Thursday, November 1, 2007

Al Campanis wins moral victory from grave

In 1987, Ted Koeppel (then host of Nightline) unexpectedly created a news story that came close to eclipsing the Iran-contra hearings that year. On April 15th, Koeppel interviewed Al Campanis, general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson "breaking the colour barrier" in the majors (although technically Robinson actually busted it a year earlier in the minors for the Montréal Royals). Koeppel asked a legitimate question -- why none of the then 26 Major League teams had a visible minority person as field manager -- or working in a meaningful position in the front office.

On live television -- unedited, unscripted -- Campanis had the gall to suggest blacks didn't have the necessities -- the quote was, blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions. Later in the interview he demurred that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." When Koeppel gave Campanis numerous opportunities to clarify or back track, Campanis made it worse. Two days later, Campanis was fired.

It's 2007. And the Dodgers caught a break from none other the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig. The team was granted an exemption from a rule introduced as part of the backlash from the Campanis scandal -- that teams must list minority candidates they plan to interview, seriously, for management or coaching posts. Since the Dodgers had every intention to hire Joe Torre and not honestly consider anyone else, Selig decided there was no point into forcing the Dodgers into doing sham interviews. They're not the first to get such an exemption -- perhaps it's because the Dodgers have a better employment record for minorities than most other teams -- but that's no excuse.

Torre's a good coach, no doubt; but surely there are some blacks out there who deserve a change to compete in the marketplace and who should have been at least given a chance to present their credentials and how they'd set up crucial plays. Besides, it's not necessarily coaches that make bad teams on the field -- it's the players themselves who screw up and put the I in a team where there is no lower case "j."

Campanis must be smiling from hell. Along with Adolf Hitler, who must feel vindicated after getting humiliated by several black athletes during the Berlin Olympics in 1936 -- including John Woodruff, the 800 metre winner, who died two days ago.

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