Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy...

A fella at work told me about it. It was on the radio on my way home. The evening TV news was all over it (immediately before, I'd seen a commercial for Lysol that used the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" as its jingle). I wasn't surprised, but certainly I was dismayed.

So pick your poison. It's been a newsy week. Now I'll tell you what I think.

I always thought Don Imus (left) was a weirdo. The kind of media weirdo about whom I couldn't care less. It's been ages since I saw him on TV. I guess he's been around forever, but I found his gab impenetrable. He's an oddball, and I don't give a hoot. He's sort of a Howard Stern in a cowboy hat. He likes to say "shocking' things, sort of like radio jocks used to do in the '80s when they were first trying to stir up the local airwaves. Every big town had one. So the fact that Imus said "provocative" things about the Rutgers University ladies basketball team is no surprise. But I don't know why it's any different as a display of poor taste than what Stern did (or does; I haven't listened to Stern in ages; I outgrew him fast—I hope you did too).

Anyway: Imus. (Sigh.) Now another racial incident besets us all. I'm sure the Rutgers gals are great. But let's put this in perspective. Imus is an attention-hungry radio jock who's made his living being "edgy." That's his thing. He doesn't ever necessarily believe what he says. He just says stuff to be outrageous. Or possibly to get a laugh. Hence, Rutgers female basketball players become "skanky ho's," or whatever the heck he said. Instant cause celebre. And an opportunity for African American posturing and outrage.

I'm not saying Imus shouldn't have been canned. Frankly, that should have happened years ago on the grounds that he's so unpleasant to listen to. But I almost wonder if it wouldn't have been better to ignore him. To exercise some good taste. To pretend that he doesn't even exist.

Let's face it, Don Imus does not represent anyone. He was trying to reference the argot of black rappers and 'hood culture, along the way to making a bad joke. He might've called the Notre Dame basketball team a bunch of lazy drunken Irishmen. But, of course, that wouldn't have gotten any attention. It certainly wouldn't have gotten him fired. So media Rule #1 is still in place: You can't go after Jews or blacks, even in the pursuit of satire, without a firestorm ensuing. You'll probably get fired. I guess I'm here to say that the only reason this is a big deal is because we have allowed it to become one.

I'll look on the brightest side of the affair: Maybe Imus will go away. But for the record, I wasn't outraged, I didn't take what he said seriously, and I think the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot.

Now that the Duke University men's lacrosse team has been exonerated from the big rape charge, we once again are forced to reflect on our country's race issues. But maybe moreso we should re-focus on the importance of the law, of the old shibboleth that a man (or a lacrosse player) is innocent until proven guilty. Anyone who read about that case from the get-go had to surmise that something was fishy. At the least, it demanded that patience precede liberal outrage.

Maybe what we learned ultimately was a harder lesson: that the state of male-female relations is even worse than that of black-white relations. It's 2007, and guys are still hiring strippers. That they were white guys hiring black strippers down in Durham certainly does add a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings cast to the incident. It's nothing to be proud of; apparently, it's what guys do. But that doesn't get the prosecutor, Mike Nifong, off the hook, for his knee-jerk, lowest-common-denominator approach to things. Once again, the pressure to exercise liberal outrage superseded a more reasonable, wait-and-see attitude, which you'd think an officer of the law would ascribe to.

How sad: The Dukies lose their season, reputations are tarnished, a lot of misleading racial posturing holds sway for months and months, and, yet again, the law is the loser.

Which brings us to Adam ("Pacman") Jones, who is—Was? Is?—one of the most physically gifted football players in the National Football League. He was erratic his rookie year, in 2005. He looked a little spaced out on-field. Then last year, as the Tennessee Titans improved markedly, and were suddenly this exciting team with huge upside young talent, Pacman looked at least like Batman to Vince Young's Superman. Pacman Jones is a great punt returner; also a cornerback who has rapidly learned how to play well one of the toughest positions on the football field. I'm not sure he does any of that with his brains. But he's got what great athletes usually have: instinct, and a great motor.

Now, thanks to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Pacman sits for the 2007 season. At the very least for 10 games. Don't bother coming back, Pac. By Game 11, the Titans might suck pretty bad. They still don't have a decent wide receiver to catch Young's passes. And the running game is a big question mark. Why risk injury to help a 4-6 team become 6-10?

I guess I'm in the minority. It's well documented at Sports Media America that I heartily concur that Pacman is a screw-up. I don't know what's in that guy's head. He's immature. Emotionally unsophisticated. Strange. Speaks an alien language to most of us. And his friends—or whatever—are boyz from the 'hood who express themselves by way of all that is glorified in rap and hip-hop: drugs, guns, strip clubs, posses, ho's, etc.

Pacman Jones is a punk. With the attitude of a thug. And based on the evidence we have, he's a complete pain in the ass to his employers on the PR front. Yet he hasn't been convicted of anything yet. Which must raise some questions in the legal arena.

For example, say you—yeah, I'm talking to you—held a very nice job in whatever field. You were tremendous at what you did, and everyone appreciated your work. Is who you hang out with away from the office anybody's business but your own? Is what you do, even the marginally legal, anybody's business but your own? Now, let's say you were at a public event and some weird stuff went down, and a person was shot. If you did not pull the trigger, what are you responsible for in such a situation? If it was you involved in a public scrape, one not splashed across the front page of a newspaper or leading the charge at Yahoo news, would you be suspended from your job, effective immediately, lose all your pay, without any due process?

I worked in a bakery once. There were a few guys there that hung out at strip clubs. They'd never have lost their jobs over that. I mean, you can't lose your job over that, can you? Is Pacman the first athlete to go to a strip club? We know he's not the first to consort with druggies. Or carry a gun.

He's being banned from play due to "violations of the league's personal conduct policy." Hmmm... Why is it in Hollywood, you can be an actor and be involved with all sorts of marginal and/or unsavory stuff, yet you can still get a job acting? I mean, no one has to hire you, but you can still work if someone will let you. If you're Lindsay Lohan, they call it buzz. If you're Pacman, they call it a "conduct violation."

Understand: I'm not excusing the guy. But if he's not been convicted of anything, then he's in violation of...what? Does the NFL policy delineate the specific behavioral transgressions whereby you lose your job? How many merit badges shy of being a Boy Scout do you have to be to be considered outside the conduct policy?

If I were Pacman, I'd lawyer up. I'd attempt to get this all clarified to the max through legal channels, before walking away from the game and losing $1.2 million in salary. Apparently his own union backed the commish's decision. So, thankfully, I guess we can't call this a racial issue. But it's a pretty slippery slope when the union that represents Jones—and presumably takes his dues money—doesn't stick up for him. The point isn't that he necessarily deserves protection, it's that as a union member he must be entitled to protection. At the very least, the union should endorse his ability to seek independent legal recourse to the penalty imposed on him. Within the law, Pacman is still an innocent man. Is it fair that his livelihood be taken away from him before any legal judgments have been rendered against his actions?

I see this move as Goodell's power play. He probably thinks he's Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, taking down the Chicago Black Sox in 1919. Sorry, Rog, it's not the same thing.

I don't believe in perfection. People screw up. Pacman Jones is an immature young man who makes bad choices. But, as of this writing—and as of the Goodell decision—he's still innocent in the eyes of the law. If the season begins and ends with Pacman remaining unscathed legally, then what kind of precedent has been set, and what kind of power has the National Football League Players Association ceded to the commissioner?

The slippery slopes are the ones that move you downhill fast; it's often almost nigh impossible to find your way back up them. I guess in the age of Bush-like fiat, everybody's got to be a saint. Or else Homeland Security comes after you. Goodell didn't have to do what he did. Not now. He did it to show that he was the new big kid on the block. What it was not was a blow for individual rights. And someday, NFLPA might regret their role in the whole thing.

For the short term, it certainly shifts the Titans' strategy in the upcoming NFL draft. Now they need a cornerback in addition to everything else. Maybe they'll find one who runs a 4.3 40—and has a halo around his head.

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