I considered the notion for a moment and conceded, “You may be right.”
After all, shock-jock Imus had made a career of offering insensitive, crude and sometimes race-based insults (he once referred to New York Knicks’ star Patrick Ewing as a “knuckle-dragging moron”). But when he offered his unconscionable take on the women of the Rutgers University basketball team, his primary mistake was timing.
His comments came at the wrong time in the media cycle. There was a vacuum, and he became the subject that filled it.
In fact, the mainstream media didn’t even pick up on what he’d said until after it bubbled up from the Internet. But once the big guys had it, they ran the story into the ground and Imus off the air.
Had Imus uttered that same description of the Rutgers women on the morning of the Virginia Tech murder spree, well, I’d have to agree with my co-worker: He’d still be on the air, continuing to provide daily doses of verbal swill one hour, then hosting heavyweights from show business, politics and media the next.
Imus didn’t become offensive on the morning of April 4. He’d been satisfying the appetites of those hungry for that kind of “conversation” for a long, long time, much to the satisfaction of corporate sponsors such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors and American Express.
And while I wouldn’t draw a straight line between the likes of Imus and the sick murderer who turned Virginia Tech into a killing field, there is a connection.
Disregard for language. Disregard for life. Disregard for civility. Disregard for standards. Anything goes.
What does this have to do with sports, you ask? The answer is nothing, and everything because-as I and others have written many times-sports is not an escape from the world, but a reflection of it.
The dumbing down of society can be seen or heard just as easily on ESPN as it can on NBC. A few years ago, even when I had the occasional afternoon free, I quit listening to “The Jim Rome Show” on radio. Why? Because most of his schtick was based on insults. And the more outrageously insulting he can be, the better he likes it, the better his listeners like it, the better his advertisers like it. Rome panders to the lowest common denominator because it sells.
By choosing not to listen, I’m the one who is out of step.
Not long ago, our own saintly quarterback, Peyton Manning, accepted an invitation to appear on “Saturday Night Live.” Now I’ve never had a bad thing to say about Manning, ever, and couldn’t have cared less about his supposed inability to win The Big One because I admired so much how he represented himself, his family, his team and this community. Still do.
But there he was on “SNL,” in a parody of United Way commercials that had him repeatedly using the (bleeped out) F-word.
And by failing to find the humor in that, I’m the one who is out of step.
Recently, Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, took a look at the rising number of arrests and misbehavior among league players and decided to do something about it.
Saying that playing in the NFL is a “privilege, not a right”-which it is-Goodell suspended two repeat-offender players and sent the message (with the blessing of the players’ association, I might add) that those who continually have run-ins with the law would not inhabit NFL rosters.
Yet immediately, some of the bleeding hearts in the media-who relish the role of playing judge and jury themselves-assailed Goodell for trying to be judge and jury. How dare he demand adherence to a standard of behavior.
However, as well-intentioned as Goodell is, it would be naÃ¯ve not to believe he is also trying to protect the NFL’s image. No matter his motive, however, I applaud him.
Standards. Respect for the law. Respect for one another. Is that too much to ask?
Sadly, I know the answer. But for confirmation, Newsweek magazine reported it had received an e-mail from none other than Don Imus the day after his dismissal.
It read, “I could go to work tomorrow. Bigger deal. More money.”
Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.