Thursday, April 12, 2007

Charlatan Vivian Stringer

We now know what the "C" stands for.

Charlatan. This is what C. Vivian Stringer has become.

The Rutgers women's basketball coach was once the type of person who wore conviction on her sleeve and fierce determination on her face. A coal miner's daughter. A proud woman, a great woman, who has overcome an unfair share of personal tragedy.

She embodied the type of coach and person you'd want your kids - boys or girls - to play for, to learn life lessons from.

All those admirable qualities haven't up and vanished. But in the wake of this week's Don Imus scandal, C. Vivian Stringer looks like a hypocrite and opportunist.

For anyone who might have missed it, the cantankerous lout of a talk-show host called her Scarlet Knights, fresh off a loss in the NCAA championship game, a bunch of "nappy-headed hos," a phrase oozing of racial and sexist disgracefulness.

The Scarlet Knights, who, like their coach, are proud and fierce, were rightly offended by the crude slander. Stringer and her team called for Imus' firing. His comments, while par for the course of talk radio, were deplorable. No doubt, he should be fired.

The brewing controversy reached its crescendo Wednesday when Stringer and her players held a press conference. Stringer spoke for 30 minutes, and, as others have noted, sounded a little silly and overblown, alternately playing the victim card and grandstanding in what amounted to a recruiting infomercial.

It would have been nice if she reserved some of that contempt for former Rutgers University president Fran Lawrence.

Many of you may remember that Lawrence made a pretty big boo-boo of his own in November of 1994, when he told an audience of academics that minorities did not have the "genetic hereditary background" to compete on standardized tests.

Stringer was still coaching at Iowa when the remark was uttered, but it framed the context of her arrival on The Banks.

Those three words embroiled the campus in strife. Protesters halted play during a Rutgers basketball game against No. 1 UMass. They blocked traffic on Route 18. Marches were organized, rallies held. Lawrence fought for his job. It was a big deal.

Eager to appease the hornet's nest he had stirred, Lawrence searched long and hard for a minority candidate when the women's basketball job opened in the spring of 1995. Rutgers had a problem before his remark - 0 of its 23 coaches were minorities.

Now, Rutgers and Lawrence were desperate to land a minority coach.

So desperate, in fact, they paid Stringer approximately $325,000 to take control of the program. At the time, it was an unheard of sum for a women's coach, a figure that dwarfed what perennial NCAA mastermind Pat Summitt made at Tennessee.

But RU was desperate. And Stringer was all too willing to play along.

Knowing about the controversy that preceded her arrival, she showed no outrage whatsoever. Asked at the time about the fact her new boss ostensibly thought that black people were intellectually inferior, Stringer told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she believed "athletics can have a healing power."

It's an answer that is her prerogative. I won't begrudge her that. But why don't the same sentiments apply to a washed-up talk-show host?

One person made a truly frightening statement. One was a clown making a crass remark. One was a person taken seriously by some of the brightest minds in the country. One toiled as a jester for decades.

Lawrence was in a true position of power. The head of a major university. Someone who shapes policy, guides students. A leader. Removing him from a prestigious office at an academic institution would have confronted real racism at its core. Here was a real chance to make a difference.

But Stringer gives him what amounts to a free pass.

Imus? He's your everyday bigot. A man so irrelevant that his radio show ranked No. 14 in the New York market. Chances are few people would have even heard his remarks had he simply been ignored.

When he asks for forgiveness, he's denied that healing power.

Apparently, forgiveness comes with a price tag of $325,000. The sell-out special.

Sounds cheap for the price of Stringer's soul.

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At 6:43 PM, Blogger Smokey Robinson (aka Matt) said...

I can't believe you're hearkening back to The Bell Curve controversy - you are freakin' old school.

I think you got it right in spirit. But I also think that if C. Viv' had been an established coach at RU in '94, she would have taken advantage of that forum and called for Lawrence's firing too - and rightly so.

Coming to Rutgers was part of a political statement, that's true, and there is a certain element of selling out involved. Maybe that's the price of her pulpit this time around. Maybe that's the cost of doing business.

If she had avoided RU in '95, even the most sweeping statement of her motivation for staying away would have been long since swept under the rug, and she wouldn't have had a podium from which to rail on Don Imus in 2007.

As for the now deposed geezer, I'm actually not sure firing him was as obvious an answer as everyone thinks. Of course his remarks were unconscionable, tasteless, and bigoted. But what makes them so despicable is that he aimed them at a group of people who have never interjected themselves in the public discourse.

And they're black women, so he revealed (to everyone's shock, I'm sure) what a racist jag-off he was. But the part that was fundamentally wrong was attacking people whose defenselessness was rooted mostly in their collective anonymity.

Think about it: if Imus had made the same remarks about Star Jones and Oprah Winfrey (which he probably did at some point, let's face it) this would be a non-story - even if the attack were totally unsolicited. But the Rutgers Scarlet Knights women's basketball team did nothing publicly except play basketball. They were only handed a microphone to make a response after they had been sucker-punched, so to speak.

I'm not at all saying that I disagree with the firing. (Frankly, I never liked that jackass anyway.) I just think it's hard to come up with a proportional response considering the underlying nature of Imus's insult.

And speaking of Imus's insult, where the hell does he get off commenting on how anyone looks? I can't believe MSNBC put that troglodyte on the airwaves in the first place.


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