Clinton's Race Dialogue: Too Slow and Steady

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President Clinton's town meeting on race issues in sports Tuesday night on ESPN was everything the "Rumpus in Columbus" debacle was not: civilized, intelligent, cleanly and ably moderated (by ESPN's Bob Ley). It was also a bit somnolent. Clinton himself was at his best. He took the obligatory bowing and scraping gracefully -- even University of Georgia honcho Vince Dooley's promise that historians will best remember the Clinton presidency by this national race dialogue -- and, with only a few exceptions, managed to resist reading from his résumé.

The panel followed suit. The crusaders of the group, Georgetown coach John Thompson and NFL legend Jim Brown, mostly kept their cool, perhaps because the rest of the panel was so willing to agree with them. Indeed, the evening was variations on a single opinion -- that strides had been made but not enough of them -- and it was all that an establishment type like 49ers GM Carmen Policy could do to keep from apologizing. (He was surprisingly successful.) The discussion had its moments, as when Brown ratcheted things up a notch by calling on black superstars to hire their own as agents and lawyers. And it was a chuckle to hear Ley call his producer a "higher master" with the Leader of the Free World in the room. After 90-plus minutes, Clinton summed the whole thing up with a shrug and a simple "I feel better about my country than I did before we started." One thing was apparent: At least these guys -- a handpicked collection of suits and superstars -- could all get along.