The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tempest in a Teapot

Over at the T&FN message boards, "TrackCEO" started a thread thusly:
Bubba Thornton's selection as U.S. men's coach for Beijing appears to confirm a bizarre story I heard several years ago that goes back to the fallout from the missed 100s debacle at Munich.

The story goes like this:

U.S. sprints coach Stan Wright took the fall for head coach Bill Bowerman letting two of our medal hopes -- Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson -- miss their 100-meter heats.

The incident is recounted here:

According to my source -- a former world-class sprinter, who is black -- an understanding was reached after Munich that every other U.S. men's Olympic track coach would be black. This would be the payoff for Wright's willingness to be the scapegoat in the incident -- and subject to Howard Cosell's legendary grilling on TV.
The problem with TrackCEO's story is the back-to-back white Olympic coaches in 1988 and 1992. Other than that, it in fact has alternated since 1972.

The rest of the readership at T&FN got very negative towards even discussing race as a factor in selection of Olympic coaches, calling it racist and insulting. My observation is that nobody really cares who the Olympic coach is anyway (well, these people do, but they might literally be the only ones in the world who care aside from the coaches up for selection), and so getting upset about this pointless. But also, I don't see much to get outraged about. Could the story be true? Yes, but it almost certainly isn't. Is it racist to merely wonder whether it could true or not? Not from where I stand.

Me, I'm a little more plugged in to the black person's view of race than most white people (ours was the only white family in the neighborhood when I was in high school). In my experience it's a purely white phenomenon to reject outright the possibility that race plays a factor in decision making, as others know from personal experience that it occassionally does enter into people's minds even in the best of circumstances (and USATF is hardly run by the nation's best and brightest).

And then there's this, from "guru":
But as far as [TrackCEO's] ridiculous assertion(which can't even be supported by FACTS), it insults both the sport and its black coaches. (emphasis added)
Why does it insult the black coaches specifically? If it does, it would be necessary to assume they got their positions merely because of a quota system. This would also necessitate an assumption that black coaches deserved less than half the head coaching jobs, whereas it's entirely possible that white coaches are the ones who deserved less than half the jobs and therefore got special treatment. Remember, the source of the story is black, so calling it an outright racist idea might be a bit over the top.

One of my favorite schticks on The Colbert Report is the host's insistence that he doesn't see race and can't tell if people are black or white. It exposes the ridiculousness of misguided attempts to ignore something that is clearly still of tremendous importance in the USA. It's not that we shouldn't pretend that race doesn't exist or even that it doesn't matter to people. It's there, and it's not going away. The question we must face is what are we going to do about it?

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