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Ignorance and Arrogance Collide, Live and Off-Color

Friday 11 June 2004


Less than an off-season since Janet Jackson was busted
for her material breach of decency on the Super Bowl
stage, Bill Parcells decided to open his flap.

Within weeks after the Dallas Mavericks were chastised
for mocking Sacramento in a video skit that depicted
the "Queens" in drag, Larry Bird indulged in a TV chat
that dragged out an offending thought on race.

Over the past month or so, Shaquille O’Neal has blurted
curse words on air, while Steve *&!# Francis has
uttered a chosen expletive in exchange for an

The official den mother of live-mike morality - the
Federal Communications Commission - has enough weighing
on its censors while policing Rush Limbaugh, Howard
Stern and, if it’s ever tuned in, the Knick City

Do broadcasters and beat reporters need a "dump" button
for raving sports icons, too? This tape-delayed method
of pre-empting offensive material before it hits the
audience is intended to protect shock jocks against
themselves during a William Bennett revival that was
touched off by Janet - or Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty.

Didn’t Parcells and Bird hear? The anything-goes
entertainment culture of insensitivity is out. Self-
censorship is in. For different reasons this week,
Parcells and Bird failed to apply the new rules of
microphone virtue.

Bird’s offensive lapse was out of ignorance; Parcells’s
racial slur was out of arrogance. Bird was prompted by
a question; Parcells was prompted by pomposity.

In a roundtable discussion with Bird, LeBron James,
Carmelo Anthony and Magic Johnson that is scheduled to
be shown tonight on ESPN and was reported by USA Today
yesterday, the host Jim Gray said, "Does the N.B.A.
lack enough white superstars in your opinion?"

Granted, the inquiry by Gray was a leading question,
but Bird chose to advance the loaded topic when he said
a white superstar would be good "for a fan base
because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are
white America."

"And if you just had a couple of white guys in there,
you might get them a little excited," Bird said. "But
it is a black man’s game, and it will be forever. I
mean the greatest athletes in the world are African-

Unable to pick up his dribble, Bird, the homespun folk
legend from French Lick, Ind., went on to say that he
loathed being guarded by a "white" guy during his
Celtics days, adding: "As far as playing, I didn’t care
who guarded me - red, yellow, black. I just didn’t want
a white guy guarding me, because it’s disrespect to my

Maybe he was kidding, but Bird managed to denigrate the
white athlete, marginalize black players and Euro-bash
the influx of foreign stars to a league that, under
Commissioner David Stern, is regarded as the most
wonderfully diverse in the world.

Bird’s backward accounting of the league’s current
makeup must be a product of anachronistic thinking
steeped in an N.B.A. era of ugly stereotypes during the
early 80’s. The league has progressed; Bird should join

As most understand, the N.B.A. isn’t desperate for a
superstar of a certain color, but it craves a colorful
talent who transcends race the way Michael Jordan did
in the 90’s - and the way Yao Ming just might do in the
coming years.

Bird’s rationale is out of touch; Parcells’s is out of

As the lord of discipline on the field, as the issuer
of gag orders for his football assistants, as the only
voice he wants to hear, Parcells is a narcissist in the
reflection of his own pithy prose.

"She’s making progress," Parcells once said on the
health status of the New England receiver Terry Glenn.
Very clever.

On Monday, Parcells outperformed. On his very own, he
turned a phrase into a slur against Japanese when he
said "no disrespect to the Orientals" then likened the
surprise-attack offensive schemes of the Cowboys to the
bombing of Pearl Harbor.

An uncomfortable murmur spread through a press
gathering that included a Japanese journalist. Later in
the day, an apology from Parcells was released through
the Dallas Cowboys.

The audible cringe of the Dallas news media might have
been a little sobering for Parcells. At times, his aura
has rendered some news media folks either too helpless
to react to his bully pulpit or too awestruck to parse
his crude meanderings.

No doubt the usual shtick of Parcells is entertaining -
as is the normally refreshing candor of Bird - but
neither icon can use the entertainer’s alibi for their
most recent errors in judgment.

They are not talking heads or radio pundits on the air.
Bird and Parcells are authority figures within their
leagues. Bird is the president of the Indiana Pacers,
while Parcells occupies every title but team owner in

They have to be above racial putdowns and removed from
the antennae of the F.C.C. Revved up by Janet, the
vulgarity vigilantes have enough wardrobe malfunctions
to monitor without sports icons exposing their mouths.
Dump buttons, anyone?

Forum posts

  • Can Ms. Roberts actually read Bird’s statements and claim any to be untrue? Her reaction is so depressing. Kind of like when I hear that The DaVinci Code is a literary smash and immensely popular, when I think it is probably the worst book I have ever read in my whole life. Do we all live on the same planet? I know, I know, you lefties out there, we’re all the same, right? Asians aren’t really better than you at math!

    Diversity is sameness! Freedom is slavery!
    Uh-oh, will this post qualify as "caratère defamatory, abusive, xenophobe, sexist, the threats, politic and commercial advertising..", whatever that is.