Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rush Limbaugh's Criticism of McNabb in Context

The controversy surrounding Donovan McNabb's tenure as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles began long before Rush Limbaugh's assessment of his potential as a top rated NFL quarterback. Perhaps the liberals who seem so desperate to paint Limbaugh as an unrepentant racist they would be willing to make up quotes out of whole cloth, should examine the truth of Limbaugh's statement in 2003 in light of the criticism of McNabb by many others.  McNabb's rocky start in Philadelphia started with criticism from a prominent political figure and that politician is none other than former Philadelphia mayor and current PA Governor Ed Rendell:
In the spring before the 1999 NFL Draft, Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell had a message for the Eagles organization:

“If you don't draft Ricky Williams, we'll all meet at city hall and burn the Vet down.”
Of course Rendell was not making a racist statement about McNabb because Williams is also an African-American.  Rendell merely believed Williams had greater potential and Rendell of course was wrong.  His controversial intervention in the selection of a team quarterback fueled criticism of McNabb from his earliest days as Eagles quarterback.  Some may recall a local radio station rented a bus and selected thirty fans referred to as the "Dirty Thirty," to travel to the NFL draft to boo McNabb off the stage when he was selected by Andy Reid.  Nasty yes, racist no.

The question in fans minds whether McNabb is the quarterback who can bring Philadelphia a Super Bowl victory has lingered long after the Dirty Thirty faded from the headlines.  When Limbaugh criticized McNabb in 2003 he suggested that sportscasters had been rooting for McNabb's success because he was black.  His words were immediately characterized as racist precisely because it was Limbaugh who spoke them.  Few spoke in Limbaugh's defense save one liberal writer Allen Barra in an article for Slate:
In his notorious ESPN comments last Sunday night, Rush Limbaugh said he never thought the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb was "that good of a quarterback."

If Limbaugh were a more astute analyst, he would have been even harsher and said, "Donovan McNabb is barely a mediocre quarterback." But other than that, Limbaugh pretty much spoke the truth. Limbaugh lost his job for saying in public what many football fans and analysts have been saying privately for the past couple of seasons.
Barra then addresses the question of whether some in the media have wanted him to be successful because he is black:
Consequently, it is equally absurd to say that the sports media haven't overrated Donovan McNabb because he's black. I'm sorry to have to say it; he is the quarterback for a team I root for. Instead of calling him overrated, I wish I could be admiring his Super Bowl rings. But the truth is that I and a great many other sportswriters have chosen for the past few years to see McNabb as a better player than he has been because we want him to be.

Rush Limbaugh didn't say Donovan McNabb was a bad quarterback because he is black. He said the media have overrated McNabb because he is black, and Limbaugh is right. He didn't say anything that he shouldn't have said, and in fact he said things that other commentators should have been saying for some time now. I should have said them myself. I mean, if they didn't hire Rush Limbaugh to say things like this, what did they hire him for? To talk about the prevent defense?
Barra's defense of Limbaugh is important not only because he hasn't been aligned with Limbaugh politically but because he is an Eagles fan himself.  Of course Philadelphia fans have a rough history; booing Santa Claus paints us all in a bad light, especially when our Governor was involved.   But as Barra points out many fans and analysts have questioned McNabb, it is only Limbaugh who is characterized as racist for having done so.
Oops, I take that back, who could forget McNabb's claim that Terrell Owen's criticism of his performance in the 2005 Super Bowl game as "black on black crime:"
"It was definitely a slap in the face to me. Because as deep as people won't go into it, it was [a] black-on-black crime. I mean, you have a guy that has been criticized just about all his career and now the last criticism is that I'm selling out because I don't run anymore, by an African-American."
The African-American who criticized McNabb for not running was J. Whyatt Mondesire who was an NAACP chapter president.  Mondesire did not back down when McNabb questioned the racist nature of the criticism:
Mondesire said the bottom line is that McNabb is "not that good."

"In essence Donny, you are mediocre at best," Mondesire wrote. "And trying to disguise that fact behind some concocted reasoning that African-American quarterbacks who can scramble and who can run the ball are somehow lesser field generals ... is more insulting off the field than on."
No one has raised the issue of racism toward Philadelphia's African-American quarterback Donovan McNabb more often than Donovan McNabb.  In a 2007 interview with HBO McNabb told Bryant Gumbel black quarterbacks "have to do a little bit extra" and "people didn't want us to play this position."

When McNabb's comments erupted in a firestorm of claims McNabb was playing the race card, McNabb elaborated on his HBO interview on his blog:
Black quarterbacks have to deal with different things than white quarterbacks. If you don't think that's true than you are naive.

This was a different response than the one McNabb gave following the Limbaugh comment however:
Negative reaction did not come immediately. But on Tuesday, McNabb told the Philadelphia Daily News: "It's sad that you've got to go to skin color. I thought we were through with that whole deal."

 Unfortunately McNabb has not been consistent on when it's fair and unfair to raise the issue of race.  McNabb was slightly disingenuous in suggesting he believed "we were through with that whole deal."  There can't be one set of rules for those who are considered politically controversial, another set for those whose political opinions align with the mainstream media and still a third for African-Americans who criticize McNabb.  Limbaugh made the claim that some in the media were rooting for McNabb because of his race and as Barra admitted this was true:
To pretend that many of us didn't want McNabb to be the best quarterback in the NFL because he's black is absurd. To say that we shouldn't root for a quarterback to win because he's black is every bit as nonsensical as to say that we shouldn't have rooted for Jackie Robinson to succeed because he was black. (Please, I don't need to be reminded that McNabb's situation is not so difficult or important as Robinson's—I'm talking about a principle.)

 Whether Limbaugh's statement was insensitive or inadvisable is a debatable point but he did not inject race into the discussion of McNabb's ability as a quarterback he merely acknowledged it.  This is something McNabb chooses to do on some occasions and not on others.   Ultimately it is McNabb who can lay to rest the question whether he is overrated; there is nothing like winning to silence the critics.  Limbaugh, however, can't prove he is not racist by scoring a touchdown or making a great pass.     Let's be honest, there is no shortage of either video or audio of Limbaugh's opinions.  If it were available it would be running on the cable networks nonstop.  Until such time liberals should be careful how frequently they toss around charges of racism they can't back up.  It's starting to look as though they are the ones who don't quite take it seriously:

H/T:  Memeorandum

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