Paul Hornung is no stranger to bad judgment.
In 1963, at the height of his career as the Green Bay Packers' Golden Boy, Hornung was suspended by the National Football League for gambling on pro football games.
Forty years later, Hornung suffered another lapse of judgment that could cost his alma mater, Notre Dame, dearly.
During a radio interview in Detroit on Tuesday night, Hornung, frustrated by a losing season at Notre Dame, said that the university needed to lower its academic standards so more black athletes could play there.
In the interview with WXYT-AM as reported by The Associated Press, Hornung said: "We can't stay as strict as we are as far as the academic structure is concerned because we've got to get the black athletes. We must get the black athletes if we're going to compete."
By Wednesday afternoon, Hornung was being bombarded by calls.
And the university issued a statement that said: "We strongly disagree with the thesis of his remarks. They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African-American student-athletes."
Hornung's remarks were an insult to every athlete -- black and white -- who ever played for the university, earned a degree and added to its football legend.
There is a long line of former Notre Dame athletes -- Justice Alan Page of the Minnesota Supreme Court comes to mind -- who could surely lecture Hornung about standards.
"I didn't say anything that I thought would be offensive," Hornung said in the phone interview. "That's not what I intended."
Hornung said that if he could make his remarks again, he would not differentiate black and white players. "We need better ball players, black and white, at Notre Dame," he said.
You don't have to lower standards at Notre Dame to get the nation's greatest football players to accept scholarships there. In a more competitive marketplace, you have to do a better job of selling the program.
That has become increasingly difficult to do - not because of its entrance requirements, but because there is no major conference affiliation and thus no glamour conference championship game, and because of a mediocre won-lost record over the last few years. Notre Dame was 5-7 last season and 5-6 in 2001, and the Fighting Irish have not won a national championship in 15 years.
Ultimately, Hornung's ridiculous comments come down to Tyrone Willingham's ability to recruit. Hornung's interpretation of Willingham's hiring in 2002 is that his mission was to get Notre Dame healthy fast by snatching blue-chip athletes from the South -- especially Florida -- and the West. This has not happened.
What really bothers Hornung is that the football program is not raiding the Deep South. At one point in our conversation he asked: "Where are the best football players coming from? Florida."
He noted that not one member of Notre Dame's incoming class of recruits is from Florida.
Do you seriously expect star athletes in Florida, Georgia, Texas to come to South Bend and play for a fading independent? Leave Florida for South Bend?
Notre Dame doesn't have it like that anymore. That has nothing to do with the university's academic reputation but with the pool of elite football powers with whom it competes, like Louisiana State, Oklahoma, Southern California, Michigan.
Hornung said he wasn't demeaning black athletes.
"If anything, I was saying the opposite," Hornung said.
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