Hornung rebuked over comments

Irish need lower standards for `black athlete,' he says


April 01, 2004|By Alan Schmadtke | Alan Schmadtke,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Hall of Fame football player Paul Hornung has triggered an uproar of political incorrectness by suggesting Notre Dame lower its academic standards for black athletes so the Fighting Irish could win more football games.

Hornung, a former Heisman Trophy winner for Notre Dame, was asked about the school's national championship chances in the wake of last year's 5-7 record.

"You can't play that type of schedule," he said Tuesday night on a radio talk show in Detroit. "We're playing eight bowl teams [in 2004] ... and it's always year in and year out ... one of the toughest schedules. You can't play a schedule like that unless you have the black athlete today. You just can't do it, and it's very, very tough, still, to get into Notre Dame. They just don't understand it, yet they want to win."

Officials at Notre Dame issued a strong rebuke yesterday.

"We strongly disagree with the thesis of his remarks," Notre Dame spokesman Matthew Storin said. "They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African-American student-athletes."

Hornung apologized on a national radio show yesterday but stuck to his conviction that if the Irish want to contend for a national title, their academic standards must be relaxed. Rival schools, he said, are able to sign prospects Notre Dame can't, he said.

"It was not my intention to insult African-Americans," he said on ESPN's Dan Patrick Show. "I should have said `all athletes.' It's just as tough for the white athletes to get into Notre Dame as the black athletes."

Hornung won the 1956 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Notre Dame and has been part of a broadcast team for the school's football games for the past 34 years. He also is an analyst for Westwood One Radio's broadcasts.

He said he had a call in to Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham to explain his comments.

As a longtime observer of Fighting Irish football, Hornung in 2003 saw Willingham start 16 black players in a season-closing loss at Syracuse. Notre Dame's depth chart listed 28 black players for 44 spots.

If no one leaves Willingham's program before two-a-days in August, 55.2 percent of his roster will be filled by black players, according to tabulations by the Associated Press.

In 2001, 43.8 percent of the Division I-A football players were black, the NCAA said. It was the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Under Willingham, who is black, the Irish's losing season in 2003 was their third in five years, a first for the school's program. Its last national championship came in 1988, a 15-year drought that stands as the second longest in program history.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press and ESPN.com contributed to this article.

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