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Why Rush Limbaugh's big mouth mattered

By Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
web posted October 6, 2003

"They never miss a chance to miss a chance." The late Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban, was talking about the Palestinians when he made this famous quip but he could've said the same thing about American conservatives. After Rush Limbaugh announced that he thought Donovan McNabb, the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles gets too much credit for the team's success because he's Black I immediately thought of Abba Eban. Although Limbaugh is an entertainer he's considered by both liberals and many conservatives to be the voice of the conservative movement and as a result, his thoughts on McNabb weren't treated like idle chatter.

Rush LimbaughWhen Rush Limbaugh took the commenting job on ESPN's NFL pre-game show I thought it was a terrible idea. His whole act revolves around him speaking his mind in a no holds barred, hit 'em until they cry for their mommy, style. This works on radio but television is different. ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh to add a little spice to a bland show but what he delivered was too hot to swallow.

I'm willing to admit that when Limbaugh called McNabb overrated, he might be correct. McNabb was great in college but like many players before him he's failed to show the same kind of brilliance in his NFL career. He's a good player who's been in a bit of a slump and contrary to what Rush Limbaugh thinks, nobody's claiming that he's the second coming of Joe Montanna.

Fair enough. If Limbaugh had left it at that there would've been no controversy but instead he pulled the race card. Other football analysts have been rough on McNabb lately and the word "overrated" has been used more than once but no-one brought up his race until Limbaugh said "…what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a Black quarterback can do well."

Limbaugh was stung by the howls of outrage that greeted his comments and when he saw that ESPN was not going to back him up, he resigned while muttering about his right to free speech. What he and other celebrities tend to forget is that the First Amendment only protects our speech from the government. You have the right to say whatever you want and unlike the subjects of certain uneasy Third World countries you don't have to worry about ending up in a torture chamber. You do, however, have to face the consequences of your words. Other people also have the right to free speech and they can certainly respond to what you say.

Like most fans I watch football for the enjoyment of the game and not because I want to hear social commentary. Limbaugh has right to speak about race but he did it at the wrong time, the wrong place and on top of that I think he was just plain wrong about "the media." If sportswriters and broadcasters are babying Black athletes just because of their color they seem to be doing an peculiar job of it. Black fans have grumbled for years that the sports media goes overboard when it comes criticizing Black athletes in general and I've been infuriated more times than I can count by broadcasters who felt it necessary to remind listeners during games about whatever personal problems the Black players might be having off the field. Sometimes, as in the case of one quarterback the incident was a year or more in the past and the announcers still had to bring it up.

Donovan McNabb scrambles during a September 28 game against the Buffalo BillsOne good thing has come out of this mess. Limbaugh did Donovan McNabb a huge favor. McNabb now has something to prove. If he has it in him to do so, he will step of his level of playing for the rest of the season. The Eagles fans, who are generally regarded as the meanest in the country will line up behind him at least until the playoffs and the owner of the Eagles, Jeffrey Lurie, has been quite vocal about being on his side.

As for Limbaugh and the conservative movement the picture doesn't look as benign. Almost immediately after Rush Limbaugh made his remarks a story appeared in the National Enquirer accusing him of being addicted to pain killers for the last four years. Limbaugh's former housekeeper claims that she supplied him with OxyContin, Lorcet and Hydrocodone. If this is true, it will be a blow to Limbaugh's image. His fans won't care but he'll be diminished on the national stage. He said something that upset a lot of people because they felt it-rightly or wrongly -- was racist. Since Rush Limbaugh is the seen as the voice and face of the right wing that comment casts a bad light on the conservative movement. How many Black people will be willing to join or even listen to a movement that they believe is hostile to them and their interests? Those conservatives who sincerely want Black votes can chalk up this whole sorry episode as another chance missed.

Kimberley Lindsay Wilson Author of Work It! The Black Woman's Guide to Success at Work (Iuniverse, ISBN 059500122X, $8.95) & Eleven Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men (African American Images, September 2000, ISBN: 0913543691, $12.95) You can find her on the web at http://members.aol.com/wilsonhope/aaa/index.html or at the Black Writers Help Desk.

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