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L.A. hubbub is much ado about little

We are supposed to be outraged, I imagine.

Once again, we are in a discussion of race where no one has to look at the standings. Once again, we are in a credibility tug-of-war between unnamed sources and the principals involved.

In anger, a coach of one race allegedly has referred to a player of another by noting his skin color. The difference is that this time the coach, Art Shell, is black, and the player, Jeff Hostetler, is white. Nevertheless, the debate has dominated the NFL.

And it is time to give it a rest.

There are two ways to look at the lingering discussion of exactly who said what to whom on the sideline of the Raiders as they played the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago. One: You believe Shell and Hostetler when they say their yelling match did not contain racial connotations.

Two: You believe Shell and Hostetler are trying to patch up an argument and salvage a season, and you believe the independent news organizations of ESPN and the Los Angeles Times did not sit around their respective newsrooms and dream this up for the sake of debate.

Regardless, this has become much ado about very little. And it is time to turn it loose.

Okay, let's get this out of the way: Any human being who categorizes another simply by the color of his skin is wrong. If Shell did that, he should apologize. It does not matter if such a statement came "in the heat of battle." That is no excuse.

But there is another truth here, too. If Shell indeed said that Hostetler "was another white quarterback, just like Jay Schroeder," then the ranking insult contained is not Hostetler's race. It's that he is being compared to Schroeder.

The width of a country away, Doug Williams has watched the films, listened to the reports and read the stories. Williams, who knows a thing or two about being judged by his color while playing quarterback, has come to a conclusion.

He doesn't believe it.

"One thing, I know Art, and I don't believe he would say that," said Williams, now an assistant coach at Navy. "The other thing is this: Why would he say it? He was mad, so I can see him saying "You're an a--hole like Jay Schroeder' or something like that.

"But white quarterback? Where's the insult there? All there have ever been, pretty much, are white quarterbacks. What does that mean?"

Williams has a point. As a black quarterback for the Bucs and Redskins, he faced the ongoing battle against stereotypes. All his life, he heard white coaches and scouts say black quarterbacks were more athletic, less cerebral, less disciplined.

But since when is there a stigma to being a white quarterback? "What's negative?" Williams said, laughing. "Does it mean that you have a chance to play and a black quarterback doesn't?"

It bears mention that Shell is not accused of using a racial epithet. He is not charged with calling Hostetler spoiled or selfish or traitorous for changing plays in the huddle.

It should go without saying that we should be sensitive when race comes into any debate. And so the question begs to be asked: What if a white coach said something similar to a black quarterback?

The thing is, you can't turn it around that easily. To create the same situation, the same meaning, you would have to have white quarterbacks and coaches denied opportunities for years because of their color and the attached preconceptions. You would have to swap the advantaged and the disadvantaged.

If a white coach calls a player "just another black quarterback," he is keeping alive all the false labels hung on black quarterbacks in the past. If a black coach calls a player "just another white quarterback," he is saying what? There may be an insult in there somewhere, but no one knows just where.

For the record, a coach once called Williams, in the heat of battle, "an idiot." But no one ever brought up his race on the sideline.

"I'm sure they called me a black so-and-so behind my back," he said, "but no one had the guts to do it to my face."

If Shell lowered himself to such a slur, he owes his quarterback, his team and a lot of other people an apology. But even if it is true, do not confuse him with Al Campanis or Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder. Those incidents were examples of dismissing an entire race's abilities.

This one, if true, is just another example of a man's inability to conquer matters of race.

Such as the one in the AFC West.

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