Rush Limbaugh has quit ESPN over the flap caused by his controversial statements Sunday about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. There’s been a lot of talk this season about why the Eagles, who played in the NFC championship game last season (that’s one game away from the Super Bowl) lost their first two games this year quite badly. A lot of speculation has centered around the abilities of McNabb and if he’s really the great quarterback that’s long been held to be. Rush stirred the pot by saying:
bq. “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.”
A lot of people felt that this statement was both racist and wrong, and so Rush was forced to resign.
The questions, of course, are:
# Was the statement racist?
# Is McNabb overrated?
# Has McNabb’s race advanced his career?
# Should Rush have resigned?
Let’s start with queston #1. Was this a racist statement? Limbaugh’s co-hosts (two of whom are black) didn’t call him on what he said, and one, Chris Berman, has stated that “[a]s cut and dry as it seems in print, I didn’t think so when it went by my ears.” So, it’s possible that this is a non-racist opinion on an issue involving race.
To evaluate this option, we need to know more about the person who said it. Well, in this case, we know all we need to about Rush. A spokesman for the new Right, he’s often talked about issues of race and specifically of the victimization of whites by Affirmative Action. His record is clear. Racist men make racist statements.
#1: Yes, it was a racist statement.
Is McNabb overrated? That’s a hard question. Last season, he led his team to the NFC championship, and he’s been in the Pro Bowl for both of the last two years. These are pretty good signs of a competent, talented quarterback; why then, tree games into the season, has he played eight thoroughly awful quarters and only four fine ones?
Some will blame McNabb, and a lot of hay has been made from the changes in his form from this season to the last. Apparently he’s both failing to progress and improve in general and he’s overthinking his play this year. It’s clear he’s not being the player he can be, but the player he could be was certainly one of the best in the NFL ever.
McNabb also has a weak supporting class. The Eagles’ running game has disappeared and the team does not exactly have a stellar corps of receivers; a quarterback can’t win without anybody to give the ball to.
Where does this leave us? #2: McNabb may not be brilliant, but he’s at least an average quarterback, and probably well above average.
Has his career been advanced by the color of his skin? Well, in the ’80s, there weren’t many black quarterbacks. But great players like Super Bowl-winner and MVP Doug Williams, Warren Moon and the Eagles’ own megastar Randall Cunningham became big NFL stars and showed that African-Americans can successfully quarterback teams (this ignores previous black quarterbacks on the Broncos, etc., who were successful but appear to have been one-offs).
Since the ’80s, there have been a lot of African-American quarterbacks in the NFL: The Eagles, Vikings, Titans, Buccaneers, Panthers, Ravens, Bengals, Cardinals, Jets, Saints and Cowboys have all had black starting quarterbacks in the last five years. The position appears to be fully integrated.
Of course, McNabb has been heavily promoted, to an extent that even Super Bowl quarterback Steve McNair of the Titans hasn’t. Has he been in ads because he’s black? Sure, I imagine that he’s been selected for certain campaigns aimed at certain demographics, just like every actor in every ad is picked because they connect with the target audience of the ad. But has he become a starting quarterback because he was black? Was he drafted high because he was black? No, he was drafted high because of a stellar college career at Syracuse. He started because the Eagles, well, had no other choice. Note that, say, Jeff Blake hasn’t become a Campbell’s Chunky Soup pitchman just because he’s black.
Now, McNabb is a mobile, running quarterback, and it’s important to notice that almost every mobile, running quarterback in the NFL is black. In contrast, the white guys (Carson Palmer, Kurt Warner) are by-and-large drop-back pocket passers. Why is this? I don’t have any good reasons, but I suspect that, at some early level, coaches are treating black and white players differently, *and* cultural influences are driving black and white players to want to play differently. There may be racism in what style of quarterbacking players are taught, but it comes well before the NFL, and probably before college.
So, has McNabb’s race been an advantage to him? #3: No.
We can evaluate Rush’s statement thusly:
# Was the statement racist? Yes
# Is McNabb overrated? He’s at least an average quarterback, probably better.
# Has McNabb’s race advanced his career? No.
Should Rush have resigned? Well, what did Disney think they were getting when they hired him? He’s not particularly knowledgeable about football, and his record on social commentary is well-known. It should have been expected that he’d say something like this. Why fire somebody for performing as you expected they’d perform when you hired them? That’s certainly unethical.
But wait, shouldn’t there be consequences for racist statements? Sure, but it was way too late to apply those consequences to Rush — his racist statements in the past should’ve ensured that ESPN didn’t hire him in the first place. Once Disney made the hire, they made the decision that there wouldn’t be consequences for his past behavior. Why would there be consequences for his identical behavior in the future?
So, should Rush have been fired? No. But he should never have been hired.