Monday, February 9, 2009

Politics, Law and Sports: Strange Bedfellows

Politics and sports make for strange bedfellows.

For instance, President Obama can predict the winner of the Super Bowl, in a close game to boot, but he can't predict that three of his top-level administration picks have tax problems. Think about it: if he hadn't nominated them, they likely never would've paid their taxes. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, we're bailing out the basketball president with our own hard-earned tax dollars and would-be NCAA Tournament and/or NBA playoff-ticket money. That's fair, huh?

I still like him and I like his style. But while he can whip off Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Harvard basketball stats he can't fathom three other nominees' glaring tax gaps.

Now race is coming into the fray, and I don't mean race horses or racehorse-paced basketball. Here in Chicago, athlete-turned-sportscaster-turned-news anchor Warner Saunders took retired Sun-Times media critic Robert Feder to task, alleging he was racist "in his treatment of minority news personalties," according to a Chicago Tribune account of Saunders' comments at a speaking engagement in which Feder was in the audience. No proof, no examples, just allegations of racism by a once-respected newscaster in this town. Thanks, Warner, but you just got me off NBC-5 News and on to CBS-2, which means I won't have to change the channel to watch Letterman. He does better sports-related jokes anyway, always jabbing fun at whichever of New York's teams is experiencing losing ways.

I can't stomach racist allegations, especially unproven. I had my fill of them during the O.J. Simpson criminal murder trail. Now the former all-time great runningback is in jail for anything but racially charged murderous behavior. Maybe he'll bump into the real killers there.

I've sat through meetings where racial charges have flown regarding the credentials of people coming up for job candidacy. One who didn't make the cut at a recent meeting through which I sat is a person so gentle of nature, so pure of heart and so kind as an angel and patient as a saint but was yet painted out to be Lester Maddox and George Wallace all rolled into one. And those charges flew from an African-American supposed media maven who is known for having an unmistakable bias as well.

We in the media, we in the sports media, have to be very careful how we exercise our ability to "get in the last word." We can, as the aforementioned Warner Saunders attempted, callously ruin someone's reputation in the name of "fair commentary" and get away with it, even if we're wrong. We can call O.J. Simpson one thing or listen as his lawyers do the same. We can accuse Howard Cosell of racism over what he no doubt took to his grave thinking was a harmless comment during a Monday Night Football game he was calling (remember his "...that little monkey" remark?).

But then Josh Howard of the Dallas Mavericks comes along and makes a dumb comment about how being on the verge of having a black president will absolve him of any and all wrongdoing in the future. Gee, but how come that didn't work for me when we had all those white presidents so far?

Yet, we (including Josh Howard and Warner Saunders) rarely go to bat often enough in the cause of the hiring of black coaches in NCAA Division I football while the same old white guys get recycled in coaching position after coaching position at colleges around the country and the NFL has to mandate that minority candidates get a fair shake in the coaching-consideration process (even though they generally stand no chance of getting hired).

We can do better. We can exercise more fairness in judgment. Our bitterness and often our rushes to judgement in the name of "fair commentary" will only beget more of the same and do nothing to preserve and promote equality in this country.

Same old politics, huh?

Howard Schlossberg is an associate professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago ( and a sports correspondent for The Daily Herald ( He also serves on the editorial advisory board of and contributes to The Journal of Sports Media ( and