Thursday, October 2, 2003

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Well, that didn't take long

Rush Limbaugh has resigned from ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown. A furor erupted over the following remarks he made last Sunday about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb:

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.

Limbaugh's statement today:

My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated. I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret.

I love NFL Sunday Countdown and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it.

Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen.

The statement of George Bodenheimer, President, ESPN and ABC Sports:

We accept his resignation and regret the circumstances surrounding this. We believe that he took the appropriate action to resolve this matter expeditiously.

Five quick thoughts:

1) Limbaugh has a legitimate point about the Eagles defense being underappreciated last year.

2) His point about the media is absurd. There are now a lot of successful black quarterbacks in the NFL -- see Steve McNair, Michael Vick, Aaron Brooks, etc. The media focused on McNabb because he was good (I say this as a New York Giants fan) and looked great playing on TV. They want him to do well in the exact same way that they want Brett Favre to do well -- they like star QBs on winning teams.

3) According to this story:

After the reaction surrounding his remarks started to heat up, Limbaugh was asked to appear on ESPN's SportsCenter on Wednesday night but declined.

Ducking that appearance strikes me as pretty lame.

4) Limbaugh lost me when he confidently predicted New England would beat Buffalo in week 1. [Yeah, but sports guys make dumb-ass predictions every day!--ed. In their first week?]

5) Limbaugh can console himself that he lasted longer than Clayton Cramer did on the Volokh Conspiracy. [Snark--ed. Yeah, but it was good snark.]

UPDATE: This is an excellent opportunity to plus Football Outsiders, a football blog dedicated to taking sabremetrics and applying them to the NFL. If you go to this 2002 page on QB value, you'll see that by their metric of rating quarterbacks, McNabb had a solid if unspectacular season last year -- and a really bad season this year. Sticking to 2002, these stats suggest that McNabb might have been overrated compared to say, New York Giants QB Kerry Collins -- but then again, so were Brett Favre, Drew Bledsoe, Tommy Maddox, and Kelly Holcomb.

Oh, and buried in this otherwise hystrionic King Kaufman piece is an amusing nugget about Howard Dean:

It took a few days, but by Wednesday there was a wave of outrage at Limbaugh's race-baiting. Democratic presidential candidates faxed out their tsk-tsks and demands for Limbaugh's head, including Howard Dean, who hilariously proclaimed, "Rush Limbaugh's comment this week about Philadelphia Jets quarterback Donovan McNabb is unacceptable." The governor really kicked a touchdown with that one.


ANOTHER UPDATE: Allen Barra says that Rush Limbaugh was correct, at least in regard to Allen Barra.

Is it my imagination, or does Slate specialize in publishing mea culpas from liberals who say that conservatives are correct about something -- but only after a liberal result has been achieved?

posted by Dan on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM


How pathetically thin-skinned today's society is! Howard Cosell made an entire career saying controversial stuff; in today's market he would have been shown the door after three "Monday Night Football" broadcasts.

Spoons would disagree with you on the second point (see comments in this post).

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

He is surely right that the NFL and the media are looking for more black coaches, though I don't know about quarterbacks. McNabb is overrated, but I attribute it to East coast bias.

posted by: Reg on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

A couple of thoughts:

1 - It was the type of comment you hear a lot on Limbaugh's show... not a racist comment in any way, but treading on territory where those who don't parse it carefully will hear what they want to hear.

2 - People (conservatives and liberals alike)don't want to think about this stuff on a football show.

3 - Everybody's rationalizing it by saying he was wrong on the facts... as if this were unusual among sports commentators.

posted by: some smartass on the Internet on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

McNabb is defnitely over-rated, but not because of his race. The reason is the media's obsession with quarterbacks who can run. While having a pair of legs is obviously an asset, McNabb makes terrible decisions and sees the field poorly. He doesn't have a bad arm, but neither is he pin point accurate. As Limbaugh points out, the eagles defense carried the team last year, but the media attributed much of their success to McNabb and his running abilities.

posted by: Brendan Green on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Dan: Glad to hear you're a Giants fan. I like yoiur site even more now.

posted by: JT on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

While there is no doubt some fraction of sportwriters out there who may champion McNabb more for his race than any other factor, the hype over him is more based on two factors:

-- McNabb was that rarity in college, a star quarterback from a northeastern university, Syracuse, in this case, which also has a major journalism school that turn out reporters into both the print and broadcast media. McNabb put up 66 points on the University of Miami as a senior, which guarenteed he would receive a lot of favorable press coming out of college;

-- Once in the NFL, McNabb was drafted by the Eagles, who are members of the NFC East, which is by far the most high-profile of all the divisions in the NFL, featuring the main team in New York, Daniel's Giants (mine too), the team that generates the most merchandising sales, the Dallas Cowboys, and the team in the nation's capital, the Washington Redskins.

Any quarterback coming into that division and playing for a team that wins back-to-back titles is going to get hyped due to the media concentration, no matter what color he is. IMHO, Kerry Collins is now over-hyped, too, at least compaired to a Kerry Collins putting up the same numbers for either of his former teams. It's the location, more than any liberal racial attitude, that caused McNabb to be overrated in the media.

posted by: John on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Rush was more susceptible to say something insensitive because of his addiction to painkillers, don't you think?

posted by: ....a moment with Easycure on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Yes and Clinton was always talking about "the children" because he had a love child himself... by the way did you hear the space alien just endorsed Wesley Clark? Read it all in my tabloids...

posted by: HH on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Scooped me again on the space alien, HH, I'll get even.

posted by: Robin Roberts on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Because you have the incredibly good taste to be a Giants fan, I'll accept your premise about McNabb's value last year (worse than Collins, better than Favre, Bledsoe, et al). But I'll note that this doesn't seem to support your contention that the media focused on McNabb not becuase he was black, but, rather, because he was "good" and was a "star" QB on a winning team. Shouldn't the same have applied to Collins, who, according to your stat site, had a BETTER year than McNabb and also was a "star" on a winning team.

I think the correct answer to Rush is that the media pick up certain players as "stars" for various reasons - reasons which may include race but which are more likely to be that the player is quotable, good looking, etc. Why do you think Sehorn or Shockey have been made into "stars" (maybe a little bit because of race - Sehorn is a white cornerback, for example - but more importantly because of who Sehorn married and what Shockey says).

One other point. Rush's statement seems to me to be the EXACT same point that Isaiah Thomas made about Larry Bird 15 years ago ("If Bird was black, he'd be just another good guy"). In both cases, what is being said is that the media is overrating the player's talent because of his race. I don't remember any Presidential candidates calling for Thomas to be fired.

posted by: Al on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

I think one of the reasons (besides the ones mentioned above) that McNabb gets more attention than he deserves is that he's a running quarterback. A 15 yard run to get a first down on third-and-long is more likely to be shown on Sportscenter than a 15 yard pass. I remember a few years ago, when Drew Bledsoe was still with the Patriots, many of the fans in Boston said they would rather have Mark Brunell or Kordell Stewart because they can run and make plays.

As for Rush's comments, I think it shows more that he doesn't know football than anything else. To some extent, his comments used to be true, 10-15 years ago. When Doug Williams, Warren Moon, and Randall Cunningham were the only black QBs around, there probably were a lot of people who wanted them to do well bacause they were black. (If you don't agree with this statement, do you think many people wanted Jackie Robinson to do well because he was black when he first played with the Dodgers?) It's not unreasonable to assume that some of these people were sportswriters, though most of them probably didn't let that affect the quality of their work. Now that there are many black QBs in the league, it's not an issue anymore. But it still is for black coaches. Can anyone honestly say that the people who approve of the NFL's rule on interviewing minorities don't care one way or the other how Marvin Lewis, Herm Edwards, and Tony Dungee do?

posted by: Hei Lun Chan on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

And Dan, you better be right about the Red Sox's ability to come back from bad losses, or there's going to be a lot of pissed-off people here in Massachusetts.

posted by: Hei Lun Chan on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Does anyone know if Rush Limbaugh had signed on to be a Campbell's Soup spokesman of late?

(Any true football fan will understand what I'm getting at. So would ... um, Donovan McNabb. And Kurt Warner.)

posted by: Steve in Houston on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

Interesting comparison in Slate by someone who I'm sure doesn't agree with Rush politically.
I think it's interesting that you mention "sabremetrics" because from what I've read part of what it's about is looking at the true value of a player and not just being enamored with their physcial abilites. I mean the best description of Jeff George I ever heard was that of a "coach killer". The other applicable quote: "million dollar arm, 10 cent head."

posted by: ed on 10.02.03 at 12:30 AM [permalink]

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