Sunday, March 04, 2012


Two news stories this weekend are dominating my thoughts. Both involve people who acted despicably, then got publicly castigated for their actions, and are now apologizing. We should accept their apologies with appreciation, as it always better to admit when you’ve gone too far. Still, it is one thing to accept their apologies, and quite another to consider the matters resolved. In these cases, the actions are hurtful enough that an apology alone doesn’t resolve anything.

The first of the two stories involves one of the most dangerous people in the world. And yes, he’s a very prominent American. If you want to know why our nation’s capital has turned into such a ring of pugilism, where polarization reigns supreme and moderates either leave the city or turn themselves into extremists, look no further than the man I’m talking about. He and his fellow talking heads on the radio have created an environment where liberals are routinely vilified. It is not enough for him to explain why he disagrees with liberals; he has to speak about them like they are beneath contempt. He has to use language soaked in hatred, strip them of any claim to dignity, and whip up his listeners so that on literally every issue imaginable, they will find no common ground with the positions associated with liberalism and the Democratic Party.

The man I am referring to is Rush Limbaugh. And this weekend was an unusual one for Rush not because the nation is talking about his hate mongering, but because this time, he actually apologized. Even Rush seems to realize that he went too far.

The incident involves a previously unknown 30-year old law student named Sandra Fluke. Fluke, who attends the Georgetown Law Center, a Jesuit institution, participated in a Democratic hearing on the Administration’s policy that would require employees to provide free contraception coverage. Georgetown opposes providing that coverage for religious reasons, and Fluke testified in support of the Administration’s policy. In that regard, she placed herself squarely in the mainstream of public opinion. Speaking as a man, I know for a fact that the vast majority of our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters agree with her.

Rush doesn’t, and that’s his prerogative. What is NOT his prerogative is to de-humanize Ms. Fluke in front of millions of listeners, but then again, that is precisely what Rush has done to good people throughout his career. He called her a "slut" and "prostitute” who is asking the American taxpayer to pay her for having sex. He suggested that if we taxpayers are supposed to pay for women to engage in intercourse, they should have to post videos of their sex lives so that the rest of us can watch. And later, Rush suggested that Ms. Fluke is “having so much sex” that she cannot pay for her own contraceptives.

I give the man credit for his imagination. But let’s be candid: he sounds more than a little demented.

In a sense, Ms. Fluke should consider herself lucky. The image of her copulating, which Rush has so graciously provided to the world, is infinitely preferable to the image he once gave us of Parkinson’s Disease sufferer Michael J. Fox. I will never forget the video of Rush mocking Fox by moving his head back and forth, like a fifth grade bully might mock an autistic or effeminate child, or whatever other boy he felt like stripping of his humanity. Rush Limbaugh is, at bottom, a schoolyard bully. And so far, the rest of us have been his enablers. We’re the voyeurs who stand back and watch him trash and destroy his prey. Even if we don’t like what he says or does, we don’t dare do anything about it. In my case, I’ve gone as far as to listen to his show on multiple occasions, for I appreciate the opportunity to gather perspectives different from my own. Now, that will stop. We all must stop supporting this man.

Thankfully, American citizens have the right to spew noxious fumes over the airwaves. I don’t wish to change that. Let Rush have his radio show, and let the most stupid and bigoted Americans continue to listen to him.. But we also live in a nation where sensible people have the right to stand up for civility and sanity, and to engage in practices like boycotts. In this case, it is imperative that we find out which companies are advertising on Rush’s show, and boycott those companies. And as much as I hate even to suggest this, we might want to boycott the radio stations who broadcast his bile. The reason I hate to suggest that is because we need to know what is being said on right-wing radio – we all need to understand the arguments that are being made, whether we agree with them or not. But when it comes to Rush, there we must draw the line. He is just too hateful, too disrespectful, too bigoted … too boorish. In the name of Sandra Fluke, which is now associated with sex and prostitution by millions of Americans, let’s please marginalize Rush Limbaugh. Boycott the bastard’s enablers. Please.

Now, for apology number two.

I must begin by admitting my own association with the bad acts at issue. When I was a boy, I absolutely loved football. I wanted my teams to win at all costs, and if I saw one of them deliver a hit that required an opposing player to be carted off the field, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. Football, I thought, was a contact sport, and injuries were a part of the game. While I absolutely hated to see the players I rooted for get injured, I could care less about the players on the other teams. It was a pathetic attitude, and I won’t try to sugar coat it. You deserve the truth.

Fortunately, I did grow up. And that allowed me to take a more objective vision of the violent side of football and consider its effects on the long-term health of its players. Even though I still love the game, I now advocate whatever reforms are reasonably necessary to make this inherently violent sport as relatively injury free as possible. I realize that “football” and “safe” do not go together, but there is still a lot we can do to minimize the damage caused by this beloved sport. Supposedly, the folks who run the National Football League want to make safety a priority. This weekend, they are truly being put to the test.

The story to which I refer involves the concept of a “bounty.” Reportedly, on multiple NFL teams, players were paid rewards (bounties) for injuring their opponents. The New Orleans Saints, for example, have admitted that they instituted such a system for the past three years, one of which ended in a Super Bowl victory. Under their system, players received money for causing different types of injuries, and the amount of the bounty depended on whether hits resulted in “knockouts” or “cart offs.” A former member of the Washington Redskins acknowledged that his team instituted a similar system. And a prominent former coach of the Indianapolis Colts has alleged that the Tennessee Titans had placed a bounty on any hit that would result in the injury of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. In fact, some NFL observers are now speculating that more teams have a bounty system than don’t. This, my friends, is a serious scandal.

So far, the poster child of Bounty-Gate is the former defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins, Greg Williams. He has publicly apologized for supporting the bounty system, and the talking heads on ESPN are already speculating on just how many games the league will suspend him next year for his conduct. Correct me if I’m wrong, though, but if the scandal is as widespread as it sounds, can we really fix this problem simply by suspending a single assistant coach for a few games (or, as is also being discussed, docking the Saints a few draft picks)? Doesn’t the league have to act in such a way that those who perpetrated this conduct won’t, at the end of the day, feel that it was worth it?

For starters, the league should strip the New Orleans Saints of their championship. It was earned illegitimately. So why does it remain on the books? (I still remember all the cheap shots that team took at the Cardinals’ and Vikings’ quarterbacks during the playoffs; these were hard hits that were made after the plays were over and that were intended purely to injure the other team’s best players. And yes, such shots are effective. But they have nothing to do with football and everything to do with cheating. I laughed at this kind of crap in the movie M*A*S*H, but they do not belong in a legitimate sport.)

Secondly, Greg Williams and other coaches and players whose names are associated with the above conduct shouldn’t be suspended for games, but for years. Otherwise, the penalties will feel like slaps on the wrist.

Finally, as for the penalty of removing draft picks from teams, the league should find out which teams engaged in this conduct and punish ALL teams for which there is compelling evidence of bounty payments, not just one. This is not a New Orleans Saints problem. This is a National Football League problem. And if indeed bounties were the norm, maybe we should add draft picks for those teams that made the decision to lose games rather than implement the offensive “bounty” strategy.

This is too important a matter to be resolved by scapegoating. Football has a violence problem and always will have a violence problem, but there is violence that is inherent in the game and violence that isn’t, and it is time to put an end to the latter, root and branch. This will be a test for the suits who run the league. Are they serious about cleaning up the sport? Or is all their talk about safety just a bunch of P.R.? Thanks to Bounty-Gate, we’re about to find out.


Mary Lois said...

Dan, didn't you mean to say "require EMPLOYERS to provide contraception services"?

Daniel Spiro said...

I'm sure that was a typo

Mary Lois said...

Thought so--but it is a little confusing. It is the area of this controversy that so many misunderstand.