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What’s offensive about saying something positive?

About DeBerry’s comment:
What’s offensive about saying something positive?

Hey, reader, maybe you can help me out here. Tell me …

Are human beings born with an aptitude for math and physics better candidates for NASA’s space program than those who prefer to write poetry in their spare time?

Are people with 180 IQs more likely to find a cure for the common cold than a C student who would rather tinker under the hood of his automobile?

And speaking of automobiles, are cars with V-8 engines faster than those with six cylinders?

Is someone who has trouble passing Algebra I but makes straight A’s in English more likely to become a better writer than someone who doesn’t know a noun from a verb?

Do beautiful blondes have a better chance of anchoring national television news broadcasts than their less-attractive counterparts?

Do guys who are 7 feet tall have a better chance of being a dominant center in college basketball than somebody who’s 5-10?

Is a 250-pound human stronger than a 100-pound human?

If you answered “yes” to all of the above, go to the head of the class. We all have strengths and weaknesses and, like it or not, the numbers—as in, statistics—don’t lie. Fair or unfair, that’s life in the real world.

Now, do I owe an apology to poets, auto mechanics, six-cylinder cars, mathematicians, brunette women, 5-10 basketball players and 100-pound people?

Apparently, I do—especially after Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry was chastised last week for saying that one reason the Falcons lost to Texas Christian, 48-10, was that TCU had more black players.

“(T)he other team had a lot more Afro-American players than we did,” DeBerry said at a news conference, “and they ran a lot faster than we did. It just seems to me that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesn’t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can’t run, but it’s very obvious to me that they run extremely well. … (T)heir defense had 11 Afro-American kids … and they were a very, very good defensive football team.”

And the Denver Post reported that DeBerry said AFA needs more minority athletes.

OK, so the term “Afro-American” is as outdated as the polyester leisure suit, but DeBerry is 67 and when you’re 67, it’s easy to have a slip of the tongue. The essence of what DeBerry said was, simply, that on the whole black people run faster than white people.

It was a compliment, for crying out loud, not a condemnation! But based on the reaction, you would’ve thought DeBerry had stereotyped blacks as criminals or something. He had to publicly apologize for what Air Force athletic director Hans Mueh said was “a seriously, seriously inappropriate comment.”

In its coverage of the story, Sports Illustrated magazine raised the question, “DeBerry was insensitive, but was he inaccurate?” The answer is “absolutely not.”

As previously mentioned, the numbers don’t lie. According to the 2005 CIA World FactBook, the U.S. population is 81.7 percent white and 12.9 percent African-American. That is, one black person for every 6.3 white people. SI says that in the “speed positions”—tailback, wide receiver, cornerback, safety—among the top 25-ranked Division I-A college football teams, blacks outnumber whites almost 7 to 1.

There is one white running back among the top 25 rushers in 1-A: Colorado State tailback Kyle Bell. And, according to SI, in the past three decades there has been one white running back to lead the nation in rushing: Chance Kretschmer of Nevada in 2001, who, by the way, wasn’t even drafted by an NFL team.

What’s more—and you can look it up—blacks dominate the running events in world-class track and field competition.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom what is offensive about saying that, with few exceptions, black people run faster and/or jump higher than white people. Such a statement means absolutely nothing else except that, and if anyone reads something negative into it that isn’t there, that’s their problem.

What in the name of Jesse Owens is offensive about saying anybody is better at something—something positive, no less—than somebody else?

Is it mocking out Italians to say they make better lasagna than anybody else? Am I ripping on Austrians if I say they are better downhill skiers than African-Americans? Would Cajuns be upset if I said their jambalaya was tastier than Iowans’ jambalaya? Would the Japanese be offended if someone went public and said nobody’s sushi was as good as their sushi?

If Fisher DeBerry, or anyone else, stood up at a news conference and declared that white people can run faster than black people, my reaction, after I finally stopped laughing, would be, “It was a nice thing to say, but who are you trying to kid?”

Rick Woodson’s column appears each week in the Rochester Business Journal’s print edition at www.rbjdaily.com. Listen to his weekly program, “The Golf Tee,” at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280.


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