Despite what the title of this post suggests, This is not some Vichy Republican piece trying to dunk on Rush, a la National Review, Bulwark, Dispatch, etc. I originally wrote this around six years ago regarding Rush’s brief stint on ESPN. Ironically enough, now that ESPN has become a political outlet Rush would be a better fit now than then, but whatever. I considered updating the wording, but between honesty, time constraints, and laziness (mostly laziness) I decided to leave the post unedited. I could write a separate eulogy, but by now you’ve already read/heard/watched tributes better than anything I could ever write. So why am I reviving a critical piece? Becasue for all that Rush accomplished, at the end of the day he was still human. With all of the hours he spent in broadcast he was bound to make the occasional unforced error – the Sandra Fluke debacle comes to mind (Granted he was right, even if his wording could have been better). Just like when our friends do wrong, rather than let it slide and let them make the same mistake again, a good friend points out that they’re doing wrong. Hopefully this comes off as the same. That was my intention then & my intention now is to remind us that even heroes are only human.
With the retirement of former Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb, I wanted to look back on what will sadly be one of the more noteworthy moments of his career. I am, of course referring to the incident that occurred with Rush Limbaugh back in 2004. This is probably one of the most unusual posts I’ve written, as even though the subject is a political media personality talking about sports, the point of this post is neither. So given the title of this post exactly what am I talking about? In the words of professional wrestling great Damien Sandow, allow me to beg your indulgence…
To give some background, Donovan McNabb’s career in Philadelphia was an up and down roller coaster from day one. Taken third overall in the NFL’s 1999 draft, the Eagles fans present that day booed when he was selected. It wasn’t out of dislike for McNabb, but because the fans had their heart set on their team selecting Heisman trophy winning running back Ricky Williams from the University of Texas. In hindsight, McNabb was the better selection, having had several pro bowl seasons and leading the Eagles to a few NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.
The 2004 season did not start well. The Eagles had come up short in their Super Bowl quest the previous two seasons, losing in the NFC Championship game twice, and were now starting the 2004 season with a record of 0-2 going into their bye week. For those of you who don’t follow sports Philadelphia is one of the most passionat fan bases, which means it can also be a very unforgiving one. The slow start had some fans questioning McNabb’s ability to lead the team, not to mention the leadership of head coach Andy Reid as well.
The 2004 season also saw a new twist over at the cable sports network ESPN. They decided to experiment a bit with their NFL pregame show and added Rush Limbaugh to the cast of “NFL Countdown.” He was bought on not as one of the main hosts, but as someone who sat off to the side and occasionally interjected some observation of his own. Naturally, some lefties started throwing a fit for obvious reasons. I knew better, and explained to some of the folk here in DC who knew nothing about Limbaugh that he was very knowledgeable about sports, having started out his career as a baseball announcer, and as long as he kept his commentary on sports and kept his political views out of the show he would do fine. Little did I know that I was prophesizing how things would end up playing out.
To the surprise of many, Limbaugh wound up being very well received. He added some pretty good insights, was scoring well with viewers, and ratings for NFL Countdown were up – good times all around. And then came week three, when the discussion turned to the Philadelphia Eagles, and specifically Donovan McNabb. Limbaugh interjected and stated that, “I’ve been listening to all of you guys, actually, and I think the sum total of what you’re all saying is that Donovan McNabb is regressing, is going backwards, and my… I’m sorry to say this, 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. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. I think there is a lot of hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t really deserve. The defense carried this team, I think. ”
In essence, Limbaugh was asserting that McNabb was overrated by a sports media that was over hyping him because he is a black quarterback, and those comments did not go over well. ESPN received numerous complaints, and Limbaugh was dropped from the show. I am among those who took issue with the remarks, but not for the reason most people might think. Let’s break down the offending statement piece by piece. You can watch the video with a complete transcript here.
The assertion that McNabb was an overrated QB probably did very little to improve Limbaugh’s radio show ratings in the Philadelphia market, and it’s also the part of the comments I have the least issue with. Mind you, I have always been a supporter of McNabb (OK, I admit I was one of the many howling in agony over the birds not picking Williams. But once McNabb started playing I quickly came around). With him as quarterback the Eagles never won the Super Bowl (although they made it to one in a losing effort and made it to four other NFC Conference Championship games), and to paraphrase a line from Bill Simmons some years ago, after a while when a team is that close to the top things need to be shaken up, generally by getting rid of the head coach or the quarterback. To this day I think that the Eagles made the wrong choice of who to keep and who to eject when McNabb was traded away. So why am I fine with Limbaugh’s assertion about McNabb as a QB? How does someone who has always supported McNabb not take offense to such a ridiculous comment? Because calling a player overrated or underrated is completely subjective. This is the kind of topic that gets argued from kids in schoolyards to retirees down at the VFW and can never reach a definitive end point. Anyone could argue that McNabb was overrated at that time. They would be wrong of course, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Even more of a storm arose from the rest of the remark, asserting that the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed. Had this part been handled differently by Limbaugh I might not have had a problem with it – let me elaborate. First off, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the NFL some background is needed on the history of the quarterback position in the NFL. The QB is the one player out of the eleven on the offense who has the most critical role. He is the first one to touch the ball once a play starts, will have to call for any adjustments at the line if he sees something in the defense he doesn’t like, and must react in split seconds to defenders coming at him. In the late 1980’s black quarterbacks were a rarity in the NFL, and successful ones were nonexistent. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s when Warren Moon joined the Houston Oilers from the Canadian Football League and, ironically enough, Randall Cunningham was drafted by the Eagles that we saw successful black quarterbacks. To some degree I remember some hype in the sports media about them breaking into a traditionally white-dominated position. And at the time, this actually was newsworthy in the sports pages. This was obviously some years ago, but I don’t recall any press coverage of either quarterback being overly fawning.
By the time 2004 rolled around, a black quarterback was all but a non-story anymore until it came up on NFL countdown. Limbaugh’s assertion about the media might have even been correct, for all I know. I doubt it was, since I watched plenty of football along with pre and post game shows, as well as having read plenty of sports columnists writing about football. I don’t recall any extra praise for successful quarterbacks based on race or suppression of criticism for the ones who didn’t work out. The comments by Limbaugh were unnecessary, and I believe that they were incorrect, but that still isn’t my biggest problem with what was said.
For me, where Limbaugh truly went wrong is that he made a strong assertion and had absolutely no evidence to support it other than his opinion. If you’re going to make an accusation like that you had better have facts to back it up. Good backup would have been something along the lines of “Last season I watched ‘NFL Matchup’ every weekend, and Jaws and Merrill (hosts Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge) have been relentless in criticizing Tim Couch’s passing technique, and have all but ignored the worse numbers that Akili Smith is putting up in Cincinnati.” Or he could have had something like “In his weekly ‘Monday Morning QB’ column on Sports Illustrated’s web site Peter King is constantly praising McNabb while overlooking the superior performance Brett Favre is giving in Green Bay. I’ve tracked the number of positive and negative mentions made in each column so I have the numbers to back it up.” For the record, I don’t know if either of the last two comments I just made are true or not. I just took the names of two successful QBs from that time and two not so successful QBs from that time as potential illustrations.
Who knows? Maybe Rush was right. Personally I doubt he was given how much I followed football and never noticed any kind of racial angle at that time. We’ll never know, as he never did the research to back up his claim and nobody else in the sporting news world cared enough to follow up on that angle. Sadly, in the aftermath and back where he was always most comfortable, behind the radio mic, Limbaugh still wouldn’t back down. I remember him saying something to the effect of, “Well I guess the fact that there was this much controversy and nobody was able to prove me wrong is just proof that I was right.”
Wrong. It’s one thing to make a comment and not have your facts straight, but if you’re making a damning accusation you have to have at least some substance to back up your assertion. Even though Rush Limbaugh does a political talk show he is an entertainer, just as anyone else who runs a broadcast that is more than just reading stories. He can be over the top at times, and sometimes he doesn’t get his facts straight. Anyone who is speaking spontaneously doesn’t – Hell, I blow a few things once in a while as a blogger and I have all of the time I need to review my work. And yes, Limbaugh can be a blow hard, but when he just talks about conservative values in general he can speak very well on the subject, as he did at CPAC in 2009. And he can be a good source to listen to – if you’re a conservative you’ll hear about some stories that the mainstream press ignores, or if you’re a leftist who wants to know what Conservatives are thinking the Rush Limbaugh show is as good place as any to tune in. Should you get all of your news or base your opinion of conservatives solely from three hours each day of his radio show? Of course not. But combined with a program of balanced diet and exercise a dose of Limbaugh can be a good supplement to any political news diet. But like any political commentary, take whatever you hear with a grain of salt – trust but verify.
As long as it’s not on NFL Countdown.
OK I lied. Ending this post on a less than positive note wasn’t sitting right with me, so here are two clips where God allowed Rush to loan his talent to The Family Guy:
Brother Bob is no longer on Facebook (although you can see his archives there), and is winding down his presence on Twitter, but is ramping up on Minds and Gab, will be there whenever Parler gets back on its feet, and has his biggest presence on MeWe.
Originalpost Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog
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Author: Brother Bob
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