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CHANGE OF SIGNALS?
Last week Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles became the first black quarterback ever selected to start in an NFL Pro Bowl. Cunningham, who was chosen in a conference-wide vote by players and coaches, will represent the NFC in Honolulu on Jan. 29, while another black quarterback, Warren Moon of the Houston Oilers, will be a backup for the AFC.
The selection of Cunningham and Moon is further evidence of the shattering of the longstanding taboo against black quarterbacks. A black quarterback, Doug Williams, led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory last January, and of the 34 teams playing in this season's college bowl games, at least 15 will start blacks at the position. But racial stereotypes in sports haven't died out. One reason black quarterbacks were virtually nonexistent in the colleges and pros until recently was that too many coaches believed that blacks lacked the intelligence and leadership necessary for the job. Most coaches have since changed their thinking—but in many cases the principal change hasn't been in the coaches' racial attitude but in their perception of what a quarterback is supposed to do. Asked to explain why blacks are finally being employed at quarterback, some coaches explain that the position nowadays requires all-around athletic abilty. Implicit in this response is that if intelligence were still what mattered, blacks wouldn't be getting the call. The media are culpable, too; sportscasters and sportswriters almost invariably describe black quarterbacks as great natural athletes, not as brainy field generals.
As for the racial stereotyping that goes on in other sports, consider a recent study by the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. The study found that 78% of the black players in major league baseball (not including pitchers) play first base or the outfield. Managers who were surveyed said that the positions requiring the least ability to think, make decisions and serve as team leaders were first base and the outfield.
FAREWELLS: FOND AND OTHERWISE
Two of College Football's most prominent coaches, Georgia's Vince Dooley and Texas A & M's Jackie Sherrill, stepped down last week under markedly different circumstances. Dooley, 56, whose 200-77-10 record in 25 years of guiding the Bulldogs makes him the 10th-winningest Division I coach ever, resigned to pursue business and political opportunities that may include a run for the Georgia governorship as a conservative Democrat in 1990. The hard-driving Sherrill, 45, coached the Aggies to three Southwest Conference titles in seven years but left under a cloud: A & M's football program was put on two years' NCAA probation last September for 25 recruiting and other violations, and is being investigated by the university and the NCAA following an allegation by former Aggie running back George Smith (who has recanted his charges) that Sherrill paid him to keep silent about additional violations. If the investigation finds that Sherrill did give hush money to Smith or that other wrongdoing occurred, the NCAA could apply its "death penalty" and shut down A & M's football program.
Dooley had a few embarrassing incidents in his career, too—the worst of them, the 1986 Jan Kemp case, revealed that few of the Bulldogs' numerous black players had earned degrees—but he generally handled them with reason and composure. An unknown Auburn assistant when Georgia hired him in 1964, he revived a lagging program; the Bulldogs won the '80 national title and will have played in 20 bowl games ( Dooley won't step down officially until after Georgia plays Michigan State Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl) during his tenure. Dooley holds a master's degree in history and has long shown an interest in politics; his popularity in Georgia would make him a strong candidate for office.
Sherrill, who is close to Houston Oiler owner Bud Adams and Dallas Cowboy owner Bum Bright, may be headed for the NFL. His legacy at A & M is a clause the school inserted in the contracts of new coach R.C. Slocum and his assistants: If any of the coaches violates NCAA rules, he can be fired immediately.