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Air Force reprimands DeBerry for race remarks

DENVER -- Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry met the academy's
new superintendent for the first time Wednesday, and found himself
being reprimanded, but not fired, for statements he made about
black athletes and recruiting.

The 67-year-old coach, known for his folksy, disarming charm and
his homespun sayings, found himself in an imbroglio over political
correctness for the second time in less than 12 months.

Last time, it was about religion in the locker room. This time,
it was about black football players -- or the lack of them -- at the
academy.

After his meeting with Lt. Gen. John Regni, DeBerry, who is
suffering through a 3-5 season this year, issued an apology at a
news conference.

"I realize the things I said might have been hurtful to many
people and I want everyone to understand that I never intended to
offend anyone," DeBerry said.

On Tuesday, in discussing last weekend's 48-10 loss to TCU,
DeBerry said it was clear TCU "had a lot more Afro-American
players than we did and they ran a lot faster than we did."

"It just seems to me to be that way," he said. "Afro-American
kids can run very well. That doesn't mean that Caucasian kids and
other descents can't run, but it's very obvious to me that they run
extremely well."

DeBerry first discussed the topic Monday, telling The Gazette of
Colorado Springs the academy needed to recruit faster players and
noting, "you don't see many minority athletes in our program."

He said he realized he had erred as he was driving back to
campus from his weekly luncheon with the media Tuesday.

"I have made a mistake and I ask for everyone's forgiveness,"
he said. "I regret these statements and I sincerely hope they will
not reflect negatively toward the academy or our coaches or our
players and I thank the administration for the opportunity to make
this apology."

DeBerry said he had no plans on stepping down after this latest
public embarrassment. Athletic director Hans Mueh, who took DeBerry
to Regni's house, said the academy "has a zero-tolerance policy
for any racial or ethnic discrimination or discrimination of any
kind."

Nonetheless, Mueh said the coach would not lose his job.

"It was a seriously, seriously inappropriate comment," Mueh
said. "This was a great first step. This was not Fisher DeBerry,
not the man I've known for 25 years. I'd like for us to all just
move on from there."

Air Force made two seniors, one white and one black, available
after practice. Both said they were not offended by the coach's
statement.

"We, as a team, didn't think he meant anything by it," said
receiver Jason Brown, who is black. "He's not that kind of person.
I personally wasn't offended. I think people saw today how sincere
he was and he didn't mean anything by it."

Center John Wilson, who is white, said last week's loss had
nothing to do with the ethnic makeup of the team.

"There are 250 guys on the team and there is not one player
that was offended," by DeBerry's statements, Wilson said.

DeBerry took a few questions at the news conference after making
his initial apology. At times, it wasn't quite clear whether he was
apologizing for what he said, and the ideas they conveyed, or
merely for his word choice.

"I feel like maybe a couple of terms I used should not have
been used in any remarks I made to anybody," he said. "If I
offended anyone by using the term 'Afro-American,' or 'minorities,'
then I certainly did [not mean] to offend anyone. I think people know
me well enough. I think people know my heart. I think my players
know me and how I care about people. I used a couple of terms that
don't reflect the standards and expectations and direction in our
recruiting."

Asked what, exactly, was wrong with saying that blacks run very
well, DeBerry replied: "I don't think there is anything wrong with
that. We have some Caucasian players that run very, very well,
also. My choice of words, I probably should have said 'players,'
rather than expressing a particular ethnic group."

Mueh made it clear that the entire idea DeBerry was discussing
was inappropriate.

"Fisher's already apologized for that statement," Mueh said.
"What we're talking about is speed. There's speed that cuts across
black, white, gray, blue, whatever. It was just an inappropriate
comment and you all know it was an inappropriate comment."

This episode comes about a year after DeBerry was asked to
remove a banner from the locker room that displayed the
"Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian
first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

DeBerry's misstep came as the academy deals with allegations of
religious intolerance. The Air Force issued new guidelines
directing leaders to be more sensitive to diversity after
evangelical Christians were accused of harassing cadets who hold
other beliefs.

Mueh said DeBerry, who has won 164 games in his 22 years as head
coach at Air Force, shouldn't be remembered for his latest mistake.
The AD credited DeBerry for wanting to make a public apology.

"This is a great man, a great American," Mueh said. "For him
to come forward and admit he made this mistake -- it was a serious,
serious inappropriate comment -- it was a great first step."