Saturday, April 3, 2004


Great. Just delightful. First white guys can’t jump. At least not any higher than Candace Parker. Then they can’t dance. Unless they’re Justin Timberlake. Now they can’t play football well enough to help crummy Notre Dame put the shamrock sheen back on its puke-green jerseys.

Next thing you know, rich white codgers won’t be qualified to mismanage professional teams into competitive oblivion, while younger, shorter and substantially balder white men won’t be allowed to don ill-fitting toupees and call blathering play-by-play.

With any luck, perhaps whites will still be permitted to pick up locker room towels. Or keep stats. Besides, the Globetrotters are always looking for a patsy, right?

When college football has-been Paul Hornung told a Detroit radio station Tuesday that the sagging Fighting Irish should lower their academic admissions standards to attract “the black athlete,” the implications were clear: African-Americans can’t get it done in the classroom. And whites can’t get it done on the gridiron.

Never mind, of course, that more than half of Notre Dame’s current players are black. By Hornung’s logic, that only shows how far a committed minority of fair-skinned lollygaggers can drag a once-proud program down.

And to think: The Heisman Trophy winner-turned-broadcaster didn’t even mention Ron Powlus.

Still, the real problem with Hornung’s prescription for what ails the Fighting Irish isn’t that the cure is worse than the disease. It’s that the bandage only covers half the wound. Torpedoing scholastic requirements for black players is all well and good. Just bring in Jim Harrick Jr. as an academic adviser. But what about the bumbling, inept whites already on the team? Shouldn’t they catch some sort of break as well?

Indeed, if Hornung’s modest proposal has any merit at all — and since the man happens to be the least-deserving Heisman Trophy winner this side of Gino Torretta, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt — then lowering the off-field bar for blacks won’t be enough. Not unless Notre Dame drops the on-field bar for whites, too.

Take quarterbacks. Outside of Steve Young, John Elway, Eric Crouch and a couple hundred other statistical aberrations, everyone knows that white signal-callers can’t run, can’t avoid the rush, can’t turn a broken play into a highlight-reel touchdown scamper. Why? They’re not black athletes. And no amount of watching the old flick “Soul Man” instead of game tape is going to change that.

So what can the Fighting Irish do for the cement-shoed likes of Matt LoVecchio? Only this: lobby the NCAA for a special “five-Mississippi” dispensation, the better to slow opposing pass rushers. Or perhaps talk NBC into allowing Notre Dame quarterbacks to wear their bright-orange, no-hit spring practice jerseys during real games.

Segway scooters also would suffice.

Likewise, the Fighting Irish’s plodding white receivers should be given a 5-to-10-yard running start before the ball is snapped, the better to make up for their mediocre straight-line speed and second-rate changes of direction. Think Arena League, only with two, three or even four pass catchers in motion at the same time. Which, come to think of it, might confuse defenses enough to give those lousy, weak-armed white quarterbacks time to throw. Talk about serendipity.

Along the same lines, clumsy white corners ought to enjoy immunity from pass interference flags. Let ‘em hold and shove. Trip and mug. Undercut and decapitate. How else are they supposed to prevent touchdown grabs? By blinding opponents with their pasty skin? Please.

Not even ghostly pale former President Bill Clinton could pull that off — and that’s if you swapped his golden thigh pads for those John Stockton-shaming jogging shorts he used to favor.

As for badly outmatched white linemen, let’s just say that knives and handguns should not only be allowed in the stadium but also on the field. If you catch our drift.

Of course, no green’n’gold handicapping system would be complete without accounting for Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham. In 1977, Willingham earned All-Big Ten honors while playing at Michigan State. By any standard, that makes him an athlete. He’s also black, which means by Hornung’s criteria he’d have a tough time getting into the school he’s now working for. Should Willingham be cut some artificial slack given that coaching is a study-intensive profession? Tough call. Just to be safe, spot him 10 points at the start of every game. Oh, and an extra timeout, too.

After all, he’ll need the spare time to finish his Notre Dame admissions essays. Assuming Hornung hasn’t replaced them with crayons and coloring books.

With the above crutches in place, there’s no reason the revamped Fighting Irish can’t compete for a national title in two or three years. Maybe even sooner. Better still, they’ll be able to serve as a model of racial cooperation, a harmonious black’n’white unit to make the likes of Al Campanis and Jimmy the Greek proud. Reggie White, too, if the school recruits a few Asians and Hispanics.

Inevitably, a few nattering nabobs will complain that by turning college athletics into race-based T-Ball, the Fighting Irish are insulting the ability and drive of white athletes everywhere. Not to mention Jason Sehorn. But that’s hogwash. Fact is, permitting whites to play by a relaxed set of rules is no more offensive than insinuating that gifted black athletes are too dumb to attend a university that counts both Hornung and Regis Philbin as alums. As if just anyone can make inane small talk with Kelly Ripa.

Remember: Hornung himself is a former white athlete, the star of an absolutely dreadful 1956 Notre Dame squad that finished 2-8. Judging by his standards, that probably isn’t a coincidence.

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