Like a lot of columnists, myself included, Ashley Fox of ESPN.com weighed in Wednesday on James Harrison’s ridiculous ramblings about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (to be found in the August issue of Men’s Journal). Fox gave the Steelers meanie a pretty thorough going over – as she should have. There’s no place in football, never mind polite society, for the kind of garbage Harrison spewed.
Goodell is a “crook,” he said. Goodell is a “devil.” Goodell is “stupid,” a “puppet,” a “dictator.”
Which raises the obvious question: Are we dealing with an adult here or a sixth grader on the playground?
But my issue is with Fox’ fourth paragraph, in which she writes that such idiocy “overshadows the fact that Harrison does have a valid criticism, shared by other players in the NFL, of how Goodell went about fining players for illegal hits last season. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell unfairly targeted African-American players and fined certain players more than others. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell issued harder fines for illegal hits on white players than for hits on black players. And there are players like Harrison who think Goodell had it out for certain players.”
Not only does Harrison accuse Goodell of being a racist, but Fox calls his charge “a valid criticism” – without offering a single shred of supporting evidence. Oh wait, she does give us one: “other players” feel the same way. For the most part, though, she just lets the words hang in the air, like a noxious gas, before moving on to her next point.
When did the media stop serving as a filter for such random acts of verbal violence? If you’re going to tell me that what Harrison says is “valid,” that the NFL commissioner favors whites over blacks, you’d darn well better have some proof. Show me the statistics. Show me how a reasonable person could come to the same conclusion that Harrison and “other players” have. And if you can’t provide that, then at least qualify James’ accusation by saying, “I have no idea whether it’s justified or not” – just to supply some, you know, balance. Otherwise, you’re lending undeserved legitimacy to what could be a total falsehood.
Look, Goodell may very well have issues in this area – and other areas, too. I’m 100 percent open to the possibility. I just don’t find the Harrison-and-“other players”-say-so argument to be very persuasive.
Besides, think about this for a moment:
Most quarterbacks are white. (By my count, 25 of the 31 who qualified for the passing title last season.)
Most pass rushers are black. (By my count, 47 of the top 55 sackers.)
Could that be contributing to the situation? Are the heaviest fines being levied for quarterback hits? If so, then you could understand why a black player might feel discriminated against. But you could also see that it might not be a racial thing at all. It might just be a case of owners trying to do everything they can to protect their meal tickets – the guys who play the most important position on the field.
This is something that could stand some looking into. Indeed, it could turn out to be a better story than Harrison’s Raging Bull antics. Does the commissioner dispense justice even-handedly? America wants to know.
But Fox doesn’t give us that. She just gives us Harrison jumping to a conclusion that may or may not be “valid.” Journalism, done right, isn’t supposed to be in the conclusion-jumping business. It also isn’t supposed to provide a platform for others’ conclusion-jumping. Journalism is supposed to be the wait-until-all-the-facts-are-in medium. So … where are the facts to back up what James said? Is there a fire here, or is there just smoke?
Beyond that, racism is one of the worst things anybody can be accused of. That alone should have given the writer pause. Harrison didn’t say Goodell was a bad tipper or prone to double-parking in front of the NFL’s offices, he said the commissioner didn’t deal fairly with black players. Could we have a little substantiation, please?
Once upon a time, a whole lot of people thought the world was flat, thought the sun revolved around the earth, thought a bunch of crazy things. Not nearly so long ago, a whole lot of people were convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And now we have James Harrison and “other players” telling us Roger Goodell has it in for blacks. Sorry, but I need a bit more to go on than that.