You know, I've about had it with sportswriters playing political pundit. First William K. Wolfram, and now William F. Reed at SI.com. (What is it with writers using "William" and a middle initial? On the other hand, where would that leave William F. Buckley, Jr.?) At any rate, in his story about Tubby Smith, the former Kentucky basketball coach (and first ever black basketball coach at Kentucky) who stepped down yesterday to take the job at Minnesota, Reed offered us the standard liberal analysis regarding Smith's long-standing troubles with many of Kentucky's basketball fans:
Of course, some racism also was involved. In the rural areas of the state, where poverty and ignorance have been chronic problems, Smith was never accepted because of his African-American heritage. This is a state, remember, where right-wing religious zealots dominate the debate over flag-burning, prayer in the classroom and same-sex marriage. Thankfully, however, such narrow-mindedness and intolerance no longer represents the majority.
Now, wait just a minute. There's probably little doubt that race played a role in the way people felt about Smith. But to take these three issues - legitimate political issues all - and lump them under the category of "narrow-mindedness" and "intolerance" - is, well, narrow-minded and intolerant. It might even be considered bigoted. Beyond that, it's not only a cartoonish understanding of conservative politics but a broadly charactured portrayal of religious conservatives in general.
Reed’s comments were gratuitous, adding nothing in the way of either news or insight to the story. They were a cheap shot to advance a political agenda in a story that had nothing to do with politics. Certainly Smith’s race played a role, and a historic one at that. But there is nothing in the content of Reed’s story to suggest that opposition to flag-burning, school prayer, and homosexual marriage had anything whatsoever to do with how fans felt about Smith.
Besides which, where does Reed get off, in what is ostensibly a sports story, taking the attitude that we should be thankful that issues such as flag-burning, school prayer and homosexual marriage don't represent the majority opinon? Has he been talking to the folks at the Harris and Zogby polls? Does he really have any idea how the majority of Americans feel about these issues, and why?
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this kind of extra-curricular political commentary at Sports Illustrated. Back in the early 90s, one of their staff writers launched a potshot at the conservative student newspaper The Dartmouth Review for being racist, without bothering to check that its editor at the time, Kevin Pritchett, was black.
Where it gets interesting is that, when I checked back at si.com to provide the link to this post, I found that the story had been edited. The paragraph, in its entirety, now reads:
Of course, some racism also was involved. In the rural areas of the state, where poverty and ignorance have been chronic problems, Smith was never accepted because of his African-American heritage.
Interesting, huh? Here's the way the story now appears. To get the wording of the paragraph as it originally appeared, I offer a big H/T to Chris at Fifty One Outs, who read the same thing this morning that I did, but was smart enough to post on it right away.
And due credit to either Reed or (more likely) his editors at SI.com for coming to their senses and realizing that his ugly and biased comments had no place in a story, even an opinion piece, about Smith's history at Kentucky.
We've come to expect this kind of banal commentary - mischaracterizations, intellectual laziness, snide comments cloaked as "news" - from the front pages of the MSM. It's one reason why so many people are drive to the escapism of the sports page. Now, increasingly, you're not safe from it there, either. It goes to show, I suppose, that there's no sense in making distinctions when it comes to the MSM. Birds of a feather stick together.