborhoods can actually enjoy these teams, their so-called teams?

MR. POLICY: Forgive the shameless plug, but the San Francisco 49ers have as part of their stadium project a community section where we're going to dedicate approximately 3,000 to 5,000 seats to the community. They will be sold at approximately $15 a seat in today's prices. The league has agreed that those seats will not be part of our manifest for determining whether or not there's a blackout for TV purposes. I think that that's a step in that direction.

But it's probably not enough. There's a certain elitism that goes with our sporting events today that we have to address, that has to be really brought back down to earth and has to be given an opportunity to be expanded amongst our fan base. So we don't want to become a TV only event. We need the interrelationship with the fans in the stadium.

Q -- sort of locate us in the race initiative now -- how much more time do you envision the panel being -- when do you envision the President making his final report?

MS. WINSTON: The Advisory Board is chartered through September 1998 and will stay in existence until that time, until the end of September. We expect that the President's report will be issued to the American people towards the end of the year or early next year.

We've conducted over the past several months a number of dialogues including the Advisory Board meetings. In addition, I should remind you just in terms of where the Advisory Board is that we actually have three operational vehicles. We have a study, a dialogue and action component of our initiative. And while a lot of focus has been placed on the dialogue piece, the constructive talk that we've been engaged in, you should also know that over the course of the last seven months we've also had lots of action as well.

The President has announced several substantial policies including the largest percentage increase for the civil rights enforcement budgets. He's announced the Hispanic education plan, a mentoring program for youngsters in our poorest rural and urban areas, the High Hopes program. We have a number of initiatives with respect to minority businesses, increasing contracting of minority businesses, and entered into a memorandum of understanding with the three top automakers. So there are lots and lots of things that we've been doing as part of the race initiative to advance the ball, so to speak, in this area, including having all of these meetings in which we are also presenting information and receiving information about critical areas of race relations in the country.

Q Is September enough time? I mean, it's such a huge problem. Would there be a benefit to extending --

MS. WINSTON: We understood from the beginning that we were not going to be solving the race relations problems in one year. What we -- where we will be at the end of this year, we will be at the end of the beginning. What we will be doing, what the President will be doing in issuing his report is talking about what we've learned this year, what we've accomplished and what more we have to do. And he will be presenting to the American people a word plan, a blueprint for where we go from here.

One of the critical things that has been done over the last seven months is we've been identifying promising practices all over the country -- these are community efforts that are focused on improving race relations in those communities, bringing people together across racial lines to engage in problem solving, to engage in problem solving not necessarily even around racial issues so much as issues of common concern to a community -- housing opportunities, education opportunities. And we've been sharing this information with communities all across the country, communities that have indicated that they want to be involved, that they want to work towards racial reconciliation. And so we will be sharing in the President's report a full compendium of these promising and best practices.

Q How do you respond in the big picture to these folks in a couple of the different meetings -- this one and the one I think in Denver -- that there are groups on the outside looking in, and chiefly, this is a discussion about the relationship just between blacks and whites? How do you respond to that?

MS. WINSTON: Well, I respond by saying, one, this has never been just a discussion between blacks and whites. We have recognized from the very beginning that this country is and will continue to be a racially and ethnically diverse country -- even more so in the 21st century. And what we are doing is we are looking at our future and trying to understand better how we can get to the point where we both respect and celebrate differences at the same time united by some common and shared values.

The fact of the matter is that we do need to understand that the past has consequences. We need to look at our history and understand the way we have related to one another across racial lines, and that necessarily requires us to look at certain issues in race relations that affected African Americans. But we certainly are looking at and studying and talking with American Indians, Hispanic and Asian Americans, as well as ethnic Americans, traditional -- folks who have come to this country, come from Europe and other places.

So we feel very strongly that we've not left any community out of this discussion. We know that there is the opportunity for much more in the way of constructive conversation, and we are inviting everyone to come and be part of this. And we have taken lots of important steps, I think, to make sure that we are inclusive in all of the work that we've done over the past seven months.

Q Mr. Policy, what do you think the White House or the President can or should do on this issue? What do you expect out of tonight? What do you expect down the road to come out of the government on this issue?

MR. POLICY: Again, speaking only from the perspective of the NFL, I think he's done for us what he should do -- he's opened up the dialogue. He's created this environment that we're getting together here tonight and we're talking about it; we've prepared for it. I've had conversations with the Commissioner and the league office about this, other owners. It's being televised to at least a significant part of America. And I think that's what he has to do and that's what he's done in terms of our industry.

Now, going outside of, again, my little corner of the world, I can't comment. But he's certainly had an impact on us. And I think that there's going to be a lot of good that's going to flow from the kind of dialogue we've had tonight. I'm not saying that something wouldn't have happened if it weren't for tonight, but I can tell you what -- something is going to happen a lot faster.

Q Can you tell us in planning tonight's town hall what specifically you learned from Akron that you maybe tried to apply, and what you're shooting for, what kind of conversation you're hoping for?

MR. BEGALA: Well, one of the things that I've learned from watching this initiative as it's developed is that you're always going to have imperfections, that the reason that this is a year-long conversation, not a one-day dialogue, is because it's going to take some time and it has taken and continues to take some time to look at all the various aspects of this issue.

So I, for example, have learned not to judge the entire initiative by one event -- even this event, which I think tonight's event will be quite successful -- but instead to take a year-long effort that has included, I think, important policy proposals as well as study, as well as the conversations like we're having tonight, and to have that sort of appreciation for the fact that this is a year-long effort.

And in terms of, I think, the media filter, it's trying to strike the right balance. You obviously want people's attention and that will always generate some sense of controversy. And sometimes we've been criticized for not having enough, and sometimes we've been criticized for having too much. And that's really out of our hands.

Q When have you been criticized?

MR. BEGALA: When have we been? Well, I don't want to start pointing out criticisms of the initiative, but there have been several times when I think there's been plenty of -- there's been an abundance of controversy. And that's not bad. The reason you get that is because this matters. This is the single most difficult issue in American history, I would argue. It is something that no President before Bill Clinton ever called the country to look at when we weren't in one way or another at war with ourselves over race. And the reason no other President has tried this is because it's so very difficult. And that's why you've had so much, I think, attention to this, and that's good.

Q Do you think improving race relations will turn out to be President Clinton's legacy?

MR. BEGALA: I don't use the L word in my job. I think that one of the many things that the President is doing and will continue to do for the next 1,000 days, and has done for the last five and a half years, is call the country to make -- to look at all the strengths that comes from our diversity and, looking into the 21st century, how best to take this wonderful tapestry of diversity we have and make it a strength and stitch these ties that bind together, rather than tensions that divide us.

Q -- media filter that you just talked about -- this room is generally filled with white men. Is there a problem with the way that this is being covered, or is the media not devoting enough resources to minorities?

MR. BEGALA: You know what, I'll wait and see how you all cover tonight's event and then complain in the morning.

Q -- on another topic, Kenneth Starr's repeated efforts to try and make the Secret Service testify. The Secret Service said that it's very unhelpful to their jobs, that they don't want to do it. What do you think of Mr. Starr's efforts to try and do this?

MR. BEGALA: I don't have anything to say about that. Those are issues out of my hands, being handled by the Justice Department and the independent counsel.

Q Could I get you to clarify something you said earlier? I want to make sure I understood it -- that ESPN was an attractive venue, from your point of view, predominantly because it has a heavily white male audience?

MS. WINSTON: No, I didn't say that. I said we were looking at -- reaching another audience, an audience that it may not have reached. I was responding to a question or a comment about -- the fact of the matter is that I think that the audience for ESPN, as I understand it, consists largely of men who are sports fans, although I have to admit I watch a lot of ESPN. I like sports and have two daughters who watch as well. But I think that the demography of the viewership suggests that these are sports fans who would be particularly interested we believe in understanding the way this issue relates to their interests. And we think that by engaging this issue of sports and race we will spark an interest in the larger discussion of race in society, and so many of these sports fans will begin to understand better the way that race affects their communities, their schools, the places where they work. And we expect that the dialogue, the conversation would continue even after the program ends this evening.

Q -- conservative critique I've heard from numerous commentators who say sports and athletics is precisely a rejoinder to affirmative action, that there's no affirmative action on the basketball court or on the football field or on the baseball diamond, and yet minorities excel. And therefore, it's a rebuke to the idea that affirmative action is needed in other venues.

MS. WINSTON: Well, I think that there has been in recent years certainly a reaching out to minority communities to interest youngsters in sports and to make sure that there are opportunities to identify the most talented individuals who can participate in these sports, and indeed, to provide opportunities that help develop that talent. I don't think that that is very different from what we are doing and what has been done in terms of affirmative action. So I guess that that would be my rejoinder, that we are seeing in sports in many instances the same kind of constructive outreach that provides opportunities to develop talent and to identify talent.

Q How many NFL football teams are there? (Laughter.)

MR. POLICY: I want to thank you for being a season ticket holder as well. (Laughter.) There's 30 NFL teams at the present time, with one more ready to join us shortly in Cleveland.

Thank you very much.

Q Joe, may I ask about tomorrow in Alabama -- I understand that Clinton is actually visiting areas in Alabama where the black community --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know the President is planning to make stops in two neighborhoods, both that were severely affected by the tornadoes last week. One is Pratt City, which I understand is primarily an African American community, and then he's going to go over to the chapel that I think everyone has seen who has been watching the news over the last few days.

The President is going there to demonstrate the federal government's commitment to helping these people begin to rebuild their lives. And certainly the tornado didn't take a direct route and crossed many neighborhoods, and we're going to show that the federal government is committed to working with state and local officials, with FEMA, and within these communities to help people rebuild. That's the message tomorrow.

Q -- lawmakers in Montgomery have said that the attention given -- is mostly white area.

MR. LOCKHART: I would say that we have an excellent team at FEMA. There's been excellent work and cooperation among FEMA and the local communities both at the state and local level, and they've gone to where the problem is and they've been working without any other thought but to helping these people rebuild their communities and their lives.

Q -- (inaudible) --

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we fully intend to -- we just started making arrangements yesterday to go and I think one of the first places they went to look at as a possible site was Pratt City, where we are going. So I'm not aware of any impact -- first of all, I'm not aware of the groundswell that you're speaking of. But we are going to the areas that have been very hard hit by this natural disaster and going to demonstrate our commitment to helping them rebuild.

Q What can the President add to what is already done?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President can go -- the President is the President, and he's speaks for our government. And I think he wants the people down there to know that we are committed to providing the resources that they need to rebuild those areas. And I think he wants to personally go down and review the work that's being done by the good offices at FEMA, and also at the state and local level.

Q One more on -- (inaudible.)

MR. LOCKHART: I would say that FEMA does excellent work around the country. James Lee Witt has completely revitalized that agency from where it was when he took over and it has gone from what was a problem in the federal government to actually one of the model agencies. They do excellent work, and they go to where the help is needed. And that's the work that they're in the business of doing, and that's what they do.

Q (inaudible.)

MR. LOCKHART: The President will go tomorrow and meet with some people in sort of a roundtable format at a disaster recovery center, and also tour some of the worst affected areas.

Thank you very much.

END 5:00 P.M. CDT