Fox News antagonists were quick to pounce on an interview Monday between network host Laura Ingraham and New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson over the role of historically black colleges and universities in sports.
Ingraham asked Watson his view of Atlantic writer Jemele Hill’s piece that argued African American athletes should attend HBCUs rather than other major college programs. Ingraham called the idea “color-coded” and described it as “resegregating the country.”
“I agreed with her,” Watson said of Hill. “She had some great points in that article.”
Later in his comments, Watson said: “The average white family has an income net worth that’s 10 times that of a black family. … What she was saying was simply, if we are trying to pump money and revenue into some of these communities that there is still this big disparity, this may be a way to do it. Obviously that’s in a vacuum, there are other factors that figure into it, that but when you read her argument, look, she lays it out very cleanly and it’s actually something that I agree with.”
Ingraham shot back a quick rebuttal then tossed to a commercial break.
That was enough for Ingraham’s detractors to claim a victory. The sports blog Deadspin ran the headline, “Laura Ingraham schooled By Benjamin Watson in deeply satisfying Fox News segment.”
“Ingraham was reduced to blurting out middle-school-grade retorts and awkwardly shuffling Watson off camera,” the Deadspin article read. “It ruled.”
The website Mediaite wrote, “Ingraham, clearly wrong-footed, fumbled in her response.”
Not so, said Watson in an phone interview with The Washington Post.
“I know it plays into the theater of it on TV when that happens,” he said. “I know there were a lot of people who didn’t expect me to say what I said on her show. I spoke to her afterward and she thanked me for having me on and I’m excited to do it again.”
Watson has become a frequent Fox contributor as his NFL career winds down. He joined Ingraham primarily to discuss Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a former teammate who endorsed “Bring Your Bible to School Day,” a movement organized by Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization.
That drew the ire of some liberal groups, concerned about the role of religion in public schools. Conservative activists, including Ingraham, were quick to back the quarterback and called the event a religious freedom exercise.
On this issue, Watson and Ingraham were in agreement.
“It’s really encouraging to see the support that came out for Drew,” Watson said on Fox. “It’s going to be really encouraging to see on Oct. 3, on Bring your Bible to School Day how many kids bring their Bible to school because we do have that right in this country to celebrate our religion and we do have the ability to exercise that religion however we see fit.”
After a brief follow-up, Ingraham pivoted to Hill’s article in the Atlantic, in which the former ESPN host argued that if more top flight African American recruits chose to attend HBCUs, those colleges would generate more revenue, provide better educational services and help African American families accumulate wealth they’ve been denied through generations of racism.
Ingraham asked Watson, who attended Duke and Georgia, for a “quick reaction.”
“When I saw the uproar over it, I read the article, and I agreed with her,” Watson said. “She had some great points in that article. When you look at the history of HBCUs and you look at the hundreds of thousands of black professionals that have come to the schools over the course of the last several years since they’ve been created and you look at what’s been lost since integration has happened, what she was saying was simply that athletics is a multibillion dollar business.”
He then explained Hill’s piece to Fox viewers.
“All right, Benjamin. Well, I think Duke would have not been thrilled about you are not being there, but we will leave it at that,” Ingraham eventually responded. A back-and-forth between the two briefly continued, until the appearance concluded with Ingraham insisting she had read Hill’s article and ending the segment.
“I’ve been bumped several times and I try to get in as much as I can,” Watson told The Post. “I knew when we didn’t take a break before my block that this was going to run over. I’m with [Ingraham] 100 percent on religious liberty and bringing your Bible to school. I know there are some issues that I do agree with her on and some I don’t.”
Watson later added: “It’s always interesting to go on a show that has a host with a line you might not agree with, but when you go on those shows and you have those conversations, people are more willing to engage.”
He said he’s already met a fan of Ingraham’s who disagreed with Hill’s stance before the interview, but changed his mind after listening to Watson.
“It was definitely encouraging,” he said. “While there are many people that are not interested in any nuanced point of view and they just want to feed their ego and their tribe, there are a lot of people who were willing to listen and have that conversation.”
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