Saturday, October 04, 2003

Limbaugh versus McNabb

Just about anybody with an opinion -- and if you remember the 1988 Dirty Harry film The Dead Pool, you know how many people that comprises -- has weighed in on the Rush Limbaugh/Donovan McNabb controversy, so there's not much more left to say. As a sports fan, a Philadelphian, and a centrist, though, I have some thoughts of my own.

Taking Limbaugh away from his comfort zone of "conservatives" who must seek him out on their radio dial and forcing him to speak to a larger, more diverse, and more demanding audience -- and on a topic about which he possesses no true expertise -- revealed him for the loudmouth know-nothing that he is. Talk radio -- much like blogging, actually -- requires nothing more than a viewpoint and an outlet. The louder you can scream, and the simpler you can render the world, the more chance you have of finding listeners.

But put that same person in front of people who might actually talk back, and who can cite not just opinions of their own but real, live facts to back up those opinions, and suddenly he's on the defensive. And offering the unspeakably lame observation that if so many people are upset with what he's said, then he must be on to something. Most schoolyard arguments feature sounder logic than that.

Most sportswriters rightly called Limbaugh on his drivel, and he stepped away from his ESPN job Wednesday, just three days after the controversy began, sparing the world further "Rush to Judgment" headlines. The Inquirer and Daily News featured excellent pieces pointing out that McNabb has been judged on merit in Philadelphia ever since he got here. When he's been good, McNabb has received terrific press, and when he's been bad, nobody in town has shied away from saying so. And race was never a factor in those analyses.

The best piece I've seen comes from Salon's King Kaufman, who noted that ESPN got what they deserved. By taking on Limbaugh in the first place, he wrote, the network was slapping true sports fans in the face, telling them they didn't matter enough for ESPN to hire analysts with the credentials to do the job.

Limbaugh is a clown, a dog-and-pony show with no more insight into football than he has into politics, though he proved far less entertaining in his new field than he is in his regular gig. You can blame him for his dim-witted comments and lame attempts to shoehorn his political views into football analysis, but that seems like a waste of time. Do you blame a dog for sniffing butts? Limbaugh is what he is.

Blame ESPN for selling out the interests of its constituency for two-tenths of a ratings point and then pretending that it never happened. Sports fans deserve better.

There are a few lone voices who agreed in whole or in part with Limbaugh. Slate's Allan Barra, whose sharp writing usually overcomes his annoying smugness, criticized Limbaugh only for overestimating McNabb. Calling Donovan "barely a mediocre quarterback," Barra said, "Limbaugh pretty much spoke the truth." The Sports Guy also agreed that McNabb is overrated, but said that Limbaugh erred with his statement that the media and the league hype African-American QBs in their desire to see them succeed. What of Steve McNair, asked Bill Simmons, who has done yeoman's work in Tennessee only to find superstar status elude him?

McNabb, to me, is assessed as being about where he should be. I've seen him criticized both locally and nationally when his play deserves it -- the first two weeks of this season and last year's NFC Championship game were awful, awful performances out of No. 5 -- and praised when he rose to the occasion. There are times when McNabb appears unstoppable. Thing is, I think his bad performances reflect team shortcomings -- unimaginative play calling, a lack of big-play receivers, and no dominant running back. That the Eagles' offense has performed as well as it has over the last few years is a testament to McNabb's leadership and quarterbacking ability. Rush Limbaugh was fired, justifiably, because he said unacceptable things; he should have been sacked a lot earlier for being such a piss-poor football analyst.


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