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Thoughts on the Firing of Jimmy (the Greek)

January 18, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG

After 12 years as a CBS Sports commentator, Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder finally said something worth remembering. It cost him his job.

"CBS had to fire him," someone said Sunday.

Had to fire him? I suppose that's true. If CBS hadn't canned Snyder for comments he made in a TV interview Friday, it would have been guilty of de facto validation of such "racist" comments by Snyder as:

--Blacks are "better athletes" than whites. Yes, that is racist. The overwhelming majority of college and professional basketball players, for example, are black not because blacks are superior at that sport, but because they look better in their uniforms than whites do.

--"The slave owner would breed his big black (man) with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid." More racism. We all know that white owners of black slaves treated them with utmost respect and never as chattel, to be subhumanly bred to increase their productivity as workers. Suggesting that slave owners were racist is racist.

--Black athletes are "not lazy like the white athlete is." Yes, another example of obnoxiously anti-black rhetoric. To charge that whites are lazy is an intolerable indictment of blacks.

--"Black talent is beautiful, it's great, it's out there." Without a doubt, Ku Klux Klan propaganda.

Oh, brother.

Throughout his dozen years at CBS, there was one excellent reason to fire Snyder--incompetence. As an expert analyst and forecaster of football games, he was a zero. Firing him because of what he said during that impromptu interview in a Washington, D.C., restaurant is an injustice, however. Call him a dunce for some of his remarks. But if being dumb were grounds for dismissal in sportscasting, half of today's sportscasters would be jobless along with Snyder.

Snyder has apologized. Yet the worst thing he said was that if blacks become coaches, "there's not going to be anything left for the white people." He was almost right, forgetting that whites would still own the store.

It goes without saying that Snyder should be encouraging hiring of blacks for sports management positions they've long been denied, not lamenting management as the remaining white enclave short of ownership. But labeling his statement racist, in the context of the entire interview, is really a stretch.

Weigh it against the positive things he said about blacks in the interview, including that they work harder than whites--as goofy a generalization as the reverse, but hardly anti-black. In the old days, you were a racist if you called blacks lazy. Now you're a white supremacist if you call whites lazy.

Or is it possible that CBS fired Snyder, thinking him anti-white? It gets confusing.

One TV reporter contended that Snyder's remarks "paralleled" those of former Dodger executive Al Campanis, whose contention in a "Nightline" interview that blacks lacked the "necessities" to manage in major league baseball cost him his job. As it should have.

But Snyder parallel Campanis? Not even close. For one thing, Campanis said, in effect, that blacks lack the smarts to manage. Snyder said nothing of the kind. To state what's true--that blacks are generally better athletes--is not to imply that they aren't at least the equal of whites in other areas too. Black Michael Jordan soars as a player. Georgetown's John Thompson, a black, soars as a coach.

Moreover, Campanis held a position of influence in baseball throughout his long career, having the capacity to shape and execute policy in an industry with a documented history of racism. Snyder is just a bungling shlub who predicts football games and apparently has never uttered a racist remark on the air in his role as a CBS sportscaster.

Snyder's remarks are "regrettable and offensive," Brent Musburger, host of "The NFL Today," said on CBS in Washington Sunday where Snyder was to have participated in coverage of the National Football Conference title game. Snyder's words "do not reflect in any way the thinking or attitudes of the rest of us here at CBS Sports," Musburger said. Does that include Snyder's opinion that black athletes aren't lazy?

Watching all the self-righteous hand-wringing over Snyder--especially by CBS and his colleagues--is almost too much to bear without laughing. Goodness! To think that all these years they had a person with Snyder's viewpoints in their midst and didn't know it. The shame! The shock! Is racism contagious? Can they catch it from Snyder like chicken pox? Tsk, tsk tsk.

Give us all a break, please.

Episodes like this merely serve to obscure the real issues. If damage control is not the main intent and CBS is as determined to combat racism as it says it is, then it should right the wrong of Snyder's dismissal by hiring more blacks--starting immediately with one to replace Jimmy (The Greek) himself.

They work harder.

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