- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2001

With each Maryland football victory and the Terps are a perfect 5-for-5 heading into tonight's clash of the titans at Georgia Tech it becomes clearer that Ralph Friedgen should have gotten a head coaching job a looong time ago. On the other hand, it's good he got hired when he did, at the age of 54, because in a couple of more years he would have been rejected for being too old, not just for resembling Ralph Kramden.
Prejudice in sports isn't confined to race and gender, despite what you read in the newspaper. Coaches and athletes face all kinds of discrimination, subtle and otherwise. Friedgen's "problem" until now or his biggest one, at least was that he didn't look the way a head coach is supposed to look. He was shaped too much like a school mascot.
His resume, after all, was impeccable. He had overseen top offenses at both the college and pro levels. He had a keen understanding of the passing game. (Something his predecessor, Ron Vanderlinden, lacked.) Athletic directors should have been lining up to talk to him. But he never came that close to landing a head coaching position until Maryland decided to give One of Its Own a chance.
And now Debbie Yow looks like the smartest AD in the ACC. (Even though she could have had Friedgen four years ago.)
If people in sports aren't being discriminated against for being oversized, they're being discriminated against for being undersized. The San Diego Chargers, you may have noticed, are tied for first in the AFC West after going 1-15 last season thanks in large part to the addition of mini-quarterback Doug Flutie. Flutie has always had a rough go of it in the NFL, basically because general managers couldn't see a 5-foot-9 QB ever amounting to much, simply lacked the imagination.
Fortunately, Flutie, like Friedgen, refused to take no for an answer. When the Patriots gave up on him after the '89 season, he went to Canada, spent eight years refining his skills and made an improbable comeback with Buffalo (two playoff berths and one Pro Bowl appearance in three seasons). And when the Bills chose the younger, taller but not better Rob Johnson over him in March, he signed on with San Diego and has the Chargers averaging 26.5 points a game.
Calvin Murphy, the 5-9 Basketball Hall of Famer, always said the worst prejudice he ever encountered in sports wasn't racial prejudice, it was the prejudice against smaller players. (Murphy, who never backed down from anybody, even a 7-footer, also said: "My theory of fighting is: Don't fight fair. Surprise them. Get them when they're coming out of church.")
In sports, you're not just discriminated against for being small, you're discriminated against if you come from a small school. The current scourge of pro football, Kurt Warner, wasn't even drafted coming out of college. Why? Well, playing at Northern Iowa, far off scouting's beaten path, certainly had something to do with it. Imagine how different the Redskins' history would be if they had drafted Warner in '94 instead of Heath Shuler and Gus Frerotte.
(Ahhh, Dan Snyder probably would have still messed it up anyway.)
It's gotten so crazy that we're now seeing college basketball players being discriminated against for being seniors. That was definitely the theme of the recent NBA Draft. The first five selections Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Eddy Curry and Jason Richardson consisted of three high schoolers, a 20-year-old Spaniard and a Michigan State sophomore. By the time they got around to taking grizzled, 22-year-old Shane Battier of Duke, the college player of the year, he'd started filling out grad school applications.
You can even be discriminated against in sports for not being something such as not being Notre Dame. Did anybody think the Fighting Irish deserved to play in a BCS bowl last January (other than, say, Fiesta Bowl and television officials, who wanted to tap into the school's huge national following)? ND was 10th in the final rankings, behind such obviously superior teams as Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Kansas State and Oregon. But the Irish got to go to Tempe where they were deservedly thrashed by Oregon State while the Huskers, who had won at South Bend early in the season, wound up in the Alamo Bowl.
We like to think of sports as having a level playing field and it pretty much does, once the game begins. It's getting to the playing field that's tough sometimes, that isn't so fair. Which raises the question: How many more Ralph Friedgens are out there, waiting to be discovered?

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