Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Hill slides further down a slope.

So now ESPN has suspended columnist Jemele Hill (shown right) for typing out a piece in which she compared cheering for the Boston Celtics to apologizing for Hitler. Specifically, Hill wrote as follows: "Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It's like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan." (Here's a denatured version of Hill's column; ESPN removed the offending language within hours of the Celtics' stunning rout of the Lakers in the NBA Finals this past Saturday.)

Hill, in turn, has now apologized as follows: "I deeply regret the comment I made... In expressing my passion for the NBA and my hometown of Detroit I showed very poor judgment in the words that I used. I pride myself on an understanding of, and appreciation for, diversity—and there is no excuse for the appalling lack of sensitivity in my comments. It in no way reflects the person I am. I apologize to all of my readers and I thank them for holding me accountable. This has been an important lesson for me and illustrates that, like many people, I still have a lot of growing and learning to do."

Oh please. Does it not tell us everything we need to know about how absurd things have gotten when the apology drones on for about ten times longer than the embattled verbiage itself? Jesus Christ, I'm almost surprised that the Detroit native didn't end her overwrought mea culpa by offering to hang herself in front of the Ren Center!

I grant you, Hill's analogies were a bit odd. But I'm not quite sure who was supposed to be so grievously offended. "Rooting for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim." Ohhh-K... So if you root for the Celtics, you're the kind of person who apologizes for mass murder. First of all, clearly she's not praising Hitler; she's denouncing the people who praise him. So the worst we can make out of that analogy is that Celtics fans are hateful people. (Where does the "diversity" come in? Can ESPN actually be saying, in censoring Hill, that you can't even make a semi-jocular reference to Adolph Hitler anymore without offending Jews? Somebody needs to get out and see The Producers.) And just as clearly, I think, if you read her column in toto, she's not speaking literally. When did we get so thin-skinned in our approach to sports, of all things! Hill is using a mild form of the kind of language that, say, fans in Boston and New York commonly use to describe each other. In fact, I invite anyone who thinks this is strong stuff to hop on the No. 4 train to the Stadium sometime when the Yanks are playing the Sox, and you have both contingents of fans pushed up against each other as if in a long, noisy, sweaty, mobile mosh pit. Trust me, it's an NC-17 experience that is not for the faint of heart.

More to the point, where does this constant scrutinizing/sanitizing of public speech end? If it wasn't clear with Don Imus, it should be clear by now that we're tumbling full-speed down that slippery slope wherein decorum in speech (and, of course, the thought that produces it) is not only encouraged but enforced. Seemingly not a day goes by that someone isn't apologizing profusely for his or her "appalling lack of sensitivity." We'd do well to remember that America's founding laissez-faire stance on speech and expression was designed to protect the outrageous. (Popular, namby-pamby public speaking requires no protection, after all.) We have strayed quite far indeed from "I despise what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it."

Once we get to the point where the only remarks that can be uttered publicly are things that represent the authorized, consensus position (and/or could not possibly offend anyone else), in effect if not in practice we'll have outlawed not just originality and personality and imagination...but also dissent.

Which, by the way, is what Hitler did.


Anonymous said...

Where have you been Steve? Haven't you been guilt tripped enough to know that you have take in everyone's "feelings" before you can make an honest statement?

I feel for the poor ESPN announcer, but I'm sure I'm in the minority for stating that.

Anonymous said...

This is why I no longer blog on your blog under my name or that often anymore. It's not worth the hassle.

Cal said...

I was listening to a local sports radio show. One of the people commenting on this is a long-time sportswriter. The guy mentioned that he could find probably find numerous articles over the last 20 years with something to the affect of "rooting for team X is the same as rooting for the Germans in World War II." He even stated probably in the early 90s there was some journalism memo that went out to newspapers telling their writers to writing phrases as "Team Y beat Team Z like a German Panzer division during the Blitzkrieg." So, this person felt Ms. Hill shouldn't be suspended. He felt that mentioning Hitler is what caused the uproar.

The writer also felt, as you do, that her phrasing was clumsy and unclear in meaning.

Many years ago, Art Modell (ex-owner of the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens) said he would hire Hitler if he would help him win football games. He subsequently apologized, but it was somewhat shocking he would say that since Modell is Jewish himself.

Cal said...

I forgot that she can't really complain. She called for Imus' head last year.

roger o'keefe said...

I'm sure this will provoke some people into accusing me of racism, but I have to say that while I agree with Steve in principle, it's nice to see that minorities can run afoul of today's PC speech codes too. For too long now it seems the only people who are even capable of an "ism", the way our society sees things, are whites, specifically white males. This is one of those what's good for the goose situations.

Mike Cane said...

Just send them all to my blog, Steve. They'd all drop dead in shock. Problem solved!

Mike Cane said...

Off-topic: Gee, for someone who hasn't cracked, you sure did a remodeling of the sidebar!

Cal said...

Regarding my last comment....speak of the Devil