Former Football Great Stirs Controversy With Comments on Black Athletes
SOUTH BEND, Ind.
Just one day after suggesting that Notre Dame needed to lower their academic standards to “get the Black athlete,” former Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung said he regretted his comments.
“I was wrong,” Hornung told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “What I should have said is for all athletes, it is really tough to get into Notre Dame.”
During a radio interview in Detroit, Hornung told WXYT-AM that his alma mater has to “ease it up a little bit” on its standards.
“We can’t stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we’ve got to get the Black athlete,” Hornung said. “We must get the Black athlete if we’re going to compete.”
Hornung, who is White, said in the AP interview that he changed his mind after being flooded with telephone calls from friends and media.
“I stood by my comments, but then when you have time to reflect you can always come up with some ideas,” he said. “I rethought it, and if I had to do over again, I wouldn’t.”
Notre Dame spokesman Matthew Storin called Hornung, who played with the Green Bay Packers, an illustrious alumnus but objected to the comments he made during the radio interview.
“They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African American student-athletes,” Storin said in a statement.
Hornung, part of the Westwood One Radio team that broadcasts Notre Dame games, said he hadn’t talked with anyone from the university, but he had heard the school’s response.
“I don’t know if it was insulting, I would say insensitive. It was insensitive because I didn’t include the White athletes,” he said.
The academic standards at Notre Dame have long been discussed as a reason why the Irish no longer win consistently.
Discussion had been more widespread in recent years. The Irish have gone 15 seasons without a national championship, the second-longest drought in school history. The longest stretch was 1949-1966.
“Our records show that admission requirements for athletes have remained constant over those years in which we have had both great success and occasional disappointments with our football teams,” Storin said.
But Hornung, who won the Heisman in 1956, believes the academic standards were eased in the late 1980s, when the Irish won their last national championship. He pointed to quarterback Tony Rice, one of only two Proposition 48 players ever to play at Notre Dame.
“Tony Rice honored himself and graduated in four years,” Hornung said. “I think if he were trying to get in the university today, it would be tougher.”
Of the 68 scholarship players on the Notre Dame roster for spring practice, 35 are Black and 33 are White. Of the incoming freshmen, 12 are Black and five are White. If no one leaves the program, 55.2 percent of Notre Dame’s football players next season would be Black.
According to the latest NCAA statistics available, during the 2001-2002 season, the percentage of Division I-A football players who were White was 48.8 percent and 43.8 percent were Black.
Of the remaining players, 2.1 percent were Hispanic, 1.9 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.6 percent were nonresident alien and 2.2 percent were listed as other.
— Associated Press
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