A presidential town hall meeting intended to smooth race relations has instead ruffled Hispanic activists.
The Houston chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens voiced opposition Sunday to the makeup of a panel participating in Tuesday's forum on race and sports, calling the one Hispanic representative a "token."Felipe Lopez, a basketball player at St. John's University, is the only Hispanic on the 11-member panel, which also includes President Clinton and nine other athletic figures - six blacks and three whites.
"So we're one token," said Johnny Mata, spokesman for the Houston chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens. "It just shows you the lack of sensitivity on the issue as far as equality of the Hispanics, and that's what the forum is all about - racism in America."
The 90-minute town hall meeting, part of the president's initiative on race, will discuss the impact of race in sports from the playground to the pro level. The forum will be televised on ESPN from Houston's Wortham Center.
The cable sports network, which chose the panelists, announced the selection of Lopez on Sunday, after LULAC officials wrote Clinton to protest the absence of Hispanics. However, ESPN spokesman Chris La-Placa said Lopez agreed to be a panelist on Saturday.
"We were looking for a variety of perspectives from different sports and ethnic backgrounds," he said. "We've been working very hard to address all that."
White House spokesman Joe Lock-hart said ESPN made every effort to make the panel ethnically diverse, sending out invitations to some 25 Hispanic athletes, who declined for various reasons.
"They've worked very hard at putting together a good panel, and they have done that," Lockhart said. "The president is very much looking forward to Tuesday's town hall meeting."
Lopez, a 23-year-old Dominican who lives in New York, said he doesn't mind being the only Hispanic on the panel and considers it an honor to participate.