Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I'm Shocked! The Media and the Ostrich Syndrome

It is one of the great lines and funny moments of the greatest movie of all time, "Casablanca." Captain Renault, played by Claude Rains, needs an excuse to please the Nazis and shut down Rick's Cafe Americain, and he chooses to use illegal gambling - about which he has known and in which he has regularly participated for years.

This week's NFL events surrounding Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin remind me of the Ostrich Syndrome that pervades our media and our society as a whole.  There are so many issues about which we leave our heads well-buried in the sand until something happens that forces a response.  Suddenly, we are shocked... SHOCKED I say... that there is gambling going on this establishment. 

I am as big an ESPN fan as there is on the planet.  Our cable system gets five ESPN channels, and I have five separate ESPN apps on my smartphone.  I don't remember the last day I did not watch at least some SportsCenter.  My gripe here comes from a fan, not a critic.

If the names Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin don't mean anything to you, you can read the long version of the story here.  The short version is that these Miami Dolphins teammates are in the news because Incognito was mean to Martin, "bullying" him with threats and racial slurs and perhaps overtones of more kinds of discrimination.

I certainly do not defend Incognito. What he said and did was wrong.  If the Dolphins choose to discipline him, that is their internal business.

But I am shocked... shocked I say ... at the self-righteous uproar that the media - and particularly ESPN - have brought to this story.  During last night's Monday Night Football broadcast and the immediately following SportsCenter, and then again on this morning's SportsCenter, the on-air talent could not have been more offended at the language used by Incognito.  Scott Van Pelt began to read the expletive-deleted transcript you can find in the story to which I have linked above and quit midsentence, exclaiming that it was so inappropriate he could just not go on.  The story was picked up with equal head shaking and tongue clicking by the Today Show this morning.

Again, I am not defending the language used, and I am fine with its not being repeated on TV.

But for the media to wonder about the use of such language and the choice of some people to adopt such a condescending and, yes, mean attitude towards others is quite astounding.  Have they not watched a movie in the last 25 years?  Do they watch cable television?  And remember, these are so-called sports journalists.  Have they never been in a locker room or on a practice field?

The shock is not that Incognito said what he said.  The surprise is not that people are mean to each other for the fun of it.  The shock and the issue are that we are surprised by it.  These attitudes and this language are commonplace, and the media is no doubt involved.  I am not taking a position here as to whether Hollywood sets our mores or reflects them - I expect it is some combination of the two - but nobody can debate that Hollywood and the media in general have reveled in this type of attitude, language, and relationship.

We live in an increasingly intolerant, mean, uncivilized society - and the way we speak to each other is at the forefront of the problem.  Before we stick our head back into the sand, we need to start addressing the cause of the problem.  That cause is that we don't love each other enough.  That cause is that we speak as though we were in a fight to the death, convinced that our words were our last line of self-defense.

I hope that my ESPN channels start addressing the issue of why the Richie Incognitos of the world behave badly, but I doubt they will.  I expect that they, like Renault, will slyly take their winnings and move on.  I do not expect the Today Show to address it meaningfully either, although they may have a psychologist or two on in the last hour of a slow news day.

The issue is for us, our families, our schools, and our churches.  The issue is how we treat one another.  The issue is as old as Cain and Abel. 

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