Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Football Blues: I'm having trouble getting into football season. Part of the reason that I got caught up in the utterly engrossing baseball League Championship Series. Even without the Red Sox or Cubs, the World series was pretty good. Another reason is all the football news this year has been essentially political.

The biggest story so far has been Rush Limbaugh, on ESPN Game Day, claiming that Donovan McNabb is overrated and is essentially graded on a curve because he is black. Donovan McNabb is almost certainly overrated (he is about as good a quarterback as Brad Johnson of the Buccaneers, who is in the top five on nobody's list). On the other hand Titans quarterback, Steve McNair, who is black, is almost certainly underrated (should probably be on the top of everyone's list). That would suggest race is not a key in ratings, but what Limbaugh said was not implausible. Everyone went wacky over it and accusations of racism were proffered which were generally based on Limbaugh's track record. I wouldn’t know as I've never listened to Limbaugh, but examined on their face, the reaction to his comments was grossly overheated. He resigns from, or possibly is sacked by ESPN, which originally hired him to add an edge to their show. Gutsy.

Next came Warren Sapp behaving like a boor –- taunting opposing players during warm-ups, intimidating referees, etc. Sapp is an ass, for which he is rewarded through the standard mechanisms of celebrity, but the NFL is brutally strict about everything from violent behavior to dress codes, and so hit Sapp with a hefty 50K fine (nothing that would disrupt his lifestyle, but still...). Sapp responded by comparing life in the NFL to slavery – obviously he meant that odd form of slavery that involves fame, fortune, and glory beyond most people's dreams. OK, Warren – whatever. But naturally, we had to have a big to-do about his comment which dominated sports news for much longer than it should have.

The worst came when my favorite football columnist, Gregg Easterbrook aka Tuesday Morning Quarterback, got fired from ESPN. Easterbrook writes on innumerable topics besides football and has published a number of books on everything from religion to technology. In one of his non-sporting venues, specifically the New Republic magazine, Easterbrook published a review of the new Tarantino movie Kill Bill which he trashed as ultra-violent in these terms:
Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

A heartfelt apology followed almost instantly but this quickly swept the world as a horrible piece of anti-Semitism – the old money-grubbing Jews stereotype. Frankly, I don’t see it. He's criticising in the producers of Kill Bill for being insensitive to violence and that, as Jews, they should know better. That's silly, of course, they shouldn’t know better any more than anyone else and Easterbrook is certainly employing a stereotype (what might be considered a politically correct stereotype) but it's hardly a virulent piece of Jew-baiting. But one person behind Kill Bill is Michael Eisner, who happens to be behind Disney, which happens to be behind ESPN, which is where Easterbrook published Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Bottom line: ESPN drops TMQ and, like a revisionist historian, wipes out all evidence that it ever existed from its archives and I am left with one less minor escape every Tuesday afternoon. Here's a third-party summary of the situation. Whatever happened to handling things gently, outside the spotlight, or just taking a deep breath and counting to ten before you do anything stupid?

This one, at least, may have a happy ending. The delightful site I just found called Football Outsiders, where they try to track football as statistically as has been done since forever in baseball, decided to run a temporary TMQ contest to see who could write the best fake Tuesday Morning Quarterback column. In a letter from Easterbrook, we see that he is actually preparing an entry himself and plans to find a new venue for TMQ. Mazel Tov!

If we can get back to football now, I may get interested again.