Think Before You Speak
Since former professional basketball star Tim Hardaway publicly stated during the NBA All-Star break that he hated “gay people,” I have wanted to write about how speaking his mind led to his downfall. This week’s events regarding Don Imus’ racist comments reiterated that highly offensive material must and will be punished because we live in a highly sensitive, politically correct society.
Yesterday, famed talk show host Imus was fired from his daily CBS radio program, Imus in the Morning, after making racist comments on April 4 about the Rutgers women’s basketball team after it lost to Tennessee in the national championship. Imus referred to the women as “nappy-headed hos,” inciting many to take action against this unnecessary verbal abuse, including Reverend Al Sharpton.
Meanwhile, over in North Carolina, the three Duke lacrosse players ended their hellish year-long rape scandal when the charges against them were dropped. Ironically, it was Sharpton and his close associate Reverend Jesse Jackson who accused these boys of using racial language in a racially-charged atmosphere.
While each situation received its fair share of criticism, there is suspicion behind what kind of behavior warrants punishment.
Hardaway’s response to retired NBA center John Amaechi’s coming out was met with swift action; he was fired. Obviously, somebody who shocks a nation by stating that he or she doesn’t like “gay people” or that homosexuality “shouldn’t be allowed in the world or in the United States” will be punished by a professional league keen on improving its already weakened image caused by players addicted to drugs, brawls and money.
As do most people who find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, Hardaway came out apologizing for his insensible comments, stating it was “his mistake.”
If it is sympathy Hardaway is looking for, he won’t get it from me. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, but there is an appropriate time and a place to share these thoughts and national radio is not one of them.
Imus’ situation is similar. For years, Imus used crude and sometimes shocking behavior on his show. Offensive or not, it drew laughs and popularity that generated millions of dollars. At first it appeared that his Rutgers joke, which was “not a malicious rant,” was only going to temporarily set him back after he received a two-week suspension. But Sharpton persisted, and Imus was fired. Should we take Sharpton’s work as legitimate, or could it be perceived as a way to rally political power and allies?
After all, he does seem to play both sides.
In the Duke case, Sharpton and Jackson put pressure on the players through accusations that it was race-related. This aimed to put these boys behind bars, even though there was evidence that they were innocent. It is a sign of power that Sharpton is able to attack Imus and get him fired, when Sharpton also made negative comments but has so far avoided any trouble.
I am not saying that what Imus said was acceptable. Maybe his intention was just to get a few laughs, but using sexist and racist language to poke fun at a team who just lost in the championship game is a low blow. I don’t care what a person’s status is; if he or she can’t decide what is appropriate or offensive, then there is a serious problem.
Imus’ situation raises the question of who can say what? When a white man calls a team that has a majority of black players “nappy-headed hos,” he is immediately deemed a racist. But would the same standard be applied to a black person describing the team this way?
This question will be important to look at in future cases. But if there is one thing that can be taken away from these sports-related issues involving racism, sexism and homophobia, it’s this: think before you speak. You might actually save your job.