FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes. It's time again for a look at sports. And for that we have NPR's Tony Cox. Hey, Tony.
TONY COX: Hey, Farai. You know, baseball is over - finally, some people say. Football is the halfway mark, and the NBA is just getting started. So let's get started with our very own expert, Mr. Bill Rhoden, sports columnist with the New York Times. Hey, Bill.
Mr. BILL RHODEN (Sports Columnist, The New York Times): The great Tony Cox.
COX: I'll tell you what, man, our segment's a little bit shorter today, so let me quickly ask if you care that the Philadelphia Phillies are the World Series champions. Not to hit on Philly, but the series didn't really get compelling until last night's suspended game conclusion, did it?
Mr. RHODEN: Only in Philadelphia. The most exciting thing about the series was that it was suspended. They had to split it into two days. But I am happy for Philadelphia because I love vegetable cheese steaks.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: The NBA. NBA is back, Bill, and if you had to choose who will still be standing six months from now based on the opening two nights, who might that be, besides L.A. and Boston? You were going to say L.A. and Boston, right?
Mr. RHODEN: Of course. Well, I was going to say Boston, I don't know about L.A.
COX: Come on, now.
Mr. RHODEN: L.A., and I like Portland. I really do like Portland.
Mr. RHODEN: I do like Portland.
Mr. RHODEN: Listen. Come on, man.
Mr. RHODEN: If Philadelphia can win the World Series, Portland can win the NBA Championship.
(Soundbite of laughter)
COX: All right. By the way, you know, you had a very interesting column in the New York Times last Sunday. It had to do with a survey commissioned last year by the NFL Players Association on the attitudes players have about coaches in the NFL. Now, 80 percent of the league's 1,400 players responded with some interesting opinions, many of them determined along racial lines. For example, players see their coaches differently depending on whether the coach is black or white and whether the player is black or white, right?
Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, very interesting, Tony. I mean, everybody agrees - all the players, black and white, agree that Tony Dungy was number one and that Lovie Smith and Bill Belichick were, you know, top three. But what was interesting, when you asked the black players who they liked, it was four or the five on the NFL's black head coaches were all in the top five. Lovie, Tony, obviously. But when you asked the white players who their top five was, they also add Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan.
COX: At the top. Right.
Mr. RHODEN: At the top. But in the black poll, Shanahan was like number eight and Fisher was number nine. So...
COX: Really interesting.
Mr. RHODEN: It was kind of interesting.
COX: You know, one of the other interesting notes that you brought out in the article was this. When asked to name the top five coaches and the bottom five coaches, one coach, New England's enigmatic Bill Belichick, made both lists. How did that happen?
Mr. RHODEN: I think what it shows is sort of a divide. What it shows is players are willing to make a compromise when it comes to winning, saying, we don't like you, if you were a loser we wouldn't play for you. But you're a winner, so we'll play for you.
COX: Now what would you say would be the significance of the survey overall?
Mr. RHODEN: You know, I think it's the first time, Tony. You always hear - you never hear from players. You always hear from us in the media talk about what makes a great coach and who are the best coaches and franchise. You always hear from coaches about players. But this is the first time that you've had the majority of players - I mean, more than 80 percent - talk about what they like in a coach, the attributes they like. And I think that this is going to be the beginning of a learning tool for upper management, that , you know, these guys actually do think, and they're watching us. So I think it's going to be - I think it's very eye opening.
COX: You know, you mentioned management. That was also a part of the survey because the players said that trust and respect were the most important things to them, although the players seemed to differ on which coach and which teams embodied that. For example, nobody wants to play for Al Davis in Oakland, it seems like.
Mr. RHODEN: Black and white together, they all agree...
COX: They hate that guy.
Mr. RHODEN: That Oakland was the worst team in the franchise. I mean, in the NFL. And also, you know, it was interesting that the black players were less inclined to trust their coaches than the white players, which I thought was very interesting.
COX: Why do you think that is?
Mr. RHODEN: You know, I think it's a - the league is - the league, Tony - and this is another stunning fact - the league is 65 percent black. Sixty-five percent of the players are black, but only six head coaches are black. And I think that's a very interesting dynamic, and I think it speaks to - and it should be a constructive lesson to management about how you rule. I think ruling by fear and fines is really not going to get it anymore. It has to be respect, and you've got to earn that respect.
COX: One of the other things you mentioned, the number of black head coaches in the NFL, there are even fewer who are in the front office. Right?
MR. RHODEN: Well, see that gets to be the problem. As you go up the hierarchy, it gets fewer and fewer and fewer and fewer African-Americans, and it does look like a plantation in many ways. And that's sort of troubling about the power structure.
COX: Well, your article was really interesting, and the survey was interesting, as well. We always count on you to bring us stuff that we don't know about, Bill Rhoden.
Mr. RHODEN: My pleasure.
COX: Before you go, though. I want to ask you real fast, who wins Saturday? Number one Texas, number six Texas Tech?
Mr. RHODEN: Texas.
COX: Texas? All right. Yes or no. Did Tyrone Willingham deserve to get fired this time? Washington, after all, is 0 and 7 this year.
Mr. RHODEN: Yes, Tony.
COX: And finally, is Penn State going to the BCS title game for Joe Paterno?
Mr. RHODEN: Yes, they're the real deal.
COX: I like your answering those questions real quickly. We would talk about Isiah Thomas, but we need more time. He'll have to go on "Dr. Phil" to straighten his problems out. Bill Rhoden is a sports columnist for the New York Times and author of "Third and a Mile: The Trials and Triumphs of the Black Quarterback." Thank you much, Bill.
Mr. RHODEN: Hey, take care, Tony.
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