DJ's remark true, not racist

| Sunday, April 4, 2004

I'm wading into dangerous territory.

That's what Paul Hornung did Tuesday when he said on a Detroit radio station that Notre Dame needs to recruit "the black athlete."

He was accused of making racist comments. The university publicly distanced itself from him before he got to the radio station parking lot and Hornung became a hot topic on all the cable shoutfests.

Anybody with a brain knows that Hornung meant that Notre Dame needed to lower its academic standards in order to compete with its opponents -- programs that don't limit themselves to black athletes who reach a certain level of academic achievement.

Is that a racist statement• Is it racist to suggest that black athletes, in general, come out of high school less qualified for schools such as Notre Dame than white athletes•

Is this a racist statement• The average black high school senior has math skills on par with those of the typical ninth-grade white student. The average 17-year-old black student could read only as well as the average 12-year-old white. Twelfth-grade black students were doing science problems at the level of sixth grade, white students, and writing about as well as whites in the eighth grade.

Those statistics are courtesy of the National Assessment of Educational Progress report and they appeared in a July 2003 column written by Walter Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist and economic professor at George Mason University. Williams is black.

If you've noticed that most of the top teams in college football are made up mostly of black players, and if you've noticed that most successful major college football teams use mostly black players at the "skill" positions, you're not guilty of racism.

You're guilty of paying attention.

None of this is to suggest that it's not possible to find good black football players who also are excellent students. It's just a statistical fact that there are only so many to go around, and the higher your academic standards, the less likely you are to have one playing for you.

The average SAT score of an incoming Notre Dame freshman is 1,360. The average SAT score for black high school students in 2003 was 857. The average SAT score for a white high school student in 2003 was 1,026. The average SAT score for Notre Dame football players in 1997 (I couldn't find results from more recent years) was 899. So, Notre Dame has had lower standards for all football players for quite a while.

See if you can find a perennial Top-10 Division I football program in this list: Stanford, Northwestern, Duke, Vanderbilt, Rice, Virginia, Oregon State, SMU, Pacific, Wake Forest.

That's the list of the programs with the 10 highest SAT scores.

Notre Dame ranked 12th on that list. The University of Miami ranked 80th with an average SAT score of 803. Ohio State was 69th at 818. Do you think Notre Dame would be adding more white players or more black players if its average SAT scores dropped 200 points and was ranked below Miami• Would the increase in wins be proportionate to the drop in SAT scores•

Paul Hornung knows that Notre Dame has a lot of black players, but he also knows that his alma mater has limited itself to taking black players whose academic records predict an ability to do Notre Dame work. Notre Dame work is a lot tougher than Miami work. According to the average SAT scores of players -- black and white -- Miami is recruiting players -- black and white -- who are below average students. Notre Dame is recruiting black players who are better than average students. Hornung would like to see Notre Dame be a little less picky because he knows that would result in better players -- black and white -- and more wins.

Paul Hornung was wrong not so much because he suggested that lowering standards would allow more top quality black players to be recruited, but because he wants Notre Dame to lower it's standards in order to win more football games.

Instead of the hysteria over Hornung's allegedly racist comments, the discussion should be about why black kids continue to underachieve in high school. If I were the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and I wanted to sabotage black academic excellence, I couldn't find a better way to do so than the current government schools in most cities. Does that last sentence offend you• Call Professor Williams. It was taken verbatim from one of his columns.

John Steigerwald's columnn appears Sundays in the Valley News Dispatch.

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