Hitting a low point in what was once—long, long ago—a proud career, Jesse Jackson raised the specter of George Wallace to protest a new injustice in Alabama: the hiring of an eminently talented white head football coach at the University of Alabama. Jackson has long since steered away from real civil rights issues and real victims—and now pimps himself out for the highest-profile causes, often where there is no victim to be found.
After the Crimson Tide had to fire its still-new head coach Mike Price last month for a drunken night in a Florida strip club, the college scrambled to find a replacement. With spring workouts already underway and summer practice just around the corner, time was of the essence. But the Tide also needed a “brand name” that could help people quickly forget the whole Price affair. And a “brand name” is exactly what they found: Mike Shula, the 37-year-old son of coaching legend Don Shula.
In choosing Shula, the university didn’t choose Green Bay Packers assistant coach Sylvester Croom, a 17-year NFL coaching veteran. Normally, there would be no controversy here. Croom, however, is black. That’s where Jackson comes in. He is claiming racial bias, pointing out that Croom also was a standout Tide player in the early 1970’s and subsequently spent ten years there as an assistant coach. If that were the whole of the story, then maybe Jackson might be on to something.
Where Jackson’s fury turns to nonsense, though, is the simple fact that Shula also has an impressive resume. He, too, was a standout player for the Tide, and he has 15 years’ experience as an NFL assistant coach, including the past three with the Miami Dolphins. Further eroding Jackson’s flimsy case is that the Crimson Tide also interviewed—and passed on—an NFL head coach, Richard Williamson. Williamson, like Shula, is white. In other words, the University of Alabama chose one highly qualified candidate—one whose name creates instant media interest—over other highly qualified candidates. Case closed. Not for Jackson, though. “Wallace... blocked the doors many years ago [in Birmingham, Alabama],” Jackson told the Associated Press. “Now you got athletic departments closing the doors.”
Comparing the relatively straightforward selection process for a job to which few Americans even aspire to the basic struggle for equality in education is not just despicable, it is insulting to the people who still suffer the very real racism that permeates American society. America has made tremendous racial strides since, well, since Wallace blocked the schoolhouse doors in 1963. But only a fool would argue that racism has become a relic of the past. Bigotry is more covert than overt, however, meaning Jackson’s theatrics trivialize the countless examples of real racism.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study showing that identical resumes sent to employers—only the name listed on each was different—got very different responses. Those with “white” names, such as Neil, Greg, Emily, and Jill, elicited 50 percent more replies from potential employers, on average, than those with “black” names such as Tamika, Ebony, Rasheed, and Tyrone. That is real racism. That is the kind of racism, though, in which Jackson has little interest. Where would the cameras be, after all, to watch him combat such bigotry with efforts to educate people about racism they might not even realize they’re committing?
On the biggest civil rights issue of our time, the ability to achieve a quality education, Jackson is involved. But not on the right side. The man who is so concerned about the rights of black NFL coaches to take over big-time college programs adamantly opposes giving a lifeline to poor children trapped in failing schools. Jackson rails against even modest proposals to provide a few thousand dollars annually to help send to private schools children who otherwise could not afford to do so. In short, he opposes giving poor children—many of whom are black—from receiving the very same opportunities he gave his children, who all went to private school.
By fighting equal education for poor children, it is Jackson who’s now blocking the schoolhouse doors.