It’s a dark month, my friends. The flag of sports journalism is flying at half-mast. A war of attrition has begun, as journalists everywhere fight an uphill battle against the ignorant proponents of mindless political correctness. The casualties have started to mount.
Rush Limbaugh was fired because of his allegedly racist comments. Gregg Easterbrook was fired because of his allegedly anti-Semitic comments. The situation is clearly getting dire – we can only hope that Jill Arrington won’t be next – and for what reason?
Limbaugh’s crime was noting that the media is pulling for Donovan McNabb because they want a black quarterback to succeed – an observation that in no way attacked McNabb for his race. Instead, it was an observation based on fact. Although Limbaugh must have been in the bathroom for the entire 2002-2003 season, during which a convincing McNabb piloted the Eagles well into the playoffs, it doesn’t change the fact that at the beginning of this season, McNabb’s lackluster play warranted criticism. Thus, Rush’s argument that McNabb is overrated – however feeble that line of reasoning may actually be – had a certain amount of logic behind it.
With Michael Vick injured, Steve McNair inexplicably off the radar, and Kordell Stewart off playing Candyland somewhere in Chicago, ol’ Donnie Football was the natural choice for media focus on a black quarterback, and Limbaugh disagreed with all the hype. Granted, Rush’s prescription-drug addiction probably contributed to his release, his “racist remarks” were cited as the main reason.
Meanwhile Easterbrook, however guiltier he may have been of his crime, fell prey to a similar fate. The author of the popular ESPN Page 2 marathon-column “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” -TMQ for the uninitiated – Easterbrook enjoyed a small country’s worth of avid readers, all of whom began waiting eagerly the moment Monday Night Football ended for the next morning’s opus. I consider it a successful Sunday if I watch the 4 p.m. game over a dozen wings at the Elmwood, with maybe some “RBI Baseball” on Nintendo afterwards. Easterbrook, meanwhile, evidently watched and analyzed every damn game, and then mixed a Kinsey Report’s worth of statistics into a Michener-length column rife with wit and insight. He does this all by the following Tuesday morning, whereas I started this column last semester and still struggled to make deadline. Damn.
Easterbrook’s controversial remark – a blog comment speculating about the correlation between “greedy” Jewish Hollywood CEOs and the marketing of graphic and immoral, yet lucrative movies such as “Kill Bill” – was indeed bafflingly offensive, particularly from such a level-headed and sensitive writer. At the same time, though, the comment was made in an online journal-esque blog that had absolutely nothing to do, either in affiliation or subject, with the sports world.
Don’t get me wrong here – what these fellows said certainly raised, if not beat people in the face with, a few red flags. The comments were inarguably ill-advised. Yet, how is it that the players of the sports that Limbaugh and Easterbrook discussed can abuse spouses, be indicted for rape or get caught in drug scandals and still retain their positions?
Many sports journalists probably can’t run 30 feet without breathing hard, or sit at home alternating between writing and flipping back and forth between subsequent months on their Shakira calendar, and they get reprimanded for one ill-advised sentence, while their subject athletes commit felonies and walk? Something about that situation just makes my pancreas ache.
Considering that Boston Herald sports columnist Bob Ryan said on TV that he’d like to smack Jason Kidd’s wife Joumana and only received a four-week suspension, it seems outrageous that Rush and the TMQ faced the terminal punishments that they did. Limbaugh has always been known as a controversial hothead, and his supposedly racist comment strikes me as no more inflammatory than anything he’s said in the past. Similarly, I picked up on Easterbrook’s pervasive religious influence fairly quickly, but regardless, TMQ was the comedic hernia-inducing standard for sports writing, and now, because of one slip, he’s gone.
Both men were captivating and insightful contributors to the athletic world, and issued apologies for their comments. Has political correctness truly escalated to the stratospheric point where these men can’t be forgiven? The athletes Limbaugh and Easterbrook discussed get second chances, and third, and so on exponentially – why shouldn’t they?
Janowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.