Kudos to the folks behind Claiming Williams for tomorrow’s controversial speaker.

Williams College Athletics is honored to have distinguished activist and scholar Dr. Richard Lapchick speak at our first Claiming Williams Event. Dr. Lapchick is often described as “the racial conscience of sport” due to his commitment to equality and his belief that sport can be an effective instrument of positive social change.

Why do I describe Lapchick as controversial? Consider his views on the racial distribution of achievement in college football.

You don’t really need a study to conclude that four starting white cornerbacks out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools — in a sport in which 50 percent of the players are white — verges on scandalous. That’s the smallest number in 15 years.

Key details below.

Congratulations to those readers who suspected that Williams would never invite someone with those views to speak on campus! I modified the quote. Lapchick actually wrote:

You don’t really need a study to conclude that four African-American head coaches out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision schools — in a sport in which 46 percent of the players are African-American — verges on scandalous. That’s the smallest number in 15 years.

I merely switched his example from black coaches to white cornerbacks. (And, no, I don’t have data on the racial distribution among starting college cornerbacks, but there are been approximately (exactly?) zero starting white cornerbacks in the NFL in the last decade. (Can anyone come up with an example after Jason Sehorn?) Are even 4 of the 238 starting cornerbacks in Div 1 white? I’ll take the under.

For non-football fans, there are two starting cornerbacks on each team. They are among the most highly paid players on the field. They must be as fast as the fastest receiver on the opposing team. Derek Catsam ’93 offered some thoughts on blacks and football and speed three years ago.

There are two defensible positions. First, sports are largely meritocratic, race doesn’t impact success very much and so racial distributions in various categories aren’t that important or interesting. The race of coaches or starting cornerbacks is about as relevant as their astrological signs. Abilities determine achievement. Racism does not play a meaningful role in outcomes.

Second, sports are mostly meritocratic, but not perfectly so. Our society is not colorblind, nor are our sports. Race influences perception, whether consciously or not. Racial distributions are, potentially, interesting and important. Their causes run the gamut from nature to nurture to culture. It is plausible that racism plays an role in outcomes. To the extent that it does, we should try to combat it. Racism may play a role in the small number of black coaches and white cornerbacks.

I am comfortable with either of these two positions. I don’t have strong feelings either way. But it is nothing but PC nonsense to endlessly discuss the small numbers of black football coaches and ignore, even ostracize those who mention, the small numbers of white cornerbacks.

Anyway, looks like an interesting talk. If you go, tell us about it.

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