Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Mr. Zirin offers a dubious diagnosis (systemic racism is the cause of the relatively low number of African-American head coaches in NCAA Division I-A football programs) and a terrible prescription ("diversity quotas").

Mr. Zirin's evidence of racism is (a) the fact that only four out of 120 coaches here are black, and (b) his speculation that wealthy boosters "are looking for a familiar guy they can have a beer with, the guy they know." As for (a), if the number were to reflect the general population share of African Americans (13.4 percent), it would be 16. But if generally college coaches these days are males who need to have a college degree and around a decade's coaching experience (reasonable assumptions, I think), the number drops. Among males 30 or over in 2007, African-Americans earned only 6.7 percent of the bachelor's degrees awarded, according to the Census Bureau. So we have four out of 120 (and, as Mr. Zirin notes, six quite recently and eight a decade ago) instead of eight--not the overwhelming shortfall suggested. As for the beer argument, I suspect that the boosters would prefer having a beer with a winning coach than a losing one--with Tony Dungy or Lovie Smith, say, rather than with their affable but losing white counterparts.

As for quotas, at least Mr. Zirin is honest. Normally the left denies that this is what it is after. Still, there is a reason for hiding this particular ball: quotas are themselves a species of racial discrimination, with all the predictable and high costs. They will in many (most) instances result in unfairly passing over better-qualified individuals, they call into question the worthiness of anyone who gets hired under them, they create resentment and they would require schools to get into ugly games about defining which "underrepresented" groups should get them (just African-Americans? what about other racial minorities? what about women? what about gays? etc.) and how to define their membership (a one-drop rule?). Finally, of course, there is the little problem that they are almost always illegal.

Regarding this last objection, quotas can be justified only if there is racial discrimination to prevent and no other way to prevent it. As discussed, the case for the former is dubious. As for the latter, what's wrong with going after the racists (getting rid of the bad officials and boosters, disciplining the offending schools, etc.), rather than requiring all schools--racist and nonracist alike--to discriminate through quotas?

Roger Clegg

Falls Church, VA

Dec 18 2008 - 5:40pm