The Thrill and the Agony This week in sports by Chas Walker

Rushing the quarterback

What did ESPN expect? On their “Sunday NFL Countdown” pre-game show on Sept. 28, newly-hired commentator Rush Limbaugh offered his “analysis” of Philadelphia Eagles star quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is Black.

“Sorry to say this, I don’t think he’s been that good from the get-go,” said Limbaugh. “I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a Black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

Say what?

McNabb has led his team to two consecutive NFC championship games, been selected for three straight Pro Bowls, and was runner-up for the NFL’s MVP award in his rookie year. And though he may not be having the greatest season this year – in part due to a broken thumb on his throwing hand – Rush’s racist paranoia can’t help but see a vast conspiracy aligned to place McNabb on a pedestal.

His use of the word “desirous” sounds almost holier-than-thou biblical. It is easy to imagine scenarios where Rush accuses a Black player of being “covetous” of the football, or a Black running back of being “adulterous” by looking to be traded to other NFL teams, or even a Black coach of being “idolatrous” of the Super Bowl trophy.

As if he had heard Limbaugh’s comments on the Sunday in question, McNabb threw a 29-yard pass on the Eagles’ first offensive play against the Buffalo Bills. Two plays later, he rushed for 25 yards himself, in a drive that eventually put the Eagles on top with a touchdown. The game finished with McNabb rushing and passing for over 200 yards to lead Philadelphia to a 23-13 victory.

Would Limbaugh argue that other teams are in cahoots with the liberal media to help a Black quarterback succeed so that the NFL’s “social concern” can be resolved? If so, it’s certainly not true – the Dallas Cowboys squeaked past the Eagles this past Sunday 23-21. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, a week earlier, argued that Limbaugh’s comments do not represent how “a high majority” of people involved in football think.

Other players, coaches, and public figures agreed.

“Who’s Rush Limbaugh to make a statement like that?” said Washington linebacker LaVar Arrington. “He needs to stay in his area of expertise because clearly he’s out of it. That’s one of the most asinine comments a person can make. It shows his IQ level in football.”

“It is not true and it is demeaning to the Black athlete,” Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Associated Press, saying it is wrong to suggest that hardworking of Black coaches and Black quarterbacks are succeeding only because of the media.

McNabb, for his part, is not waiting for an apology. “He said what he said. ... I’m sure he’s not the only one that feels that way, but it’s somewhat shocking to actually hear that on national TV. An apology would do no good because he obviously thought about it before he said it.”

Thankfully, social and political pressures forced Limbaugh to resign from ESPN. He remains the most popular radio talk show host in the United States – some figures estimate that he has 20 million listeners. While on a month-long hiatus to rehabilitate himself and break his addiction to prescription painkillers, he would do well to watch plenty of football.

As for his “area of expertise,” there are plenty of more asinine comments to go around. In 1995, Limbaugh said, “Too many whites are getting away with drug use. The answer is to ... find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them, and send them up the river.” The maximum penalty in Florida for the illegal purchase of prescription painkillers is five years.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org