Monday, October 20, 2008

The Hitler Effect

In today's environment you can say and do a lot of dumb, embarrassing things in the sports media, but one thing you apparently cannot do is reference Adolf Hitler; at least, not on ESPN. This summer, ESPN's Jemele Hill was suspended from her duties for a rather innocuous Hitler comment. More recently, ESPN college football broadcaster Lou Holtz made a Hitler reference regarding Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Holtz was forced to apologize, but was not suspended. (Interestingly, the popular cartoon show Family Guy has done several shows featuring Hitler, but is even now starting to draw some criticism).

Two points here: one, there seems to be a double standard at ESPN concerning Hitler-related offenses. Why did Holtz get the slapped wrist while Hill got a public flogging?

Second, even in a politically correct world some of these knee-jerk reactions have gotten way out of hand. Sure, it's probably dumb to compare anyone or any group to Hitler, but the sports media and the people who occasionally appear on them have often said dumb things. Exactly when did saying something offensive or stupid put your career or your paycheck in jeopardy? Are we that thin-skinned?

We live in a media world where anyone can say or write anything about anyone at any time and have an instant audience of millions of people. It only stands to reason that someone, somewhere is going to be offended at something. I only wish that someone would give us the rulebook on what's offensive and what's not. Hitler is apparently offensive, but what about Kim Jong Il? Pol Pot? "Big Daddy" Idi Amin?

When ESPN suspended Hill, company spokesman Paul Melvin explained that "Jemele has been relieved of her writing and on-air responsibilities for a period of time to reflect on the impact of her words." Perhaps ESPN should take some time to reflect on the impact of the words of John Stuart Mill, written in his treatise On Liberty: "If the opinion is right, [censors] are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."


Blogger sportsbabel said...

Thanks for the post, of the best and most insightful I have seen on this blog.

2:17 PM  

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