Sorry for the hiatus. I am back – it won’t happen again. I promise.
OK. A couple of quick notes. I know it’s old news, but I should make a point to re-post, every few months, what I originally wrote for the Gadflyer about Rush Limbaugh’s short-lived stint at ESPN and his firing after comments he made about Donovan McNabb.
That’s because there are people out there who continue to repeat Limbaugh’s own defense of his comments, which was that he wasn’t making a comment about race, but instead about the media. The latest to do this was 620 the Bull’s Joe Ovious. On Friday morning, in discussing sports commentators getting in hot water recently, Ovious recalled Limbaugh’s remarks and insisted that “what a lot of people don’t remember is that Limbaugh was really talking about the media.” In writing recently about Bobby Knight’s recent “chin-raising” of one of his own players, I noted that many of his media defenders argued that he was being judged unfairly because of his prior record. Of course, everybody gets judged by their prior record. And, when it comes to remarks about race, no one deserves greater scrutiny in light of his prior record than Limbaugh, who has turned resentments of various sorts, including racial resentments, into huge ratings and professional success.
In any event, until sports media folks stop mindlessly repeating Limbaugh’s defense of his comments, I’ll do my small part by continuing to remind everyone why Limbaugh should not be taken at his word:
“Since 'tis the Super
Bowl season, and since Donovan McNabb is quarterbacking one of this year's
entrants, I wanted to re-visit the comments that then-ESPN commentator Rush
Limbaugh made about McNabb in the Fall of 2003. According to Media Matters,
Rush recently fielded a phone call in which he acknowledged that McNabb had had
a great 2004 season, but stood by his comments, made early in the 2003 season.
Here's what Limbaugh said in 2003:
"He's overrated…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…There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
A firestorm erupted after this comment, prompting ESPN to end the short-lived Limbaugh experiment. ESPN's cravenness aside (what did they expect him to do on the program?), the implication of Limbaugh's claim is this: that white quarterbacks have not gotten undue credit for the play of their team's defenses. You know, that unlike Blacks, white men sink or swim on their merits. Is this true with regard to quarterbacks?
Let's start by talking about John Shaffer. Shaffer was the quarterback at Penn State University in 1986 when that school won its second national championship, after upsetting the University of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's night, 1987. Shaffer was lionized (sorry for the pun) for his grit and his winning ways, and it was common to hear people refer to the great won-loss records of his teams going back to the seventh grade. But, here's the dirty little secret about Shaffer: he sucked. Big time. For his college career, he completed fewer than half his passes and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. That's a frankly pathetic record for a quarterback at an elite school surrounded by future NFL players. In the championship game itself, Shaffer threw for 53 yards, a laughably low total. The reason that Penn State won was their defense, which was great all season and intercepted Miami's Heisman trophy winning quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, five times in the championship game. Shaffer, by the way, is white.
How about a couple of other examples? Tom Brady, now deified as the second coming of Joe Montana, won the most valuable player three years ago in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots' first championship. Why? Well, Brady threw for 145 yards in that game. That's one of the lowest totals in Super Bowl history for a winning quarterback, and the second lowest in the last thirty years. True, Brady led the Patriots on a nice game-winning field goal drive in the final minute. But, the real story of the game was the Patriots' defense, which held the high-scoring St. Louis Rams to just 17 points. Brady, by the way, is also white. So is Jim McMahon, a good, tough QB who happened to lead the offense of the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team that had perhaps the most ferocious defense in football history; McMahon got credit as a "winner," of course, and as the heart, soul and leader of that team, though his statistical performances never put him among the NFL's elite quarterbacks. Let me assure you, there are many more examples to choose from.
Here's the point: quarterbacks have always gotten credit even when their performances were mediocre or worse but they happened to play on teams with great defenses.
For guys like Limbaugh, it's not slavery or Jim Crow that constitute among the greatest crimes in American history. No, it's the liberal response to those crimes that really imperils our civilization. From this warped historical perspective, it often follows that ill-informed, frankly cowardly race-baiting is dressed up as a courageous rejection of political correctness. The fact is that McNabb was a good quarterback when Limbaugh made his comments. Actually, as Salon.com's great sports columnist King Kaufman pointed out at the time, according to Football Prospectus, McNabb was the best QB in the NFL in 2002, using a purely statistical analysis that did not consider skin-color. But, the larger issue is that because of the nature of the sport, quarterbacks have often gotten credit for team performances that had little or nothing to do with their own talents. Limbaugh's fantasy quarterback meritocracy, like the larger white meritocracy he's certain existed before 1965 or so, is a canard. The only reason McNabb got singled out for the same treatment that white quarterbacks have always gotten is that he's Black. This isn't a "media" issue, as Limbaugh has maintained. It's a Limbaugh issue.
If you can't decide who to root for on Sunday, you can put that in your pocket.”