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 Advice for Notre Dame 

April 1, 2004 
As soon as I heard what Paul Hornung said about black athletes, my mind raced back many years. No, not to the 1950s, when Hornung was carrying the ball for Notre Dame, though I dimly remember that too. No, I thought I was back in the 1980s, when Jimmy the Greek and Al Campanis and Marge Schott were blurting their views on ethnic topics.

Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.As you may know by now, Hornung said of his alma mater that “we can’t stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we’ve got to get the black athlete. We must get the black athlete if we’re going to compete.” A good old-fashioned racial gaffe. For a moment I was afraid he was going to add that he deplored Condoleezza Rice’s disgraceful halftime performance at the Super Bowl.

By the next day, of course, Hornung had apologized all over the place and retired to a Trappist monastery.

But what had he said that affirmative action itself doesn’t say? When universities try to tighten scholastic standards for athletes, minority spokesmen complain that this is discriminatory and racist. Once upon a time, they demanded the elimination of double standards; now they insist that double standards are essential to minority success!

What a claim! With spokesmen like that, who needs the Ku Klux Klan? They may as well just say outright: “We are inferior. Treat us as such.”

Colleges with sports programs have had lower standards for athletes for a long time. But with minorities in the mix, dumb jocks have ceased to be a joke and have become a progressive social program. Maybe Hornung himself is still a dumb jock. He says Notre Dame must lower its academic standards for its own good.

[Breaker quote: Lower those standards!]Odd word, minority. Jimmy the Greek, as his name implies, was a member of a numerical minority. But Greeks aren’t a “minority” in the current sense. They don’t claim to be victims and aren’t assumed to be inferior. The rest of us take for granted that they will be judged by, and will generally meet, the same standards the rest of us assume.

President Bush hits the nail on the head when he speaks of “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” That’s exactly what minority implies: people of whom we have low expectations. We don’t expect them to achieve; we don’t even expect them to behave.

I once read an article with the irresistible title “The Dirtiest Word in the Language.” That word was minority. The author recalled that his father, a conspicuously Orthodox Jew, bristled when called a “minority” member. He sensed what it meant, and he wanted no part of it.

That’s the healthy reaction to “minority” status. I vividly remember my three black teachers in junior high school; they were all very different from each other, but they were all intelligent and honorable. Today they might be accused of “acting white.” If that’s what they were doing, I thank them for teaching me to act white. In those days, we called it acting civilized.

All three of these men had made it through college without affirmative action. One taught geography, one taught math, and one taught science. But they all taught something else too: self-respect. They had plenty of it, and they set good examples for all of us. They were like fathers to us — demanding, warm, sometimes hilarious. But permissive, never. You didn’t want to let them down.

If anyone wants to accuse me of wanting to return to the good old days, well, yes — and I’m just getting started. I came from what was then called a “broken home,” though it’s almost the norm today. And I realize how much I owed, and still owe, to all those fatherly men, black and white, who paid me the compliment of high expectations. If they’d treated me as a troubled boy who mustn’t be expected to keep up with normal boys, I might have flunked out of school and spiraled downward into some disreputable racket like journalism.

Hornung has inadvertently told us how far we’ve come — down the wrong road. He thinks Notre Dame needs more dumb jocks. Strange advice for a venerable university.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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