No one would expect Michigan coach Tommy Amaker and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to be exchanging friendly words just as the 2006-07 college basketball season is about to tipoff.
But that was the scene yesterday, when college basketball coaches around Michigan joined One United Michigan – a coalition comprised of more than 200 organizations that have banded together in an effort to prevent the passage of Proposal 2 – to speak out against the proposal.
At a news conference held in Okemos, the group, which also included Central Michigan’s Ernie Zeigler, Michigan State’s women’s coach Joanne McCallie and Wayne State’s David Greer, cited the importance of diversity and the threat Proposal 2 poses to diversity on college campuses as well as in the workforce.
“I want to be proud of my home as a place that is welcoming to all,” Amaker said. “I’m afraid that if Proposal 2 passes, it won’t seem that way anymore. It will send the message that the state doesn’t care about opportunity or diversity, and that will not be good for Michigan.”
The coaches emphasized that they were there representing themselves and not their universities in the fight against Proposal 2. They also said that while it is rare for them to speak in public about political matters, they felt too strongly about this issue to stay silent.
If passed, the proposed constitutional amendment will ban some affirmative action programs in Michigan.
Speaking from personal experience, a former assistant coach at UCLA, Zeigler was adamant about the potential ramifications of Proposal 2.
A similar initiative called Proposition 209 was passed in California in 1996.
“When you look at what happened at UCLA just this year, you only had 96 African Americans that were admitted into that freshman class,” Zeigler said. “That was out of a freshman class of 4,852 students.”
Taking the podium after Zeigler, Izzo and Amaker responded to the current situation in California.
“That is a shocking statement to me,” Izzo said. “I said to (Amaker), ‘Are you kidding me?’ “
Said Amaker: “I hear the stories and the things that have happened in California and some of the schools there. We don’t want to have that situation develop here in our state. Schools which aren’t inclusive and don’t make sure everyone is welcome are lesser places for all of us.”
He also attacked the approach taken by the proposal’s leaders, who named the proposal the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, saying the title is misleading.
“If you look at the state of Michigan, it’s a melting pot,” Zeigler said. ” To allow this proposal that’s probably named wrong or unjust, using civil rights as its name is somewhat in vane.”
Debbie Dingell, One United Michigan’s steering committee co-chair, said that the coalition, which is comprised of more than 200 organizations, has had “lots of conversations” about producing a television advertisement condemning Proposal 2. One United Michigan received good news recently when The National Association of Basketball Coaches, which represents men’s college coaches around the nation, voted to oppose the proposal.
“The NABC has consistently championed the importance of providing opportunities for minorities in higher education,” NABC’s Executive Director Jim Haney said in a press release. “Affirmative action is a cornerstone in the ongoing campaign to eliminate discrimination and to provide diversity in our society. This is especially meaningful on the campuses of our colleges and universities.”
Detroit Mercy coach Perry Watson, Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins and Eastern Michigan coach Charles Ramsey, a former assistant with the Wolverines, were unable to attend the conference due to scheduling conflicts, but lent their names in support of One United Michigan’s fight to defeat Proposal 2.