- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Martha Burk and Johnnie Cochran have adopted statistically insignificant but resonant causes.

Theirs is mostly harmless banter, the accidental levity, in a way, around the war on terror, the shaky economy and, in the Washington region, the nut who is using civilians as target practice.

Burk, the leader of the National Council of Women's Organizations, is pushing Augusta National Golf Club to add a female or three to its ultra-exclusive, male-only membership roll. Cochran, the lawyer who beat the global conspiracy against O.J. Simpson, is preoccupied with the racial makeup of the 32 head coaches in the NFL, 30 of them white, the 30 possibly held to a lower standard than Tony Dungy and Herman Edwards.

Their struggle is interesting, to say the least, as struggle is loosely defined in the most affluent land on the planet. The indifference of the masses, 283million strong, give or take a few million illegal aliens, is obligatory. These are the games of the rich, famous and influential, after all.

It is hard, for instance, to feel the pain of Marvin Lewis, if there is pain, and nothing against the defensive coordinator of the Redskins. It is just that he is no Norma Rae, not at his well-compensated position in life.

Lewis is perhaps overdue to be a head coach in the NFL, if Cochran's studied interest in the matter is to be swallowed whole. Lewis is black, a Super Bowl champion and seemingly highly qualified to be a head coach. The same could be said of the endless procession of career assistants of a different hue. Go figure. Such is life in the highly subjective area of an employer's hiring practices.

Many Americans, of all colors, have been there, denied what was seemingly theirs, for reasons unknown, and with far less financial buffer than Lewis and those who patrol the sidelines of the NFL. To put it another way, if the unrequited condition of Lewis qualifies as a struggle, then give the masses that struggle, all of it. Please, take your best shot.

The conditioned response of the '60s freedom fighters is understandable. Old thought processes are hard to break, no matter how limited the material, and not just in sports.

The gushing prose of the workaday movie critics last spring was stale, advanced as it was in celebration of the Oscar triumphs of Denzel Washington and Halle Berry, a pair of zillionaires.

The two pop culture icons brushed up against a history of sorts, as the first black actors to take the top Oscars in the same year, which makes it tougher on the historically inclined the next time. That could lead to a feting of the first black actors with hemorrhoids to win the top Oscars in the same year. That would be no small first to sufferers of hemorrhoids.

The bean-counting proclivity goes with the senior superlative mindset, the best and the most, both in the family of the first.

Burk, unlike Cochran, aspires to have just one woman added to the 300-member private club at Augusta National. The one woman is for starters anyway. The correct number of female members can be negotiated later. Five? Ten? Twenty? What's a fair number?

Please excuse the reaction of club chairman Hootie Johnson, who resents the intrusion from an outsider. That would not be your reaction if an outsider tried to impose their social views on your den of private fun, be it a golf club, the Junior League, a fraternity, a sorority, or whatever.

It is no big secret that humans, as tribal sorts, have a disposition to be in the company of those who share similar cultural, educational and economic backgrounds. The fuzzy line between discrimination and comfort level is sometimes too close to call. If it matters, the players in the Georgetown social circuit are not apt to invite the local handyman to one of their private gatherings. That does not make them less progressive than Burk, just human.

Oddly enough, Darla Moore, an incredibly wealthy businesswoman from South Carolina with strong ties to Johnson and Augusta National, is not playing along with the game after she was trotted out as a potential candidate by the Associated Press.

"I think we have a whole lot more to worry about than this issue," she said. "We've got an unstable economy. We're getting ready for war. It's not on my radar screen. We need to talk about something a little more important than golf."

Moore's contention, of course, depends on the venue and the vagaries of the 24/7 news beast.

No doubt, the proportion of the discourse is out of whack to the meager numbers and the rarefied social strata of the principals, in either case: the limited social ramifications of golf and the racial component, real or imagined, that is perceived to color the hiring practices of the NFL.

In this context, overcoming adversity based on gender and race never looked so appealing. These people are only looking better than 99.9 percent of their fellow Americans. Yet the 99.9 percent is encouraged to care, perhaps as a diversion. Maybe that is the ticket. Diversion Lite.

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