February 01, 1988 12:00 PM

When Dexter Manley heard that CBS had fired oddsmaker Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder for an outpouring of ill-chosen remarks about blacks, whites, genetics and breeding, one shoot-from-the-lip sports-world figure came rushing to the defense of another. “I don’t think he should have been fired,” Manley told a reporter. “I really don’t.” But this time Snyder had handicapped himself into a corner from which there could be no escape. Lunching in Duke Zeibert’s restaurant in Washington, D.C., two days before a National Football Conference championship game, the Greek was all too willing to present his oddball view of the world. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday, and Ed Hotaling, a local TV reporter, approached Snyder for a comment on the progress blacks had made in athletics.

It was as if he had “touched a button,” Hotaling said later. Spewing forth came some of the most bizarre and dunderheaded social analysis since Los Angeles Dodgers vice-president Al Campanis passed judgment last April on Nightline concerninger blacks’ buoyancy and intellectual prowess. Claiming that blacks dominate most major sports, Snyder added facetiously, “If they take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there’s not going to be anything left for the white people.” Plunging ahead, Snyder suggested that blacks owe their superiority on the playing fields to the genetic engineering of their former oppressors. “The slave owner,” he said, “would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid, you see.” The only chance whites have to stay competitive with blacks, he continued, is through practice and hard work. Alas, said the Greek, turning the familiar stereotype inside out, the white athlete is “lazy.”

The reaction from his employers was instant and drastic. CBS Sports fired the 69-year-old prognosticator from his estimated $500,000-a-year spot on the network’s The NFL Today even as the press flayed him for boorishness, bias and ignorance. The black response, by and large, was more measured. “On the eve of celebrating Martin Luther King Day,” said Bill Cosby, “we should be more forgiving. These hangings that are going on don’t make us better human beings.” Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson agreed. “The man apologized,” he said. “That’s all a human being can do.”

But the humbled Greek was gone, and it was left to restaurateur Zeibert to pronounce the eulogy: “The guy’s my friend. I’ve known him for 30 years,” he said, “but a Phi Beta Kappa he’s not. He was trying to sound smart by giving a history lecture. He’s got a big ego.” Ironically Snyder had been holding forth on that very subject only hours before. “The guy that bashes off all the time, there is something wrong with him,” Snyder told a reporter, referring to Manley. “The great ones don’t say much.”

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