Sunday, April 15, 2007

Athletic compliments as a sign of societal progress? - UPDATED

George Will, always a font of wisdom on all things baseball, writes about the way in which the praise offered to Jackie Robinson 60 years ago was often worse than the scorn:
To appreciate how far the nation has come, propelled by what began 60 years ago today, consider not the invectives that Robinson heard from opponents' dugouts and fans, but the way he had been praised. "Dusky Jack Robinson," as the Los Angeles Times called him, alerting readers to the race of UCLA's four-sport star, ran with a football "like it was a watermelon and the guy who owned it was after him with a shotgun."
I have little doubt that the LA Times writer thought he was being clever at the time. Fast forward to 2007, when Don Imus makes his NHH comment (if it's so bad, I won't type it all the way out) and gets fired. I suspect that Imus meant it as a sort of compliment about how much the Rutgers basketball team kicks ass, but it was really just stupid--plus, I assume it wasn't so much the "NH" but the "H" that got him into trouble. He was trying to get a laugh, and he tried too hard. Personally, I still think total "equality" is a pipe dream, as people will always find ways to assert "their group" over the "other," but still, in this moment, I guess I say bravo.

Now, if we could all just come to an agreement about what is and is not okay to say in public, maybe we'll see some actual progress. Here is my first proposal--if someone says something stupid and/or offensive, the best way to deal with it is with more speech, not just by shutting that person up (that's pretty much a cliche by now). Otherwise, you end up with people like Ann Coul-notgonnatypeoutherwholenamesoshewon'tgetgooglehitsthankstome, who just say shit to be shocking. If she ever had to defend even one comment she has made in her career, well, it would be fun to watch.

See, here's the thing: in 1947, someone praised Jackie Robinson in an altogether insulting manner, and there's no indication that anyone much raised a stink at all. In 2007, someone does something similar (albeit less directly offensive overall, IMHO) and almost immediately gets fired. I'm not sure I'd call that real progress on the issue.

UPDATE - Read this.

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