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To All the PC Police in Cry Me a River

By Bill Peterson · November 8th, 2006 · Sports
Jerry Dowling

At a time when every sports journalist or commentator who doesn't sound like Grandma suffers termination or suspension for the most casual remarks, WLW-AM fired Andy Furman last week. The sketchy details make almost no sense in view of the Big One's checkered history of racial commentary, but they add up to a rather curious summation -- that it's in bounds for the station to say almost anything about an African American except that he's a "racist."

By at least one conjecture, WLW's parent company, Clear Channel out of San Antonio, influenced the firing because the possibility of a lawsuit by Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh would complicate a sale of the company. Evidently, the receiver would sue WLW because Furman reportedly called him a "racist" and accused him of calling him a punk ass white boy. Houshmandzadeh reportedly denied making the remark.

One strains to imagine a more ridiculous scenario than a defamation suit over being called a "racist." Ridiculous, and very dangerous. Think of the scary New World opening up for African Americans -- and indeed all minorities -- the moment a plaintiff collects damages for being called a "racist." Thus would be played the race card for nearly the last time.

Call someone a racist, and he'll sue. If he collects damages, you'll pay. If, in fact, Houshmandzadeh is considering a suit, he might want to think again.

While racism remains a scourge on American life, reckless accusations of racism are merely an annoyance. Not a necessary annoyance, but practically inevitable.

We can't eliminate racism unless we can freely identify it. Sometimes people will be wrong. Perhaps free speakers who unfortunately choose their words would be protected in a society that prohibits charges of racism, but true racists would be every bit as isolated and racism would be even more institutionally protected than it already is.

Furman's firing is merely the latest episode in which the long arm of the thought police has caught sportscasters making remarks deemed offensive.

The Fox network fired Steve Lyons from its baseball telecasts during the American League playoffs for reported remarks that would be considered anti-Hispanic only by the hyper-sensitive who spy racism in every breath or the insensible who believe Hispanics are pickpockets and don't want anyone to know that.

During Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Lou Piniella compared Oakland shortstop Marco Scutaro's unlikely production to finding a "wallet on Friday." When Piniella mentioned that Oakland's Frank Thomas was "frio" (Spanish for "cold") and needed to get "en fuego" (Spanish for "hot"), Lyons mentioned that Piniella was "hablaing Espanol," adding, "I still can't find my wallet." Later, Lyons added, "I don't understand him and I don't want to sit too close to him now."

Fox relieved Lyons of his duties after the game. He said later that his comments weren't racially motivated, and they certainly didn't have to be. After all, they might have been motivated by stupidity or a boyish sense of humor without the slightest contribution from racial rancor.

If anything, Lyons' remarks were tasteless and self-effacing, if they were even sensible -- but they're certainly not hostile.

Arguably, it's more racist for Fox to fire Lyons over those remarks than for Lyons to make them, for one would almost have to be a racist to think the remarks were racially motivated. One shouldn't endorse Lyons' sense of humor, as his remarks are often unfortunate, but his remarks are racially insensitive only to ears that are racially hypersensitive.

As hypersensitivity so often is inherently reflexive and defensive, it's hard to miss that the company behind the firing is Fox, the wonderful people who give us Fox News Channel, one mouthpiece among many for social policies that hide an agenda of white hegemony behind skillfully coded language.

Actual racial or ethnic insensitivity is beside the point. It's almost like WLW firing Andy Furman in that it's all about perception and business expedience. If principles of racial and ethnic equality actually mattered to Fox or WLW, their higher-ups would run much different broadcasts.

A college football commentator, Brian Kinchen, served a suspension from ESPNU last weekend because he made some remarks about how receivers should catch the ball with their hands because they're "tender" and can "caress" the ball. He then paused and said, "That's kind of gay, but hey..."

Such a terrible remark to make about gays, that they're tender and sensuous. Of course, to say those qualities are "kind of gay" is to say nothing bad about gays or those qualities.

Saying it's insensitive to associate those qualities with gays certainly isn't to say there's something wrong with those qualities. Perhaps it means there's something wrong with gay. But hey.

Political correctness turned up in the last 20 years as an ethic for talking politely about people of varying ethnicities and orientations. The respectable intuition assumed that changing the way people talk about each other will change the way they think about and treat each other.

All this time later, though, political correctness from the left has degenerated into the same blunt instrument as political correctness from the right. Make a disparaging remark about Jesus or the war, and the conservative PC police are around your throat, questioning your patriotism, integrity and moral goodness. Make a remark involving gays or minorities that's offensive only in someone's wildest dreams, and progressive PC police are around your throat, casting aspersions on your humanity, intelligence and moral goodness.

Many who complain the loudest about the PC police are right-wingers disparaging left-wing PC, being too dense to realize they enforce their own PC with every bit as much virulence and as little sense of proportion. To all the PC police -- right or left, of whatever race, religion, creed, sex, political view or sexual orientation -- please accept this message: Cry me a river, asshole.

It is to be hoped that was encompassing enough to make no specific group feel unduly targeted for denunciation.



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