Friday, October 16, 2009

Sports Are Serious

So last Sunday I was thinking: could Chris Berman be a political talking head in this country? And would he be any worse than the natterers on cable news, or the morning shows? I mean, Berman is clearly a silly and shallow blowhard, but that never stopped Tim Russert.

My suspicion, fully borne out this week by l'affaire Limbaugh, is that sports are treated far more seriously in this country than politics are, especially by our media. That a comment on the state of our political press and on our national priorities.

Rush Limbaugh is not serious or stable enough to buy into an NFL team. This is true. (And, to get the NFL's back, they're an association of private businesses, in a business based on publicity, and they have every right to choose partners who will reflect well on them and not create problems or damage their brand. You can't make somebody take a business partner.) However Limabaugh's fundamental lack of stability, seriousness, or basic politeness does not disbar him from discussing public affairs in this country.

Should this be a shock? Please. ESPN has already fired the man, for making divisive and intemperate comments. There's no place for a toxic clown like Limbaugh in the business of big-time sports. So he had to go back to discussing politics. (Where transparent race-baiting is not only permitted, it seems, but entitles the race-baiter to self-righteous counter-attacks on his critics.)

Dennis Miller, similarly, was not knowledgeable or lucid enough for Monday Night Football. So instead he has to talk about politics.

On the other hand, an ESPN personality like Keith Olbermann can make the transition from snarking about box scores in the morning to cable news punditry without seeming in any way less smart, serious or prepared than his rivals. In fact, by comparison he's the smart one. And while he too is a pompous, self-righteous and inflammatory geek (in the original sense, as someone who would bite of a chicken's head to get a moment's attention), he is only nearly as bad in this regard as his competition.

We don't take politics nearly as seriously as we take sports. We do not demand the integrity, the manners or the garden-variety sanity from our political commenters that we insist on from the color guy on the game of the week. And that, eventually, will show up in the box score.

cross-posted at


Patrick said...

Agreed on the larger point of the insanity of sports being held to higher standards than politics.

But I beg to differ on a principle you use to defend Limbaugh being barred:

"(And, to get the NFL's back, they're an association of private businesses, in a business based on publicity, and they have every right to choose partners who will reflect well on them and not create problems or damage their brand. You can't make somebody take a business partner.)"

Oh really. So it is (and was) OK to reject black owners because they might alienate the fan base?

You have just made an argument against a lot of civil rights and equal opportunity laws and efforts in this country.

Doctor Cleveland said...

Actually, I've done nothing of the kind. There are two major problems with your claim, and one inconvenient factual problem.

First, I have no idea why you feel the right to refuse an irresponsible and intemperate business partner is equivalent to the right to discriminate on the basis of race. You'll have to work out the answer to that one yourself.

Being a jackass is not a racial identity. And neither equal opportunity nor affirmative action protects jackasses, troublemakers, or fools. The NFL has always been permitted to vet potential owners on those bases, and they have done it again. The rules didn't change for Limbaugh. And refusing such a partner is by no means applying a discriminatory standard.

Second, (and "Oh really"), I limited my claim to private business owners' freedom to select their own partners. And it's true: neither affirmative action nor equal protection compels anyone to sell a private business stake to anyone. The Sulzburger family cannot be compelled by the government to sell part of their special voting stock in The Times to anyone, for any reason. Dentists can't be compelled to sell part of their business to a partner. Someone who owns a chain of restaurants can't be compelled to sell a 30% stake to anyone.

And surely, no one would embrace affirmative action laws that did that for diversity's sake. Businesses are rightly forbidden from discriminating against employees, or clients, and publicly-traded companies (the ones traded on the stock market) but people are given far more leeway to select their own business partners, because that relationship is open-ended and exposes all partners to potential loss. At most, affirmative action policies have chosen to reward minority-owned companies in public bidding, and therefore given people incentives to take on non-white partners, but those (imperfect and frequently gamed) incentive programs are offered precisely because such partnerships cannot be compelled.

As for black owners in the NFL, Venus and Serena Williams bought a piece of the Dolphins (precisely the kind of minority stake Limbaugh sought) two months ago:

Patrick said...

Drop the specifics for a moment. Drop the hyperbole because you don't have to convince me that Limbaugh is a despicable ass. Agreed.

Just strip away specifics and look at the principles...

This is a case of a business (association)denying an investor an opportunity because he expresses opinions that are sometimes unpopular. All fall under his Constitutional rights and have not been proven to violate the law. (Unlike one of his accusers).

You are advocating for businesses to be able to deny investors simply because they might drive some customers away. It is the same argument a racist business can make for not hiring black employees, for a TV station not to have a black anchor, for baseball teams not having any black players in a white market, for businesses staying away from accused communits in the McCarthy era for fear of losing business, for people not partnering in businesses with Jews for fear of reprisals.

I do recognize there is a difference between a person's race and their behavior. Behavior is a matter of choice. (But so is religion, or any political affiliation, including speaking out for any issue).

I think Rush got what he deserved - actions SHOULD come back to bite you. But the idea that business can collude to deny partial minority ownership of a competing business because he said some unpopular things or has an unpopular belief should not be looked at as a good thing.

Regardless of what side of the poitical fence they are on.

William K Wolfrum said...

Hey, I finally found your blog. Good thing as I'm a fan of your work, good Dr.