Well, Rush Limbaugh’s at it again. I didn’t hear the show; I’ll admit right upfront that I haven’t listened to Rush (or any political talk radio, for that matter) for nearly ten years. But here’s what he said.
There is a cultural problem in the NFL that has resulted in a total lack of class on the part of professional players… "I love the game of football, but after every sack players are acting like they've won the Super Bowl; they're prancing around with these idiotic dances… "Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.
Now, of course Rush is a polarizing figure. That’s part of his gig, why people listen to him, even the ones who don’t agree with him. Make that “especially” the ones who don’t agree with him, since so many of them have to resort to attacking Limbaugh in order to get any loving. Take William K. Wolfrum over at WorldGolf.com, who had this to say about the whole thing:
Just something to remember from Limbaugh: If you get hooked on pills, can't stay married to save your life, and like to pump your penis full of Viagra prior to trips to the Dominican Republic, you're cool. Wear a doo rag and taunt opponents during a game of professional football, well, you're representing a gang and are part of the decay of modern society.
Yeah, right. First of all, if you can figure out what any of this has to do with the central issue, you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din.
It’s not only Wilfrum, of course. Tony Kornhiser and Mike Wilbon of ESPN’s PTI pulled out the race card yesterday in their 15-second discussion. Rush was obviously in error. So obvious to them, in fact, that it reminded me of Pauline Kael’s famous (and possibly apocryphal) remark expressing surprise at Nixon’s 1972 win because “nobody I know voted for him.” It’s easier to dismiss the hard question that Limbaugh implicitly raises with a matter-of-fact smirk than to ask if there’s really anything to it. But what can you expect from a show that replaces insight with soundbites? Anyway, they’re both part of the MSM, so what do you expect?
And there’s Mike Freeman at CBS Sportsline, who says, “Please, Rush Limbaugh, do not let any discussion of sports ever leave your lips again. Each time you do, you sound like a moron.” Tell you what, Mike – if you make the same deal about politics, I’m all for it. Freeman says that nobody equated (the white) Mark Gastineau’s 1980s “sack dance” with the end of civilization. Of course, a lot of people did think it was the beginning of crassness on the gridiron, but perhaps Freeman’s just a young pup, too wet behind the ears to remember back that far.
(Note to all you guys: it isn’t really that hard to talk about sports for a living. Quit acting as if you’ve been gifted with some special insight the rest of us don’t have.)
I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (First of all, I don’t get what any of this has to do with golf.) But, as I get older, there are apparently a lot of things I don’t get anymore. And yet, it used to be that the reason for having a discussion was to offer an opinion with the goal of converting others to your point of view, or at least for them to respect that opinion.
Nowadays has devolved into a verbal boxing match, with each side trying to score points by drawing blood, not even trying to persuade others, mindless of the damage their discourse is doing. Political punditry is one of those “don’t-try-this-at-home” things, where it’s extremely difficult to sound informed but really easy to sound stupid.
But I continue to be intrigued by this whole issue. Why is it that people seem so eager to jump to such juvenile snarkiness at the first opportunity? They are cruel with an almost unrestrained glee, pausing only to sit back in self-satisfaction and contemplate the blood their words have drawn.
I suppose it’s part of human nature to show off, but I really don’t know why they feel it’s so necessary to do it outside their area of expertise. Maybe writing about things like golf isn’t “important” enough for them – they have to prove something to their readers, and perhaps even themselves, that they can be “profound” about the “vital issues of the day.”
But what they don’t get – and they really don’t seem to get it, the gentle lummoxes – is that most of the time people don’t want to hear them spout off about politics. Whether you’re a movie star, an athlete, what have you – even an Internet golf columnist – people get pissed off when you start pontificating like that, flaunting your ideology for one and all to see. It’s not just that they have to spout off on the issues, it’s that they seem to go out of their way to use the most inflammatory, personally crude language available, guaranteed to irritate as many people as they possibly can. As hard as it may be for them to believe, the public doesn’t really want to hear Tom Cruise talk about post-partum depression, or Barbra Streisand talk about politics, or Rosie O’Donnell talk about anything.
And so these “pundits” usually wind up doing themselves and their causes far more harm than good. As I said earlier, I haven’t listened to Limbaugh in years. It’s not so much that I disagree with his POV, it’s just that he’s been saying the same thing for year after year. Nothing changes with Rush; a show from 1992 might be interchangeable from yesterday’s program, save changing a few names here and there. And most of the time he’s preaching to the choir, one I left a long time ago.
But you read something from guys like Wolfrum and suddenly your sense of justice gets riled up and you find yourself actively taking Rush’s side. This isn’t anything new; liberals seem to have a unique gift for taking the infamous and turning them into underdogs by not knowing when to stop piling on. Remember Ollie North, anyone? (To be honest, the Republicans certainly accomplished the same thing with Bill Clinton by releasing that videotape of his testimony. Like a good horror movie, the unseen is usually far more ominous and frightening than the seen. But we don’t live in a subtle age anymore.)
Not only do you not win your readers over to your particular ideological POV, you wind up antagonizing them so that even when you do write in your “specialty,” you don’t have any credibility. Again, why would you want to do that? I don’t much like it when someone like Chris Matthews displays his ignorance, but at least that’s what he’s paid to do. I guess someone like Wolfrum throws it in for free.
So what gives? Well, the only thing I can think of is that William K. Wolfrum needed readers, and he figured the best way to get them was to attack someone bigger and stronger than he was, and get people to notice him that way. No surprise, I guess – Al Franken does the same thing. (Birds of a feather, eh?) But it works! Last night I Googled “Rush Limbaugh football gangs,” and Wolfrum popped up as number three. Well, good for him; he’d probably have to take even more potent drugs than Limbaugh in order to get that high some other way.
You know, the sad thing about this is that we wind up exchanging so many insults with each other that we don’t even start to ask the question as to whether or not there’s any merit in what Rush says.
Well, let’s see. Here’s a story that popped up this week. The lede: "Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph was arrested early Monday and charged with possession of marijuana, the ninth Cincinnati player arrested in the last nine months."
Nine players from one team in nine months: at that rate, Cincy could have the home-field advantage in the next remake of The Longest Yard.
I don’t know what kind of world Wolfrum and his buddies live in, but for a lot of ordinary people that kind of behavior sounds a lot like criminal activity. It’s the kind of behavior they don’t want to encourage in their kids, the kind that makes them afraid to go out after dark. And don’t think that Cincinnati is the only team with this kind of problem; we had a little issue like that here in Minnesota last year. Something about a bunch of football players and a pleasure boat, I think.
It’s too bad we’re so busy slinging mud that we can’t really talk honestly about the problem. We see the evidence of it every day, wherever we look – the wanton crime in urban areas , the “projects” that almost every big city has, the establishment of an almost permanent underclass when it’s so unnecessary.
As someone who works for a nonprofit in an urban area, I see what’s happening out there. I see a lot of young people that want to get out of it, escape it before it’s too late. So many of the odds are against them, but the biggest obstacle to making it isn’t the economy, the government, the “racist” white society that in fact wants desperately to see blacks make it in America. So often it’s their own peer group, a group that fears losing its influence. Where would “spokesmen” like Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton be if they weren’t continually able to stress the “victimization” of blacks in America?. No, it’s not perfect out there. I don’t think anyone looks at these problems through rose-colored glasses. But there’s a sickness out there, and we’d damn well better do something about it before it’s too late.
You know what? Rush Limbaugh is hardly the first person to suggest a comparison between athletes and criminals. How many times have you heard someone wonder how many jocks would be in prison if they weren’t on the playing field? Or refer to the NBA and NFL as “work-release programs”? A lot of people are sick of that kind of behavior. Are all these people guilty of race-baiting? Or do they just believe what their eyes tell them?
A lot of people – not just Limbaugh – think the gangs are the key to understanding the whole thing. Gangs like the ones Limbaugh talks about. Get kids away from the gangs and their subculture, they say, and you might have a chance. Traditionally, sports was one of those alternatives – but do we really want kids copying the behavior of thugs like Terrell Owens, Latrell Sprewell and Ron Artest? Do we really want some youth football team deciding that the nickname isn’t the only thing they want to copy from the Bengals?
I have a friend who’s convinced that the ghetto culture – or rather, “culture” – is destroying America. And I don’t mean to suggest by that comment that he’s a racist. In fact, most of the athletes he most admires personally – Walter Payton, Julius Erving, Arthur Ashe, Tiger Woods, many of the 1960s Green Bay Packers – are black. These, and many others, were and are great role models. So what happened? Well, you can make a pretty compelling case that the whole ghetto culture – drugs, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, rampant hedonism, lawlessness, willful ignorance, this whole “disrespect” thing – well, it hasn’t done a whole lot for the fabric of our country, has it? This culture has acted like a virus, infecting everything and everyone with which it comes in contact. Maybe we talk in clichés, but most clichés get that way because they’re true.
No, it’s not really a racial issue. But when whites bring it up, they’re accused of race baiting. When blacks like Bill Cosby take the ghetto culture to task, they’re called “oreos.” Naturally; it’s much easier to engage in namecalling than to provide comments of substance.
But I suppose none of this is as harmful to society as using Viagra, is it?
Now, I’ve said a lot here about civil discourse in America, or the lack of it. Could the same be said of Limbaugh? Presumably, and yet he seldom says anything that’s even remotely as cruel personal as the comments made by so many of his detractors. Furthermore (in a point that, I suspect drives his critics crazy), he’s often able to make his points with style, humor, and passion – trademarks his opponents frequently lack.
This whole question is one I’ve been pondering a great deal lately, especially as it relates to the blogosphere, but in regard to our culture in general. Could it be that the counterculture we’ve talked about has had something to do with the coarsening of America? And what other factors have been in play in this steady deterioration of the civil society? (Granted, coarse expression is nothing new in our political dialogue, but as the ordinary American gains access to wider audiences and easier communication, he seems also to be less willing to contribute restraint, practicality, a necessary set of internal checks-and-balances.)
These are all big issues and fascinating questions, ones that are not at all confined to academics and intellectuals. They can and should be discussed by everyone, and they can produce a lively, civilized debate.
But perhaps it’s asking too much of people like Wolfrum, people who find it much easier to engage in another round of old-fashioned name-calling, people who mistake snarkiness for style, cattiness for profundity, crudity and coarseness for populism. People who are only too eager to throw out words like “hate” with the barest conception of how deep and powerful a word that really is. They’re little men with little dreams, whose only chance at making the big time is to attack others and cut them down to their size. Maybe William K. Wolfrum is a good writer – maybe he even knows something about golf - but I certainly couldn’t tell it from this.