Fisher DeBerry’s Racist Comments
Pat Forde believes that a series of controversies are threatening to tarnish the legacy of Air Force Academy head football coach Fisher DeBerry.
This is looking like an excellent time for Fisher DeBerry to retire. He’s had a great run at the Air Force Academy — arguably the greatest run for a service academy coach in the last 50 years, since Red Blaik at Army — but his remarkable legacy is sinking fast. Why lose it in the quicksand of unwise racial remarks, combative Christianity and too many losses? Why not call it a career at the end of this, his 22nd year as head coach, and ride off into the Rocky Mountain sunset?
Then, after losing to TCU Saturday to drop to 3-5, DeBerry explained that the Horned Frogs’ defensive success is attributable to the fact that it starts 11 African-Americans. “Ã¢€¦ Afro-American kids can run very, very well,” DeBerry said. “That doesn’t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can’t run, but it’s very obvious to me they run extremely well.”
Again, not ideal timing. On Monday, the academy welcomed a new superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Regni, who pledged a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination. On Tuesday, DeBerry piped up about TCU’s African-American players, stopping just short of saying, “We need us some more of those black fellers.”
I’m not saying that Fisher DeBerry discriminates. I went to high school on the base of the Air Force Academy, and I graduated a few years ahead of Fisher’s son, Joe (who was a fine baseball player). I don’t know anyone in my hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., who doesn’t think highly of DeBerry.
So it’s not like DeBerry was inventing something here — or even saying something many coaches don’t talk about in private. But given the decades of wrongly stereotyping black athletes as physically superior and mentally inferior — run fast, think slow — the coach was walking into a minefield. He was creeping toward Jimmy “The Greek” territory — and every coach knows that you don’t go there. Certainly not without great care.
I’m all for a more open dialog about race in America, and especially in sports. But sweeping generalizations about fast black players are going to get a coach in trouble.
There’s little denying that. But should it?
African Americans comprise 12% of the population of the United States. They dominate professional sports, especially the NBA and NFL*. Virtually every Olympic sprinter of any note is black, even those from countries that have virtually zero blacks in the population. Some of that is sociological, to be sure. But that can’t be the only reason, can it?
Aside from that, it is a strange double standard, indeed, that black people can make fun of white people’s inability to dance well, jump high, or run fast but whites can’t acknowledge the same about themselves.
Last night, Kim and I got around to watching the Adam Sandler remake of “The Longest Yard” ( a very funny flick, incidentally.) A major subplot of the movie involved the efforts of Paul Crewe (Sandler) to recruit black athletes for his team in order to get faster players. The impetus for this came from Playmaker (Chris Rock). None of the black prisoners seemed troubled by the notion that they might be faster than whitey; indeed, it was rather implied.
This was also a major subplot, and inspiration for the title, of the Woody Harrelson-Wesley Snipes flick “White Men Can’t Jump” and countless other pop culture vehicles.
Are black people actually offended by the view that a higher percentage of them are possessed of speed and leaping ability than their white counterparts? Or is this just something that liberal white journalists feel the need to express outrage over?
Update: TCU head coach Gary Patterson, who is white, has weighed in cautiously.
TCU’s Patterson surprised by DeBerry remarks (Dallas Morning News)
TCU football coach Gary Patterson said Wednesday he was surprised to read comments made by Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry about his program and players.
Following Air ForceÃ¢€™s 48-10 loss to TCU in a Mountain West game Saturday, DeBerry was asked about the problems surrounding his program. DeBerry said he needed to recruit faster players. Ã¢€œWe were looking at things, like you donÃ¢€™t see many minority athletes in our program,Ã¢€ DeBerry told the Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo. When asked Tuesday to elaborate on his comments, DeBerry said: Ã¢€œItÃ¢€™s very obvious to me the other day that the other team [TCU] had a lot more Afro-American players than we did. It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well. That doesnÃ¢€™t mean that Caucasian kids and other descents canÃ¢€™t run, but itÃ¢€™s very obvious to me they run extremely well.Ã¢€
Ã¢€œWeÃ¢€™re fast,Ã¢€ Patterson said. Ã¢€œBut I believe in shark rules. DonÃ¢€™t jump in the water with sharks or sharks turn on you. We all have our own set of circumstances. We do recruit speed here, but I was just surprised to hear his comments.Ã¢€
Patterson said he became aware of DeBerry’s comments Wednesday morning when staff members showed him the stories.
Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association, said Wednesday that DeBerry shouldnÃ¢€™t have involved race concerning TCUÃ¢€™s players. Ã¢€œHe better go out and start recruiting,Ã¢€ Keith said. Ã¢€œI know what they deal with in the academies. So thatÃ¢€™s a tough gig — I understand all of that. Probably the best way he should have said it was we just need to recruit some speed and left it alone.Ã¢€
No doubt about that.
*I find wildly varying figures, ranging from 75-85% of the NBA to 65-75% of the NFL.