'Nightline' Classic: Al Campanis

ByABC News
April 12, 2007, 4:01 PM

April 12, 2007 — -- Radio personality Don Imus was fired for calling the players of Rutgers University's women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos."

But this was not the first time established figures have come under fire for racist comments.

On April 6, 1987, "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel interviewed Al Campanis, then the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a one-time teammate of Jackie Robinson, the African-American baseball player who broke the major leagues' color barrier.

During the interview Koppel asked Campanis why African-American managers and general managers were virtually nonexistent in the sport. Campanis gave a notorious response: "It's just that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager."

When Koppel objected, Campanis responded, "I know that they have wanted to manage, and many of them haven't managed. But they are outstanding athletes, very God-gifted and wonderful people They are gifted with great musculature (sic) and various other things. They are fleet of foot and this is why there are a number of black ballplayers in the major leagues."

The following day Campanis said that his comments were misunderstood and subsequently apologized, but it was too late. A media firestorm ensued, and two days later he was forced to resign.

At the time, there were no black managers, general managers or owners in the major leagues. Although Campanis endured heavy criticism, some credited his harsh comments with shedding light on a stark reality.