The NAACP and Football Politics

July 11, 1993|By DENTON L. WATSON

To some extent, the flap over the signing of a fair share agreement between the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Richardson Sports/Carolinas Stadium Corporation recalls the uproar over the civil rights organization's adoption of an energy policy in 1976. The NAACP then was sharply criticized from within and without for straying too far from its original civil rights programs.

The energy program was initiated in an attempt to give the NAACP a new look as much as to seek a new (some, excited by the idea, called it "sexy") approach to obtaining jobs and business opportunities for African Americans. But because of the considerable unfamiliarity within the NAACP with the intricate economic and industry-wide issues involved, it took a considerable amount of time and effort to end the confusion over the organization's intentions.

Even so, many NAACPers remained bitterly opposed to the agreement, feeling that it was more pro-industry than pro-consumer. Some charged that the NAACP was selling out to industry by adopting a policy that advocated an increase in production and development of new energy sources over conservation.

The most damaging effect of the agreement, however, was that it created a rift between Benjamin L. Hooks, the incoming NAACP executive director, and the organization's chairman, Margaret Bush Wilson, who pushed for the energy policy. A few years later, that rift contributed to a very destructive explosion between them that shook the organization to its foundations. New to the organization, Dr. Hooks did not make any contribution to the development of the new program; he simply found himself forced to support a very controversial policy and, at least initially, was openly resentful of his predicament.

In some ways, history now seems to be repeating itself. The Rev. Ben Chavis, the new NAACP executive director, finds himself in a position similar to that of his predecessor, Dr. Hooks, in that he has to support an initiative that was begun well before he became executive director. The agreement with Richardson Sports is a part of the NAACP's fair share program, which grew out of the economic initiatives that were begun with concerns underlying the energy policy.

The flap was caused by the NAACP's signing two fair share agreements on July 1. On of them, which was signed in the morning at the NAACP's Baltimore headquarters, was with Flagstar Corp. whose chairman is Jerry Richardson. It involves a moral commitment from Flagstar, which owns the Denny's restaurant chain and other businesses, to correct alleged racial discrimination and aggressively to hire blacks and provide opportunities for them to own franchises.

The Flagstar Corp. agreement "is money on the table," explained Kelly Alexander, chairman of the North Carolina State conference of NAACP branches. It became effective immediately and commits the company to provide blacks with $1 billion in economic opportunities.

The other agreement, with Richardson Sports, which is also owned by Jerry Richardson, was signed in Charlotte, N.C.. It is prospective, depending on whether Richardson Sports wins the National Football League franchise for Charlotte. (Baltimore is competing with Charlotte and three other cities for two franchises.) The agreement commits Richardson Sports to provide jobs and other economic opportunities for blacks during the construction of any new football stadium and subsequently during operation of the franchise.

The Chavis administration's unfamiliarity with the history and nature of the organization's fair share program is evident by the wording of the NAACP's own news release of July 6 that seeks to calm the present uproar. It explains that, "Our signing of a Fair Share Agreement with Richardson Sports/Carolinas Stadium Corporation, who initiated the said agreement with the NAACP. . . ." The emphasized wording is not only untrue, but is also a public relations blunder. It further confuses the origins of the current agreement and gives the impression that the NAACP is beholden to outside corporate sources.

The wording only worsens the severe damage to NAACP's integrity caused by Gov. William Donald Schaefer's comments that the "NAACP is a local business of ours," and that "I've worked very hard, and I think that this is a slap in the face to the mayor of the city of Baltimore, and I think that this is a slap at me personally."

Mr. Schaefer was referring to the fact that, as mayor of Baltimore, he had led the effort to help the NAACP find a new headquarters building when it was desperate for one. To induce the national NAACP to move from New York, where it had been since it was incorporated in 1910, to Maryland, the state gave $1 million in the form of a spacious building in a newly developed industrial park in Baltimore. That was the first time the NAACP had ever owned its headquarters building.

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