Stung by criticism in Baltimore and beyond of its endorsement of a professional football franchise for Charlotte, N.C., the NAACP yesterday recast its statement of support for Baltimore's National Football League rival suitor and set up a meeting today with the city's top black politicians.
After nearly a week of controversy, NAACP officials still seemed taken aback by the emotional reaction in Baltimore to the endorsement and rumblings of discontent from NAACP insiders elsewhere in the country.
Don Rojas, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's director of communications, said yesterday that the nation's oldest civil rights group does not "favor any one city over another in this NFL bidding war."
"We regret the interpretation by certain officials in Baltimore and by some of the media in Baltimore that the NAACP had sort of betrayed and insulted the city," Mr. Rojas said. "We in no way intended to do that."
The football endorsement appeared likely to become an issue at the Baltimore-based NAACP's convention, which begins this weekend in Indianapolis -- the city to which Baltimore's football team moved in 1984.
One NAACP national board member, T. H. Poole Sr., president of the Florida chapter, said that neither the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., NAACP executive director, nor Dr. William F. Gibson, chairman of the board, has the authority to make endorsements. He said that was a power reserved for -- and rarely, if ever, used by -- the full 64-member board.
"At best, it could have been a loose statement by one of the parties, not an endorsement," Mr. Poole said. "They need to say we didn't intend to endorse one team over the other."
NAACP officials met behind closed doors last night at the group's Northwest Baltimore headquarters with disgruntled leaders of its Maryland branches to discuss the endorsement.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.-7th, would meet at City Hall this morning with Dr. Chavis and with Dr. Gibson, who traveled to Baltimore from his home in Greenville, S.C., to deal with the crisis.
Not included in today's meeting was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was angry about the NAACP leaders' endorsement and their refusal to substantially modify it over the weekend -- even after he and the mayor received conciliatory phone calls Friday night from Dr. Chavis.
"We gave them breaks -- a choice spot in Seton Industrial Park -- and helped with the financing," Mr. Schaefer said of the NAACP's 1986 move to Baltimore while he was mayor. "When they come in and take everything from us and work against us, that's a little much for me."
Asked if he thought the NAACP might move its headquarters from Baltimore, the governor replied: "If they do, it's all right with me. They certainly aren't helpful to us."
L But Mr. Schmoke was hopeful that the storm might be passing.
"It's clear to me that Dr. Chavis wanted to try to get this controversy behind him and emphasize the positive relationship he has with the city of Baltimore," the mayor said late yesterday. "I believe there may be some statement coming out of this."
"It is an important national organization with a track record of doing some very positive things," Mr. Schmoke said. "The city is honored to have the national headquarters here, and those positive things really outweigh the negatives, but this incident should be taken seriously by all involved."
Mr. Rojas said the NAACP leaders' "off-the-cuff" support of the Charlotte bid last Thursday was not intended to demand that the NFL pick Charlotte, but to highlight the commitments that Jerry Richardson, the prospective owner of the Carolina Panthers, had made to include African-Americans in stadium construction, franchise employment and concessions.
"We would support any substantial commitment along the lines of what Richardson Sports was offering in any city of this country," Mr. Rojas said.
However, at a Charlotte news conference last Thursday, Dr. Chavis said: "The national NAACP is going to work hard . . . to send a clear signal to the NFL that we want a franchise here in Charlotte, and we want it under Jerry Richardson."
Mr. Richardson, a former Baltimore Colts football player, is chairman and chief executive officer of Flagstar Cos., whose Denny's restaurant chain has been rocked by allegations of discrimination against blacks.
Flagstar and Richardson Sports both signed "fair-share agreements" with the NAACP pledging to increase black involvement. The NAACP said the pacts would bring $1 billion in benefits over seven years to African-Americans.
Mr. Schmoke said this morning's meeting must clarify whether the NAACP is "formally endorsing a city in this expansion process or not."
"If the national organization is not endorsing, then I'm not going to press them to say anything about Baltimore's application for a team," he said. If Charlotte is getting a formal endorsement, he added, Baltimore also deserves one.
Other cities indignant
NAACP officials in Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., two -- other cities seeking an NFL franchise, said the endorsement had upset their members. Five cities in all, including St. Louis, are competing for two NFL franchises to be awarded this fall.
"It has reverberated throughout the United States of America, especially in those cities that are vying for a franchise," said Willye Dennis, president of the Jacksonville branch. She said she wanted to discuss it with Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson at the NAACP convention.
Maxine Smith, executive director of the Memphis branch, said it was "quite inept on the part of national figures to endorse one city. Maybe it was a mistake coming from newness on the job."
Dr. Chavis, a civil rights veteran and graduate of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, was named executive director by the board in April.
The NAACP's deal with Richardson Sports calls for blacks to have a 10 percent to 15 percent share in stadium construction; 15 percent to 25 percent representation in franchise management, and 20 percent representation in other jobs; and ownership of 10 percent to 20 percent of concessions.
In Baltimore, blacks had a 15 percent share of the construction of the Camden Yards baseball stadium, and minorities are to get 20 percent of the work in building the Convention Center expansion, said Bruce H. Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. He said similar targets would apply to a football stadium.
Mr. Hoffman said that, should Baltimore get an NFL team, levels of minority hiring would have to be negotiated with the franchise owner and stadium concessionaire once they were selected.
Mr. Hoffman said Baltimore had an established record of minority participation. "Richardson's the one who has got something to prove, not us," he said.