EDITED BY SARAH BALLARD, SCORECARD: AN ODDSMAKER'S ODD VIEWS, Janu Ed., Sports Illustrated, 25 Jan 1988, pp. 7.
The speed with which the electronic media can make or break a career is breathtaking. Within 24 hours of the timeJimmy (the Greek) Snyder made his absurd and offensive remarks about black athletes last Friday in a TV interview at Duke Zeibert's, a Washington restaurant, he had lost both his job as CBS's pro football prognosticator and his credibility.
Snyder's firing by CBS was swifter than the resignation of the Dodgers' Al Campanis last April for similarly stupid remarks. Snyder said in the interview that blacks have ''been bred'' to be better athletes than whites. ''This goes all the way back to the Civil War, when during the slave trading the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid,'' he said. ''That's where it all started.'' Snyder said that the black man was ''bred'' to have ''big thighs,'' which gave him a genetic advantage in athletics.
Commenting on blacks and coaching, Snyder said, apparently facetiously: ''They've got everything. If they take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there's not going to be anything left for the white people. I mean all the players are black. The only thing the whites control are the coaching jobs.''
Some of Snyder's friends stood by him. One of them, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, said that CBS was right in firing Snyder but met with him and praised his plan to write letters of apology. ''He's not a bigot,'' said NBC sportscaster and former NFL star Ahmad Rashad, who is black. SI's Paul Zimmerman, who is white, said, ''I've known him for more than 20 years, and I've never seen any of the telltale, giveaway signs of the closet racist -- the offhand good-ol'-boy remark when there's no one around, the nasty slip of the tongue.''
But Snyder's ramblings betrayed an ignorance of both U.S. history and sport. Though cruel indignities were heaped on American blacks through the centuries of their enslavement, selective reproduction was rarely one of them. Snyder made it sound as though blacks were thoroughbreds who have been taken out to the breeding shed to be mated.
Snyder was also guilty of the sort of sweeping generalization on which racial stereotypes and prejudice are built. Blacks are not ''better'' athletes than whites, as Snyder said. Some blacks are better athletes than some whites; if a disproportionate number of players in pro football and basketball are black, the reverse is true in tennis and hockey. Snyder's suggestion that coaching jobs were ''all that's left'' for white people was particularly offensive. As for the business about the thighs, The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon, who is black, suggested that Snyder ''check the size of Michael Jordan's thighs. He'd find they're almost nonexistent.''
Friends said Snyder's actions speak louder than his words, pointing out, for example, that without fanfare he has helped pay for the college educations of many black students from poor backgrounds. Nevertheless, Snyder made his living with words, and if that living was a good one, it was because so many people listened to him. What they heard last week was the voice of ignorance.