Well, at least ESPN got their money's worth.
We're barely four weeks into the NFL season, and already the Disney-owned cable sports channel's investment in porcine windbag Rush Limbaugh is paying dividends in the form of free publicity--and lots of it.
Limbaugh's claim during the Sept. 28 broadcast of "Sunday NFL Countdown" that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because of a shadowy conspiracy among the media to promote an African-American quarterback has already become fodder for sports-talk radio and unknown dozens of sports columnists nationwide.
Never mind that the same sports media he speaks of has savaged other black QBs like Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch. (Breaking news--as I'm writing this and watching game 1 of the division series between Your Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox, ESPN has just announced that Limbaugh has resigned from the show. But let's not let facts get in the way of a good rant, shall we?)
Never mind that Limbaugh was silent about similarly "overrated" quarterbacks like Brad Johnson (perhaps the greatest recipient ever in the Super Bowl Sweepstakes, thanks to a truly awe-inspiring Tampa Bay defense). Quite frankly, nothing Limbaugh said has surprised me at all. I've known for years that this obnoxious, braying jackass was also a racist, sexist, and pretty much the poster boy for closet xenophobes everywhere.
This is the man who said in 1994, "If you want to know what America used to be--and a lot of people wish it still were--then you listen to Strom Thurmond," referring to the thankfully-dead hatemonger who once ran for president on a platform of "segregation forever."
This is a man who said in 1990, "Have you ever noticed how all newspaper composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?"
This is a man who told a radio caller, who said black people need to be heard, that "they are 12 percent of the population. Who the hell cares?"
So nobody, least of all the suits at Disney, should have been the least bit surprised when, left to his own devices, Limbaugh spewed ignorant invective all over the set Sunday. Let's go to (a transcript of) the videotape:
"I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
I'll leave discussions of McNabb's relative worth to the aforementioned call-in hacks and "jake reporters," to borrow a phrase from Rich Gannon. The real outrage here is not that Rush said something so stupid and racist--hell, he's made a career out of saying, stupid, racist things, and judging by the radio ratings, there are a whole lot of people in this country who agree with him. No, my anger here is directed squarely at ESPN--a "sports" network so desperate for ratings growth that they recently aired a one-hour special about Anna Kournikova's swimsuit calendar shoot (I didn't watch--more than
once, anyway). If you tune in right now, you may catch shows like "Playmakers," "Around the Horn," or "Pardon the Interruption," which offer nothing except solid proof that no one at ESPN learned anything from the way MTV so destroyed its network with endless episodes of "Cribs" and "The Real World" (sorry, Malik) that they had to start a new network and advertise that it just played music videos--what a radical idea!
So ESPN hired a congenital liar like Limbaugh, a man whose experience with football pretty much starts and ends with the "knee injury" he claims to have sustained during a high school game and that kept him as far away from Vietnam as humanly possible. Proving that he can't even tell the truth about himself, Limbaugh later claimed that his 4-F status in the draft was because of a pilonidal cyst, which is basically a disgusting, hairy boil on his ass. (Sorry for sneaking in that horrifying mental image there.) They can't possibly make the argument that there weren't enough experienced football commentators available--outside of the usual cast of former players and coaches always clamoring for some of that TV money, the network had just fired former Green Bay Packer Sterling Sharpe, a thoughtful, insightful
They can't make the argument that they were "experimenting" with the idea of bringing in an outsider, an Everyman, to provide a fresh perspective on the game--their sister company ABC's experiment with Dennis Miller will go down as one of the most embarrassing moments in the storied history of Monday Night Football. To paraphrase a much better writer than myself, King Kaufman of salon.com, if I wanted to hear an uninformed idiot's perspective on the game, I can turn to either side of the couch and ask one of my friends.
So we are left with this--ESPN hired this one-man Klan precisely because they knew what a polarizing figure he is. They knew that his "dittoheads," so named because they parrot everything Limbaugh says without bothering to mentally process it, will tune in to see their man. They knew that football fans will continue to tune in, because, what, we're gonna go to church instead? Hell, they were probably banking that even people like me, who froth at the mouth at the mention of Limbaugh's name, would tune in, looking for more reasons to hate him (like I needed more).
Limbaugh's hiring was a crude, craven act by a company that (surprise, surprise) puts the scrambling, scrounging, desperate search for ratings and money above everything else. They gave a platform to a man they knew was a liar and a racist, and now they'll expect us to believe that they are shocked, that they feel terrible about what was said, and that they meant no offense to McNabb or the millions of African-Americans whose achievements are routinely dismissed by racist conservatives like Limbaugh as either the gifts of affirmative action or failures masked by a crusading liberal media.
They'll appear contrite in front of the cameras, telling us with glum faces what a disappointing affair this has been, and how Limbaugh's statements don't speak for ESPN, or Disney, and how much they value diversity. And then they'll go back behind closed doors and high-five each other when the ratings reports come in.