When I heard that Rush Limbaugh had been granted a football commentator spot on ESPN, I wanted to call for a boycott of all beer advertised on the network.
But I held back. My main reason for disliking Limbaugh's presence on the network was an aversion to politicizing sports. And I figured that if I attacked his bloviator role on my son's favorite network -- and one of my favorites, too -- I'd only contribute to the very tendency I was condemning.
Now I cannot resist saying that ESPN got exactly what it deserved.
As all football fans know, Limbaugh was forced to resign his perch late Wednesday after saying this about quarterback Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles: "I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well. I think there's a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he really didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
Before right-wingers go nuts about Limbaugh's being a victim of political correctness, let's examine the political correctness that went into his hiring in the first place.
Limbaugh was a football commentator because of politics. ESPN was hoping to add to its ratings by drawing on the vast right-wing audience Limbaugh has built on his radio show. Did ESPN figure that the only people who like football are conservatives of the Limbaugh persuasion?
The issue here is not that Limbaugh is a conservative. Personally, I would not care if my favorite sports commentators -- among them Jon Miller, John Madden, Bob Costas and Tim McCarver -- agreed with Rush Limbaugh on every single political question. These guys are not on the air because of politics but because they are hugely knowledgeable about the sports they cover and are gifted at explaining to the less initiated what is going on.
In fact, I'd applaud ESPN if the network decided to hire conservative columnist George Will to talk about baseball. Some years ago my wife gave me Will's classic baseball book, "Men at Work," as a birthday gift. Believe me on this, my wife disagrees with Will's politics even more than I do. But she knew that Will had devoted years to understanding baseball and that I would love the book. And I did.
And, to go one further, I've always thought that George W. Bush would make a perfect commissioner of baseball. Our president, formerly a part owner of the Texas Rangers, is right about a lot of baseball issues and understands the game.
By contrast, the Limbaugh hire so reeked of marketing and politics that it was an insult to all sports fans whose political commitments lay elsewhere. Most of us who love sports want to forget about politics when we watch games. Sports, like so many other voluntary activities, creates connections across political lines. All Americans who are rooting for the Red Sox in the playoffs are my friends this month, no matter what their ideology.
Politicizing everything from literature to music to painting and sports was once a habit of the left. The Communist Party's now-defunct newspaper once had a sports column called "Out in Left Field."
Now, it's the turn of the right to politicize everything. Limbaugh simply could not resist using a black quarterback as a vehicle to criticize "social concern" -- I guess he thinks "social concern" is just an awful thing -- and make a racial point. Imagine the grief a liberal sports commentator would rightly get for saying that because of his race or his politics, a white conservative Republican quarterback "got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve." I say that as a fan of Jack Kemp, the white conservative Republican who was once a fine quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
Perhaps foolishly, I stayed up until 2:45 a.m. Thursday to watch ESPN and have my heart broken as the Red Sox lost on a bases-loaded bunt in the 12th inning. My only comfort was that I can keep watching the network without having to see Rush Limbaugh. And maybe Donovan McNabb will know that there are lots of white people who feel exactly as McNabb does about those whose instinct is to use race to trash fine athletes.