Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

I am a casual college football fan so I admit I am treading in unfamiliar waters. But I can’t put my foot further in my mouth than Red McCombs did last week.

McCombs is a major financial supporter of the University of Texas so when the football coach position became open at the end of this season McCombs probably expected to be kept in the loop regarding the potential replacements.

Either he wasn’t in the know, or was overruled because the University hired Louisville coach Charlie Strong which prompted McCombs vent his dissatisfaction with the hire.

McCombs commented that he thought Strong was best suited to be a position coach, and at best a coordinator but that he wasn’t qualified to lead the U of Texas football team. McCombs thought the school should have targeted the “top three” coaches in the country – whatever that means.

There are three ways to take these comments. Assuming sincerity on the part of McCombs, it could be that McCombs is an overly involved supporter of the school who is well informed on the qualifications of football coaches around the country. From his vantage point he felt Strong would not be up to the task of the job of head football coach at the U of Texas. It is noteworthy that hardly anyone observing the situation believes this is the case. Many commentators disagreed with McCombs’ assessment of Strong’s qualifications and his misreading of the prestige of the position.

I’m not even sure McCombs is fully committed to this view. He is a billionaire who has given over $100 million to the University. These are not the kind of people who apologize for having an opinion, especially when that opinion is about how their money is being spent.

An alternative position is that McCombs is an overly involved supporter of the school who is ignorant regarding the qualifications of football coaches around the country. From this vantage point he simply wanted someone – a bigger name – instead of Strong for the job. McCombs’ ignorance meant he thought Nick Saban or Jon Gruden would jump at the chance to take the helm at the University of Texas. The result was McCombs being condescending toward Strong because Strong’s profile wasn’t big enough. This is essentially the position that most in the media have taken. It is a comforting position mentally because it negates the possibility of the third explanation.

McCombs may have been voicing racist sentiments. It could have been simply a coincidence that McCombs reacted to the hiring of a black man as a “kick in the face.” But it must be acknowledged that McCombs is someone who is from Texas and whose formative years were within a segregated society. His comments are essentially voicing the opinion that Strong doesn’t know his place (he should be a position coach); 50 years ago the same sentiment was repeatedly applied to African-Americans seeking equal citizenship privileges within American society.

The thing about racism, or prejudice in general, is that it only takes some perceived difference between two groups and there will be rationalizations why those other people don’t deserve what people in your group deserve. Growing up McCombs, as did the entire country, had the difference between white and black people drummed into his head. So it isn’t surprising that he might not think African-Americans were leadership material.

Of course I don’t know that any of this is true. And even if it is true, this doesn’t make McCombs a bad person but rather a product of a different time. Some might say that the country has moved forward from such race issues and that it is irresponsible to insert race into issues unnecessarily. Perhaps.

I happen to think that it is irresponsible to ignore race. It doesn’t have to be the ultimate catalyst but we shouldn’t turn it into the elephant in the room no one will mention. We shouldn’t pretend that people from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (when Red McCombs grew up) didn’t have different ideas about black people than people today.

Trevor Brookins is a freelance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or be disappointed in his lack of output on Twitter @historictrev.