Friday Classic Clip: Al Campanis Goes On Nightline (1987)

Last week, Mayor Joseph Maturo of East Haven, Connecticut was asked what he would do for his community’s Latino community following an abuse scandal. “I might have tacos when I get home,” he replied. His ridiculously insensitive answer was shocking, but far from the only one of its kind.

On April 6, 1987, L.A. Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis appeared on ABC’s Nightline.

He appeared on the program to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut (Robinson was the first black player to break baseball’s color barrier). So you’d think Campanis would have been particularly sensitive to issues of race that night.

Not so much.

Before you watch the clip, there’s one more relevant piece of context: According to ABC, there were no black managers, general managers, or owners in the major leagues at the time of this interview.

Dodgers G.M. Al Campanis: “I truly believe that they [African Americans] may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.”

Nightline Host Ted Koppel: “You really believe that?”

Campanis: “Well, I don’t say that all of them, but they certainly are short. How many quarterbacks do you have? How many pitchers do you have that are black?”

Koppel: “Yeah, but I mean, I gotta tell you, that sounds like the same kind of garbage we were hearing 40 years ago about players….That really sounds like garbage, if you’ll forgive me saying so.”

Campanis: “No it’s not, it’s not garbage, Mr. Koppel…why are black men, or black people, not good swimmers? Because they don’t have the buoyancy.”

Koppel: “Oh, it may just be that they don’t have access to all the country clubs and the pools.”

I wish I could say that those two examples were anomalies, but Mayor Maturo and Mr. Campanis are far from alone when it comes to public figures making racist statements. Here are four other high-profile examples:

  1. In 1988, sportscaster Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was fired from CBS for saying, “The black is a better athlete to begin with because he’s been bred to be that way…the slave owner would, would, would, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have ah, ah big, ah big, ah big black kid.”
  2. Jimmy The Greek was fired for making racist comments

  3. In 1992, Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott got in hot water after referring to two of her star ballplayers as “million dollar niggers” and making favorable remarks about Adolf Hitler. She was banned from day-to-day operations for the 1993 season.
  4. In 2006, Virginia Senate candidate George Allen called a young Indian-American man “Macaca,” a racial epithet. He lost the election.
  5. In 2007, radio host Don Imus lost his jobs at MSNBC and CBS radio after calling members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes.”

As for Mr. Campanis, he resigned two days after this interview aired, his legacy forever tarnished by a reckless few minutes. And as for Mayor Maturo? He still has his job. For now.

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