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Black People Run Faster?

The Air Force Academy "has a zero-tolerance policy for any racial or ethnic discrimination or discrimination of any kind." Apparently suggesting that black people run faster than people of other ethnicities counts as discrimination. (source)

Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry was reprimanded for some comments he made:

On Tuesday, in discussing last weekend's 48-10 loss to TCU, DeBerry said it was clear TCU "had a lot more Afro-American players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did."

"It just seems to me to be that way," he said. "Afro-American kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run extremely well."

DeBerry first discussed the topic Monday, telling The Gazette of Colorado Springs the academy needed to recruit faster players and noting, "you don't see many minority athletes in our program."


So what's the problem here? I don't think it's the term 'Afro-American'. As far as I remember, that was simply the term that was used in place of 'African-American' or 'Black' during a certain period. I could be mistaken, but I recall it being the PC term of choice in that time.

DeBerry's pointing out that the program doesn't have many minority athletes doesn't seem problematic. I'm not going to go look up the numbers, but I assume it's true relative to the number of minority athletes in competing teams. If the program has less minority athletes than one would expect given the relative number of minorities in the Academy and in the population, DeBerry might even be pointing out a fact that might suggest a problem with discrimination (I don't know whether or not it does - but that seems like a reasonable possibility).

Was it wrong of DeBerry to claim that black people run faster than non-black people?

Maybe we should first consider whether or not it counts as discrimination. I assume that the Academy's prohibition on racial discrimination is prohibition of discrimination understood as "Unfair exclusion of a person or group on the basis of prejudice." DeBerry certainly isn't discriminating against black people then - unless we take running fast to be a bad thing. He's a football coach, so I doubt very much that he does.

His statements could, perhaps, be interpreted as suggesting discrimination against non-black people. If running fast is good in football and you think non-black people don't run as quickly as black people, it might make sense for you to prefer black people to non-black people when recruiting for a football team. Assuming the generalization is not true (as far as I know, it's not - but that's a guess) and that DeBarry or others would choose a black person over a non-black person even if the two actually could run as fast as one another (etc.), then DeBarry actually would be discriminating against non-white people.

But is he being reprimanded for discriminating against non-black people? I can only infer that the answer is no; the story would probably be more interesting if a coach was being reprimanded for discrimating against non-black people. I can see the headlines: "Coach reprimanded for reverse discrimination!" and the like. Again, I can't be certain. But I think most of you will feel pretty secure in assuming that this isn't about reverse discrimination.

So what is the reprimand all about anyway? According to the news report, no one on the team was offended.

Asked what, exactly, was wrong with saying that blacks run very well, DeBerry replied: "I don't think there is anything wrong with that. We have some Caucasian players that run very, very well, also. My choice of words, I probably should have said 'players,' rather than expressing a particular ethnic group."

Mueh made it clear that the entire idea DeBerry was discussing was inappropriate.

"Fisher's already apologized for that statement," Mueh said. "What we're talking about is speed. There's speed that cuts across black, white, gray, blue, whatever. It was just an inappropriate comment and you all know it was an inappropriate comment."


Do we all know it was an inappropriate comment? On some level, I suspect that many of us do think it inappropriate. Not because it was discriminatory against black people. Not even because it implied anything negative about black people. But simply because DeBarry made a generalization about people that was based on race.

In some sense, I agree that the comment was inappropriate - or rather, the sentiment behind it. If DeBarry is inclined to make generalizations about people based on race, it seems probable that he is just as likely to make negative generalizations as positive ones. This is, of course, based on the assumption that it is not true that black people, in general, run faster than non-black people - or at least on the assumption that DeBarry didn't have the kind of evidence you would need to properly make that sort of generalization. His statements seem to reinforce the idea that racially-based generalizing is okay. And strictly speaking, maybe it is - maybe there is nothing wrong with correctly making race-based generalizations. But most of us (aside from racists) don't think that there are any important generalizations (aside from certain physical characteristics) that should be made according to race. If there are generalizations to be made, they are the result of contingent facts about history - not because of intrinsic differences between people of different races.

What do YOU think?
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