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Why the fuss over Florida State president Dale Lick's four-year-old remark about blacks in sport? Lick's dredged-up words, which have sunk his chances of being hired for the vacant Michigan State president's job and landed him in hot water at home in Tallahassee, were uttered off the cuff in 1989, when he was president of Maine: "As blacks begin to get into sports, their natural athletic abilities come through. They have actually done research on an average black athlete versus an average white athlete in basketball, where a black athlete can actually outjump a white athlete on the average."
Here's why the fuss: Although blacks are disproportionately successful in basketball and some other sports popular in the U.S., that success is largely attributable to cultural and economic factors. The fact is, in both the U.S. and abroad, whites have fared as well as or better than blacks in sports—soccer and volleyball, for example—in which foot speed or jumping is important. Increasingly, in Lithuania, Russia and the former Yugoslavia, white basketball players have displayed natural abilities of their own. Some of the world's best long jumpers, including Robert Emmiyan of Armenia and Giovanni Evangelisti of Italy, are white. So are such accomplished high jumpers as Dietmar M�genburg of Germany and Patrik Sjoberg of Sweden. So are the many Eastern European women who excel in the sprints and jumping events.
Lick's simplistic remark feeds the stereotype of blacks as physical brutes and whites as thinking beings. As an educator, he should have known better.
NBC may have some tricks up its sleeve to justify the record $456 million it bid last week to win the U.S. television rights to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. True, NBC paid $401 million for the 1992 Barcelona Games and still lost $100 million, but an Olympics staged in the U.S. should hold greater appeal for American viewers and advertisers, especially because, unlike the case in Barcelona, which was six hours ahead of New York, much of the coverage from Atlanta will be live in prime time. Further, some possible program changes that have been kicked around by NBC honchos could make the Games more TV-friendly:
?Advance the opening ceremonies from Saturday afternoon to Friday night and make Saturday the first full day of competition, extending the Games from 16 to 17 days. In the past most competition didn't start until Sunday. Being able to sell commercials for a prime-time opening ceremonies and an extra day of action would generate more ad revenue.
?Hold off diving and more of the gymnastics until the second week. In '92 NBC suffered a ratings dropoff when women tuned out after the first week. That's because diving, gymnastics and swimming, which attract large female audiences, had pretty much wrapped up.
?Schedule some finals earlier in the Games. The windups of basketball, boxing, soccer, track and field, volleyball, water polo and other sports have been bunched on the final weekend, forcing TV to jump madly between venues.
?Add new sports—no, it isn't too late—likely to appeal to U.S. viewers. Beach volleyball, which NBC has been televising with surprising success, and women's soccer are two possibilities that might please the network.
Moving the opening ceremonies to Friday and adding a 17th day are all but certain. As for other changes, Olympic officials will no doubt listen carefully to anything that NBC, which is paying them all those beautiful dollars, has to say.