October 02, 2003
The great Limbaugh implosion

I was going to do a rundown on Rush Limbaugh's bad day yesterday, which included his resignation from ESPN and a screaming headline about allegations of drug abuse, but why bother when Eric McErlain's on the case? He's got all you need, in these three posts.

A few of my own thoughts: I do believe what Limbaugh said, in addition to being plain old stupid, was racist. He said that there was in effect a media conspiracy to make Donovan McNabb look good because he's black. By my definition, that's a racist remark. The crux of this remark is not whether or not Donovan McNabb is overrated, it's whether or not McNabb's reputation comes from some media gestalt. Here are his exact words, for reference:

"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL,'' Limbaugh said. "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well ... McNabb got a lot of the credit for the performance of the team that he really didn't deserve.''

What actually shocks me about this is that two decades after guys like Doug Williams and Warren Moon, we're even talking about "black quarterbacks" any more. Something like a dozen starting quarterbacks are black, and many more are on rosters or no longer in the league. Some have done great things, others have been Akili Smith, most are in between. Being a black quarterback is no longer remarkable in the sense that it's no longer unusual. As such, "the media" doesn't pay any attention to that any more because it's not a story any more. Hell, when was the last time you even heard someone call McNabb, or Steve McNair, or Daunte Culpepper, a "black quarterback"? I couldn't tell you.

Look at it this way: If Dontrelle Willis wins the National League Rookie of the Year award over Brandon Webb, whose stats are inarguably better, it will almost surely be due to media hype. But is that hype the result of Willis' race, or is it the result of Willis' big initial splash, his fun-to-watch pitching motion, his outgoing personality, and the fact that he contributed towards a playoff team while Webb is at home? If McNabb really is overrated - and I haven't been keeping up on the Philly papers' coverage of him so far this year, as I suspect Limbaugh hasn't either, so I can't say if this allegation is even true - could it maybe be because of factors other than race?

Here's the thing: It's possible Rush could have been right, in that not only is McNabb overrated but that "the media" gives him a pass on things that they criticize in white quarterbacks. There's only one way to actually make that case, and that's to cite a ton of examples, something Limbaugh wouldn't have had time for in his limited format even if he'd given the matter more than passing thought. The fact that he did bring it up when he was clearly unprepared to back it up is what says to me that he had an axe to grind rather than a point to make.

On a side note, I do think Limbaugh would have weathered this storm had it not been for the out-of-the-blue drug allegations. As noted here, the Sunday NFL Countdown ratings had ticked upwards this season, which usually insulates someone from this kind of criticism. My belief was they'd get an initial boost but would be at normal levels by season's end. I'm almost disappointed that we won't get to see that theory tested.

UPDATE: Via Big Media Matt, I see that NRO's Robert George made the same points as I did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 02, 2003 to Other sports | TrackBack

The best line I've seen (I think it was from the Corner, actually) was "A week ago, McNabb was a quarterback. Now he's a black quarterback."

Posted by: Ted Barlow on October 2, 2003 2:46 PM

Race has always been an issue with how some people view and describe QBs. White QBs are often though of and written about as the drop-back passer type, while black QBs are more often thought about as the mobile athletic QBs. The subtle suggestion has been that black QBs have to rely on "athletic skills" because they aren't smart enough to handle the position.

It's bullshit, but it still happens all the time. As an LSU fan I'll give a recent example. Leading up to the 2001 SEC championship game several writers actually mentioned that Rohan Davey was a dual threat both passing and running the ball. When I read this I knew the writer had only looked at Rohan's headshot in the media guide and relied on his prejudices. Rohan had knee surgery that spring, still carried some extra weight (about 30#) and really wasn't mobile before the injury. He only "ran" when flushed out of the pocket or on QB sneaks. But since Rohan is black, he was expected to be more mobile.

That said, Rush was partly correct. Not about the media and McNabb, but when he mentioned that there are some "social concerns" with regard to black coaches in the NFL, the league's rules on minority hiring practices are irrefutable proof that race very much still matters.

Posted by: Patrick on October 2, 2003 3:42 PM

The sportwriters in Philly don't care if you're black or white or purple. And really, if there is a 'media bias' towards wanted successful black QB stories, then why aren't Kordell Stewart or Shaun King being praised to the skies?

I'd like to see Rush get his fat ass out there in front of Michael Strahan and see how he does...

Posted by: Frankenstein on October 2, 2003 9:52 PM

It almost pains me to defend Rush Limbaugh, but:

Is Alan Berra a racist, too?

I think ESPN was stupid to hire him, I think Limbaugh (by virtue of who he is) was stupid to bring a political angle (much less a racial one) to the show, but the notion that Limbaugh is a racist because of this statement uses somewhat circular logic: "Limbaugh is a racist so of course the comment was racist" and "This comment demonstrates how racist Limbaugh is."

Posted by: R. Alex on October 3, 2003 2:03 PM

I myself wondered what was such a big deal about a black quarterback. I'm by no means a football fan, but I just assumed there was no need to give any boosts to black athletes, because damn, they're certainly not a big oddity anymore.
I heard an NPR commentator say something like, (paraphrased, I'm sure, I don't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up), "Does the media get a little extra something in their christmas bonus because they promote a black quarterback?"
I mean, if the so-called conservatives are the majority (which a lot of people say conservatives are the majority, because it's the "right" (correct) side to be on)... then what does 'the media' gain anyway?
Besides, this whole topic is leaning a lot towards saying that black people can't play football... which I really thought as a society we were past the "black people are inferior in all sorts of ways" myth - considering there are, and have been, many black athletes, and many black people excel in all sorts of things anyway.
So bottom line is - this whole topic is really ridiculous... and I think it's obvious Rush's comments have nothing to do with reality - he was just trying to be controversial and stir the old, tired, crapola up.

Posted by: Chloe on October 5, 2003 3:03 AM