Hornung Apologizes for Notre Dame Comments

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A day after calling for Notre Dame to lower its academic standards to “get the black athlete,” former Fighting Irish great Paul Hornung apologized for his controversial comments.

Tuesday, Hornung told Detroit radio station WXYT, “As far as Notre Dame is concerned, we’re going to have to ease it up a little bit.”

Hornung, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back who is an analyst on Notre Dame radio broadcasts, 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 athlete if we’re going to compete.”


Hornung also said Notre Dame’s difficult schedule each season was a factor in formulating his opinion. The Irish were 5-7 last season, the second season for Tyrone Willingham, the first African American coach in any sport in Notre Dame history.

“You can’t play that type of schedule,” Hornung said. “We’re playing eight bowl teams next year ... and it’s always very tough year in and year out ... one of the toughest schedules. You can’t play a schedule like that unless you have the black athlete today. You just can’t do it, and it’s very, very tough, still, to get into Notre Dame. They just don’t understand it, yet they want to win.”

Matthew Storin, a Notre Dame spokesman, said he objected to Hornung’s comments. It was not clear what, if any, impact Hornung’s comments would have on his job as an analyst. He has been critical of the school’s high academic standards in the past.

“We strongly disagree with the thesis of his remarks,” Storin said in a statement. “They are generally insensitive and specifically insulting to our past and current African American student-athletes.”

Wednesday, Hornung first apologized during an interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick. Hornung said he should have said Notre Dame should lower its academic standards for all athletes, not just African Americans. He also said he hoped Notre Dame would drop its standards to the level of the schools it competed against.

Hornung later told Associated Press he decided to offer an apology after receiving a number of calls from friends and reporters.

“I stood by my comments, but then when you have time to reflect you can always come up with some ideas,” he said. “I rethought it and if I had to do over again I wouldn’t. What I should have said was for all athletes it’s very tough to get into Notre Dame.”

When asked about Storin’s statement, Hornung said, “I don’t know if it was insulting. I would say insensitive. It was insensitive because I didn’t include the white athletes.”

Hornung said he disagreed with Storin’s statement that the university’s academic standards had remained the same in recent years. Hornung pointed to Tony Rice, one of two Proposition 48 players at Notre Dame.

“Tony Rice honored himself and graduated in four years,” Hornung said. “I think if he were trying to get into the university today it would be tougher.”

Of the 68 players on the spring football roster, 35 are black and 33 are white. Of the incoming freshmen, 12 are black and five are white. If the roster remains intact to start next season, 55.2% of the players in the program would be black, above the national average of 43.8 for Division I-A programs.