Finebaum believes race lingers as issue in Alabama, but Alabama and Auburn football have made progress; Cam Newton a symbol of progress

Paul Finebaum answered several questions about his radio show, football and today’s media during an interview with the Capstone Report. This is part of our series on the important voices in college football. We’ve already posted the first segment of our interview with Finebaum on the state of today’s media, and we’ll have more on that topic tomorrow. Here is what Finebaum had to say about race.

Q: One regular feature of your show is that callers have a forum to express their views. You make an effort to allow every opinion on the air. Race comes up very often within the context of Alabama politics and sports. Two questions arise from this. First, Why do you think it comes up so often. Second, What do you think your show contributes to the dialogue on race in Alabama?

Paul Finebaum: “I think race is the deep, dark secret that nobody wants to act like it is still going on, but it is still there and when it comes up it comes up with vengeance. It came up the other day talking about (former Alabama quarterback) Phillip Sims, and it came up a couple of weeks ago.

“I do respect when an athlete calls in and says, ‘I played twenty-five years ago and I was told I couldn’t be a quarterback at this school or that school.’ I have to respect that and believe he knows what he is talking about.

“And then you get the predictable, well, ‘Why don’t we have a Miss White Alabama?’ It is always predictable, and you know where it is going. You rarely get a surprise in it, but it lets you know it is still there,” Finebaum said.

“I love people who say, ‘It is all in the past and we all need to come together and we are friends and we have a black president ,’ but I just kind of laugh because it still exists and it still exists in Birmingham and it still exists everywhere else.”

“One of the most hostile environments I’ve ever had was four years ago this weekend believe it or not at Columbia University. Our show won an award involving race, and I was invited to give a presentation at the bastion of journalism in this country. In that room were leaders from the New York Times and the Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the people you would think would be the most understanding and liberal and forgiving people in America, and when they introduced me from Birmingham, Alabama, the hostility went up.

“I anticipated it. I started off telling a story about having racist thoughts during a phone call in the post-Don Imus-Rutgers controversy. I could see that room. They were gritting their teeth. They were holding their palms, and they were hating me. My story was about enduring all this and engaging all this and how I think even in Alabama we have honest dialogues. The room finally turned, but I don’t even know how to describe what I felt other than there was a bias against me because of where I was from. The immediate thought was, ‘Who is this rube, hillbilly, redneck, racist from Alabama?’ If it happens at Columbia, it can happen at a lot of other places.

“Not to sound like many other southerners, but I think it is better here than it is other places.”

Q: Do you think racism is better at Alabama and Auburn, or does it remain a systemic problem?

Finebaum: “I think you will always have some systemic problems. But, yes, things are significantly better than they have ever been. Sometimes I think that depends on who is in charge and the events that happen around a program. People believe what they want to believe and they see what they want to see.

“The one thing I will say in terms of Alabama with Nick Saban, whatever happened before him, no one believes he looks at it the same way because we know what he is about. He is about success and he is about becoming successful anyway under the sun that is legal.

“I think Auburn has had the same number of issues as Alabama, but Cam Newton, like him or not, was a symbol that helped bring some of those walls down as Jason Campbell was , as Reggie Slack and others.

“Your history does indicate who you are to a point, but also your leaders indicate it more.”

Tomorrow we’ll post more of our interview with Finebaum. You’ll see what Finebaum has to say about the state of journalism in America. Finebaum has an important view of journalism since he worked as a reporter covering a beat in a newspaper, was an investigative journalist, columnist and radio talk show host of the Paul Finebaum Radio Network. This is part of our series of interviews with important journalists who cover college football. Our first interview was with the TCS College Football Insider and Chicago Tribune journalist Teddy Greenstein.