Fugett holds key to NFL team here

John Steadman

July 07, 1993|By John Steadman

The NAACP's earlier endorsement of Charlotte, N.C., over Baltimore as the preferred site for NFL expansion resulted in an understated reaction from the governor. He called it a "slap in the face." It was more of a painful kick to another part of the anatomy.

Regardless of the apologies or explanations that follow, the damage is done. The NAACP action got the attention of the entire country, along with the offices of the NFL. A correction will not eradicate the inadvertent harm dealt to Baltimore.

The NAACP, in the parlance of football, intruded on the neutral zone but Baltimore gets penalized. What should Baltimore do, primarily Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who needs to play a role in returning pro football to his city? Here's a game plan guaranteed to work. It's one the mayor can accomplish by merely making a telephone call.

Jean Fugett, who was born in Baltimore and elected to the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame after playing extensively with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, is standing in line as a bidder for the Orioles. Baseball is an unusual place to find a former NFL performer.

Fugett would be a better fit with a Baltimore football team because it's the game where he created his niche. Schmoke, also from a football background, understands this. The NFL has wondered from the outset of the expansion process if any groups other than those headed by Malcolm Glazer, Leonard Weinglass and Tom Clancy were interested in Baltimore.

The question has been asked time and again. Clancy surprised the NFL when he decided baseball was a better deal and defected from football to join Peter Angelos, who is in pursuit of the Orioles from present owner Eli Jacobs. There's nothing preventing Fugett from switching from baseball to football.

Fugett, from a Baltimore standpoint, is needed more in football ,, than baseball. Why? Well, the Orioles have signed a long-term lease at Camden Yards. But the football battle is raging. Baltimore, St. Louis and Charlotte are vying for the two new teams. To have Jean Fugett interested in football is more important to Baltimore than to have Jean Fugett in baseball.

The NFL has not closed the door on potential owners. There's no cut-off date. It cites what happened in Seattle, when the Nordstrom family came in at the "11th hour" in the 1976 expansion. Fugett could provide a similar scenario.

There is not a black majority owner in any major-league sport. There are blacks with minority interests, but the NFL knows it's important to have a black majority-owned team.

If Fugett, as the chairman of the TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., expressed such an interest to the NFL, it would be tantamount to Baltimore winning a franchise. Make no mistake about it.

Such an interest on his part would surpass in impact the NAACP approving Charlotte. If race is going to play a role, then Baltimore has to react. Another thing that would be pleasing to the NFL is if the new Baltimore football stadium is named in honor of a black athlete, the late Claude "Buddy" Young, who played in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts and then worked 20 years in the league office as a standout executive.

His widow, Geraldine, still makes her home here. If the league heard Schmoke supported the Young suggestion on the stadium, it would be another decision that would help Baltimore's efforts.

Young had more than football mentality. He was a friend of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and served with three different presidential commissions on civil rights. He, along with former Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, managed to bring about a greater understanding among the races in the 1950s.

The city must stop lamenting the NAACP approval of Charlotte and initiate things that work in Baltimore's behalf. A black majority owner, Fugett, one of the NFL's own, and promising to name the stadium after Buddy Young, who was linked to the NFL and Baltimore, would far outdistance what the NAACP has done to help Charlotte.

If Fugett leads an ownership group for an expansion franchise, the NFL will return to Baltimore.

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