Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A tale of two Michaels

Okay, we all know about the Michael Richards rant. He was out of line, no doubt. (Of course, we once again have to point out that he had the right to say it-free speech protects especially the stuff we don't like.) So he did the usual "contrition tour", going on TV to say that the person throwing out the N word on stage wasn't him. Whatever.

So we agree it's wrong for a white guy to use the N word. Great. I think we all know that, but he did it and should thus pay the penalty, whatever that may be.

Now let's talk about Michael Irvin. He's an ex-jock, who does "commentary" for ESPN. I thought he was a moron when he was playing, albeit a fairly talented one. And since he's been on the Network, he seems to be going out of his way to prove that, well, he's a moron, albeit not a very talented one. He was on the radio last week, and informed the listeners that Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys couldn' t possibly be as athletic as he apparently is, and be White. In his charming words
"Great, great, great, great grandma pulled one of them studs up out of the barn". Brilliant. Wayne Gretzky, Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz, Lance Armstrong, Joe Montana, et al must all be part slave, correct?

I don't know jack-squat about Romo. But looking at the name, I suspect his family is Italian. And looking at his page on, it says he went to school at Eastern Illinois. So we have (presumably) an Italian kid, probably from the Midwest- or at least someplace in the North. Since my family is Italian, I'm gonna take a stab at his family history, and suggest that his ancestors probably weren't even in the US until long after the Civil War. And even if they were, if I'm correct about him being a Yankee, it might be reasonable to guess they didn't own slaves. So Irvin's comment is A) Racist. B) Insulting in that it suggests the Romo family were slave-owners, unless that fact is known by Irvin. And C) Insulting in that it suggests Romo's ancestor was an adultress.

So while the other Michael has been apologizing profusely, and hiding the rest of the time, what has happened to Irvin? Not a lot. He did finally apologize, a week after the fact. He still has a job, of course. Unlike Rush Limbaugh, who you might recall was fired as a commentator for suggesting that Donovan McNabb might be overrated because of his race. (A view which, at the time, was supported by looking at his statistics, I'm told).

And then there was Jimmy the Greek. What did he say, way back in 1988?
"During the slave period, the slave owner would breed his big black with his big woman so that he would have a big black kid -- that's where it all started". Another stupid comment, which at the time some people stated was probably factual. Factual, but still wrong-headed. And certainly not something to say on TV. And of course, he also paid the penalty. Apology? Sure. But also out on the street from a long-time job.

So whenever a White male makes any sort of racist comment, he has to be chastized, fired, fined, etc. When a Black male does the same, well then move along, nothing to see here. has been discussing the Irving problem all along. They made a great point last week, before anyone was really saying much about it (certainly nobody on ESPN, who have still been ignoring it, I guess). It was, Irving said, something that he would joke about with Romo: locker-room humor. Fair enough. But is this a common thread in locker rooms? If so, then it shows a systemic racism, since most NFL players are black. Look at it this way- what would the attitude have been if someone had suggested to Jim Brown that his talent came from being part white? Hysteria, of course.

So if Irving's comment is nothing unusual, then we have minority (white) players in the NFL being told that their ancestors were slave owners, adulterers, etc. How do they react to it? Do they laugh it off? Or do they just swallow their anger? I assure you, if someone makes a comment like that about my ancestors, they'll get a lesson in History- both demographic and family. My ancestors didn't own slaves, and I refuse to allow anyone to suggest they did. If even one white player takes offense at this, which I think would be the case, then isn't that a climate of hostility? It is an overtly racial comment. And while it might be a joke, it' s still incorrect.

Just ask Michael Richards.