Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Racism Or Just Monkey Business? Radio Host's Comment Begs The Question.

(Disclaimer: This blog will go slightly off the beaten path. This is an incendiary topic that will, therefore, include incendiary language.)

"Look at that little monkey run!"

Many of you may remember ESPN anchor Chris Berman always saying "Look at that little Meggett run!" when referring to Dave Meggett of the New York Giants whenever he'd make a big play. That was a reference to the quote above. The author of that quote was Howard Cosell.

Howard Cosell was an American sports journalist and iconoclast who was widely known for his boisterous, cocksure personality. He rose to prominence covering boxer Muhammad Ali, starting when Ali still fought under his birth name, Cassius Clay. He also was a part of the original and iconic Monday Night Football crew.

His quoted exclamation is once again relevant because of a very egregious error by WDAE-AM Tampa radio host Dan Sileo on Tuesday morning.

During the broadcast, when speaking of three Black players who are free agents that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were looking to sign, Sileo said, "If they get those three monkeys, I'm good. I'm ready, man. I'm ready. I want those guys. Those guys are great players." - http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/media/content/wdae-am-host-dan-sileo-calls-african-american-free-agent-football-players-monkeys-air

It was those sentences, really that single word, "monkeys", that essentially cost Sileo his job. He left the WDAE sports talk show, assuredly at the behest of his managers. Sponsors would certainly have applied pressure for some such departure. And, in these politically correct days, understandably so.

We live in a day and country where such comments by white, or caucasian, men and women simply can't make such mistakes. If in actuality it can be considered a mistake. I say that because, when taking the entire statement into consideration, he was being complimentary of those players. He said that he wanted them on the team he follows. If some other word had been substituted for monkey then the unemployment rate wouldn't have increased.

--- Aside: I said "white...men and women" because it's an unfortunate reality that there is a double-standard in this country with regard to Black and white issues and what can and cannot be said. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, among others, have said all kinds of racist and pyroclastic things in the past with virtual impunity. Yet, Jimmy the Greek makes a statement in 1988 regarding the Black athlete being bred to be that way during the times of slavery and he's summarily fired, never to be heard from again. *Sorry, but his statement was basically true. You don't believe so? Like a great man once said, African-Americans make up approximately 12% of the U.S., but about 90% of the NBA. The NFL? It stands for Niggaz Fuckin' Large.* Simple reality ---

It is just one word that makes his statement inflammatory. Is it for good reason? Was his statement a form of closet racism? Or is this an example of allowing political correctness to make people overly sensitive and overly cautious?

In order to answer this, let's focus back on Howard Cosell, what he said, and what repercussions he may have endured?

As was mentioned earlier, Howard Cosell famously covered Muhammad Ali most of his career. The two were friends despite their very different personalities. Cosell was one of the first sportscasters to refer to the champ as Muhammad Ali after he changed his name and supported him when he refused to be inducted into the military.

Cosell also was an outspoken supporter of Olympic sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith after the raising of their fists in a "Black Power" salute during their 1968 medal ceremony. Many sports broadcasters avoided social, racial, or other controversial issues, and didn't butt heads with, often even pandered to, the sports figures they covered. Cosell did not.

This is relevant because it helps to shed light on what was said by Cosell on that famous broadcast.

It was 1973 and Howard Cosell was doing the halftime highlights voice-over game recap. Herb Mulkey of the Washington Redskins returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Cardinals on that previous Sunday, and Cosell exclaimed, "Look at that little monkey run!" This wasn't the first time, though.

In 1972 Howard Cosell said, "That little monkey - you know, the theorem was that he was too small for pro football" referring to Kansas City Chiefs running back Mike Adamle after a short run in the fourth quarter of the July 29, 1972 Hall of Fame Game. Mike Adamle was a white man.

Again, in 1982, Cosell called Atlanta Braves second baseman Glenn Hubbard, another white player, a "little monkey" while praising his fielding skills, saying "That little monkey can really pick it."

Lastly, in 1983 Howard Cosell said, "Joe Gibbs wanted that kid, and that little monkey gets loose doesn't he" when referring to Washington Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett on Monday Night Football on September 5th in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVScwog05Xw&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, then-president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, denounced Cosell's comment as racist and demanded a public apology. Cosell refused. In his refusal, Cosell cited his past support for Black athletes, many mentioned in this post, and stating that "little monkey" was an affectionate term he had used in the past for diminutive white athletes, also mentioned herein, as well as for his own grandchildren from the time they were able to walk and playfully scramble around.

I cited all of these as reference to his character. Despite the reverend's claims, if he were a racist, would he, as he himself pointed out, use the same allegedly derogatory term toward the white players that he'd used toward the Black players?

If he were racist would the aforementioned Ali so lovingly say this of Cosell, "Howard Cosell was a good man and he lived a good life. I have been interviewed by many people, but I enjoyed interviews with Howard the best. We always put on a good show. I hope to meet him one day in the hereafter. I can hear Howard now saying, 'Muhammad, you're not the man you used to be'. I pray that he is in God's hands. I will miss him."
-- Former heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali 

Given all of the previous evidence and the character witness provided, in no way can it be said that Cosell was racist. The reverend was out of line and spoke out of turn in this case.

That was then and this is now...

The social climate is simply different now. People are much more umbrageous nowadays and anything close to a racist statement causes an immediate reaction. It can be a precarious situation to handle because of the resultant clamor as well.

I suggested earlier that using another word might lessen and/or change the meaning of what was said. That it could easily have been a slip of the tongue. While that normally is true, in cases such as this, what is said most likely was in the mind previously anyway. Else, how could it have been brought to mind in the first place? A sort of Freudian slip, if you will.

Is that meant to suggest that Sileo is a closet racist? Not necessarily. But, we all often say things in our home or amongst our closest associates that we wouldn't ever say elsewhere. Some slightly above benign or innocuous, and some down right intemperate. But, if these are said regularly, they can slip out at the wrong times. And I quote, "Out of the heart's abundance the mouth speaks."

I won't condemn Sileo for what he said specifically, as I don't particularly have a problem with that word. But I do take issue with the lack of his having common-enough sense to realize what he said. I take offense with his not even realizing what was said until being alerted to it later. And I take offense to having been left with a feeling that somewhere within him lies the capacity to use such a term that probably a majority of Black people in America would construe as, or possibly equate to, "nigger."