A Different World

Rush Limbaugh should have stayed with ESPN

Published in The Sun News on Oct. 12, 2003

While refusing to defend Rush Limbaugh ...

I have to admit I have an affinity for black success.

I've guiltily enjoyed watching Serena and Venus Williams whip up on other tennis players. Guiltily because I've noticed my thoughts, on occasion, drift into near hatred of their opponents. Particularly the white players.

Last year, I prayed the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tennessee Titans would advance to the Super Bowl. Because both were guided by black quarterbacks.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended the opening of St. James High School and walked away prideful, after having chatted with the black principal and black basketball coach.

In other words, I, like the rest of the country, have a ways to go to get past this unhealthy reliance on race.

As much as I struggle against those urges, I'd be a hypocrite for saying Limbaugh's recent comments had no ring of truth. As shortsighted as they were.

``I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well,'' Limbaugh said on a recent episode of NFL sunday Countdown, an ESPN football analysis show.

``There is a little hope invested in [Donovan] McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team,'' he said.

Limbaugh resigned after a media firestorm ensued.

The comments were shortsighted because any reasonable examination of McNabb's career would unveil that he's been one of the most successful quarterbacks in recent years. Shortsighted because they came from the same mouth that is quick to berate anyone on his radio show for injecting race into conversations.

Shortsighted because the issue of black quarterbacks being denied opportunities has long been dead - dismissed or remedied, depending on one's view.

But here's what's worse:

It's another example of how our struggle toward racial tolerance is being hijacked by those invested in keeping us from getting there. And I'm not only talking about Limbaugh.

Though he took the coward's way out after the controversy, he was brave enough to speak about race on national TV.

The real tragedy here is that democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and the Rev. Al Sharpton used it to score political points by calling for ESPN to fire Limbaugh - at the expense of a deeper and richer dialogue.

The officials of ESPN may be the biggest offenders, considering they hired him to make such provocative statements but accepted his resignation without a fuss.

``We regret the circumstances surrounding this,'' said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. ``We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously.''

Hogwash. It wasn't appropriate for a man to be run out on a rail because of some benign comments.

Challenge him? Yes. Debate the merits of his arguments? Yes. Make him back up his beliefs? Yes. Expose the myriad holes in his thinking? Yes.

But get rid of him because he made people uncomfortable? For speaking the understood but unspoken? For being a white man talking about black men?

Dusty Baker, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, earlier this year said things even more outrageous than Limbaugh.

He said black people can handle the heat better than white players and that ability was the reason Africans were enslaved in this country.

Never mind that he'll have a hard time backing up with facts such a claim. Never mind that Africans were stolen because of their expertise in certain agricultural endeavors and out of sheer bigotry, hatred and greed.

Baker, too, went through a firestorm. But he wasn't fired, didn't resign and wasn't suspended. That made sense.

Why? Because he's black, a Teflon skin tone that apparently can invite discrimination but also protect one from insensitive comments. I wonder if Limbaugh now longs for dark skin?

But the more important point is this:

Banishing people for unwise racial comments won't get us closer to our ideal. It only hampers our progress.