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You can't say nuttin' about nobody

Under the Rule of Threes, events in the sporting world converged recently to illustrate an important point about modern life: You can’t say nuttin’ about nobody.

Just ask the extraordinarily clumsy Don Imus, who remarked about the continuing legal difficulties encountered by NFL star Adam “Pacman” Jones in a fashion that got him in trouble once again, though I am convinced from listening to the exchange that he really was simply employing sarcasm, which often gets lost in translation.

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Several weeks ago, a gal (whoops! politically incorrect) on the Golf Channel, noting the abilities of the seemingly invincible Tiger Woods, (shown at right in Michael Joseph original artwork) gushed that a lynching might be the only way for his fellow PGA Tour competitors to stop him.

Shortly after that, Johnny Miller, NBC’s golf analyst, found himself in the middle of a storm following Woods’ amazing U.S. Open win over Rocco Mediate. Miller’s sin was opining that the 45-year-old golfer “looks like the guy who cleans Tiger’s swimming pool,” and later added to his fellow commentator, “Guys with the name ‘Rocco’ don’t get on the trophy” at the U.S. Open.

Well. Three seemingly unrelated incidents, but all linked by the common thread that there’s very little leeway granted anymore to public statements that can range from the obviously racist and inflammatory to the simply stupid or often grotesquely overblown.

Imus’ comments generated a lot of heat, apparently as much from his track record as anything truly offensive in the remarks. Ironically, if you accept Imus’ explanation that his comments were intended to note his view that blacks can often receive undue attention from law enforcement quarters, it’s possible he could be in hot water with an entirely different group.

It’s as though we have collectively lost the ability to evaluate comments and make nuanced decisions about what the speaker intended to convey. The Miller fiasco would be exhibit No. 1 in this department. Known for his often biting assessments of PGA players – particularly his solemn intonations about who might have “choked” at a particular moment in a match – Miller, like Imus, no doubt finds himself subjected to even more scrutiny than might otherwise have been the case.
Maybe we ought to simply attribute these things to the “Tiger Woods” effect. It’s hardly a coincidence that the two incidents that caused so much trouble both involved Tiger. Announcers and sportswriters get so caught up in finding new and improved ways to tell the great unwashed about Tigers’ greatness that it inevitably leads to problems.

I watched the U.S. Open and took note of both remarks by Miller, realizing in a nanosecond that: a) Miller was going to be in trouble in both cases; and b) He shouldn’t be, because it ought to have been clear that he didn’t mean anything offensive about either colorful observation.

Therein lies the rub. Colorful. If Miller had been more careful, he might have said something more suitable for a state police traffic report: “The subject (Mediate) does not exude the conventional traits of a professional golfer in this particular tournament setting.” Gee, that’s a lot better. (sarcasm)

Of the remark about the name Rocco not traditionally winding up on the U.S. Open trophy, he could have rephrased thusly: “A perfunctory examination of detailed accounts of previous tourneys reveals that casual nicknames similar to the subject’s do not appear with any noticeable frequency.”

It may appear that I am a Johnny Miller apologist, which would be wrong. He generally annoys me, especially with his pronouncements about who might have choked at a given moment in a tournament. He is widely applauded for that candor, with the implicit message that other analysts are too timid to offer such observations for fear of alienating the player so designated, but my view would be different.

I don’t think anybody knows for sure when a player chokes, as the word is commonly understood. In this I consider myself something of an expert, having choked on a number of occasions at the pool table. And that’s my point: I think it would be laudatory and commendable were a player to simply admit that he choked at this or that moment (it has happened rarely), but ultimately I figure he/she is the only one who really knows. Everybody else, Miller included, is just guessing.

All of this might be funny, except that there’s an insidious impact that eventually trickles down to just about anyone who talks or writes in a public forum, and in the Internet Age, that would appear to be just about all 300 million of us.

The more people get spanked or otherwise scolded for casual remarks or commentary that seemingly don’t warrant all the hoopla, the more the rest of us bite our collective tongue just a little bit more.

I intend to resist that temptation mightily.

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