Black Athlete Forum: An excerpt

An exchange during the Black Athlete Forum between filmmaker Spike Lee, Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, Kansas City Star/AOL columnist Jason Whitlock and columnist Claire Smith of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

STRINGER: Perception is reality! These people [the media] have the doggone platform. They have all ears and eyes in that direction. What you're counting on, you're counting on an intelligent-thinking person who has been able to see both sides of the point. You know what? You know what's so doggone sad about this? Do you realize that my beautician was actually on the plane and was with us there? (Laughter from audience). The gentleman made sure that our hair was just so. I always do. That's why I said -- and by the way, I want to tell you this -- that's why I said to Mr. Imus, "Don't think that these young ladies have dressed for you. This is the way they always present themselves." Anyone who has ever seen my team in the airport knows that we present ourselves just so. Why? Because I understand what people think. Whether it's right or wrong I understand that unless we're well-groomed or just so, people are going to have that perception. We have it hard. You're talking about hard -- we have a responsibility. When we're trying to do something right, support us. That's all I was talking about. Check us as individuals. This coach has been about the young ladies, the importance of them growing, becoming educated and presenting themselves well.

What you heard was not rehearsed, Jason. These young ladies represented you, your mother and everybody else (applause).

LEE: Jason, go ahead, baby.

WHITLOCK: It's easy to take two or three things out of a column and say I said this or that, or say that I want to receive attention for this or that. Or white people in the media came after me to appear on TV shows for this or that. The same people who had me on TV or requested radio interviews now are the same people when I shredded Notre Dame for giving Charlie Weis a contract extension after he hadn't done anymore than Tyrone Willingham, called them racist for doing that, are the same people calling me on this issue. Etan's a basketball player (Etan Thomas, who was also on the panel), so I don't expect him to know my full history.

That's why, in terms of Coach Stringer ... I can't sit here and give you an emotional speech. I'm not here to win some political battle. I stand by everything that I wrote. I stand by everything that I said. I in no way defended Don Imus. What he said was wrong. I think there's no doubt there's racism in America. The question is, how are we going to deal with it and handle it? I thought this [public statements made by Stringer and her players] was handled inappropriately. I feel like these women, the young girls on this team, were put out in a way that was unhealthy for them. On the Jay Leno Show, D.L. Hughley, one of our comedians, just put a clown suit on these young women. Called them, "nappy headed, ugly," the whole nine yards. Far more people watched the Jay Leno Show than whoever saw Don Imus. And if you don't think these comedians aren't going to come in and attack these young women and get talked about by us, and be far more damaged than some old white guy who none of us watch, listen to, or care about. ...

This is what I'm talking about. We have to deal with us, and not get so caught up with them. Because the Don Imuses are always going to be around. There's always going to be a replacement for Don Imus. Don Imus. ... I said on TV, George Bush can talk about me, but I really don't care.

Like I said, my position is, there's going to be racism. The issue we have to deal with is how we respond to it. I felt like the response was inappropriate and has put these young women ... has placed them as targets of idiots and ...

LEE: What would have been the appropriate response?

WHITLOCK: The appropriate response to me, in my opinion, would have been to put out a statement, that this guy is beneath us, that this guy is an idiot, that his comments in no way reflect the kind of women that are on this basketball team, that it's up to CBS and MSNBC to deal with and, thank you, and good day.

STRINGER: ... Trust me, this is not something we wanted to deal with at all. Like I said, by the time you saw me [make the first public statement], I had cried enough, gotten angry enough, that I tried to compose myself because there was no win. So if you are earnest about your feeling about these young women being put into a precarious and difficult situation, I accept that. Thank you for caring, OK?

But keep in mind, that statement would have been like anything else. He [Imus] would have continued on in the things that he said. My intention, and our intentions, were not so much to address to get him fired, or have anything occur. But I think America had an opportunity to see that whatever the perceptions were that he gave in his words were not the young ladies that were there. It was necessary ... words on a piece of paper wouldn't have meant anything. It was necessary for them to speak. ... I was convinced that we were able to speak for ourselves. You got an opportunity to see young women that were ...

Well, did you [see them]?

WHITLOCK: Did I watch them?

STRINGER: Listen, would have known anything about [individual Rutgers players]? Would you have known anything other than they have a suit on, they play basketball, they sweated? You wouldn't have known if they dee-datted-or-doe. You wouldn't have been able to know if they could articulate anything had you not heard from them. You understand what I'm saying?

WHITLOCK: You got to understand, I don't cover women's college basketball. (Inaudible) And if this is a thing about more publicity for women's college basketball, more attention, more media coverage, then that needed to be said up front -- that this is about attention for women's basketball and all that other stuff.

LEE: Jason ...

WHITLOCK: Because there's a lot of athletes who put in a lot of hard work who don't get attention. Competition and participation in sports is supposed to be rewarded. So media attention -- and who is and who isn't getting it ...

LEE: Claire [Smith], go ahead.

SMITH: I might be a tad emotional about this because my first beat was Cheyney State women's basketball in 1980-81. So I've known Vivian Stringer for almost 30 years. The woman that you saw in that press conference is the woman I've seen every year for almost 30 years. She did not step out of character. She was not selling a product. She was protecting the girls just the way she protected the Cheyney State girls, the Iowa girls, the Rutgers girls she first inherited.

Vivian Stringer -- I knew that Don Imus was finished the moment he said, "nappy headed hos" and Rutgers, because I know this woman. And I know that her character would radiate. And I know the kind of athlete she recruits. These were children. He attacked children. And I say to you, Jason, I'm a journalist, so I have some empathy with what you're going through here, but there's a difference between saying that you care about these women, and attacking the coach. And you attacked just the way Don Imus did.

WHITLOCK: I did not call anybody any names.

SMITH: You attacked the coach. You did.

WHITLOCK: Claire, Claire ... you read my columns, or a few of them. I attack coaches. That's what I do. (crowd noise).

LEE: Please, please, please ... we want to get to the Q&As.