Let me start by saying I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here or resurrect anything stupid. In fact I’m glad that everyone has seemingly decided to give Chris Paul a break and the noise over his critique of the female referee has died down. It was never a sexist comment; nor was it intended as a diatribe against female officials in the NBA but rather was simply an assessment specific to his industry, directed towards a respected colleague.
None of those points made any difference as the Twitter-sphere, the new-age barometer of social conscious, went about its business of dissemination. It wasn’t the first time that something kind of politically incorrect, yet highly opinionated, was said at the end of a sporting event. I remember one statement from 1985.
Thirty years ago saw the Boxing Heavyweight Championship of the World, one of sport’s most prestigious accolades if not THE most prestigious, being decided. In one corner stood Michael Spinks and in the other corner stood the Easton Assassin, Larry Holmes. Holmes was going for his 49th straight professional victory, hoping to match the record of the late, great Rocky Marciano. Alas, it was not to be as Spinks took a highly controversial decision that night. But the battle didn’t really end there. It carried over into the post-fight press conference (see infamous interview after the Spinks fight).
“If you really want to get technical about the whole thing, Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jockstrap”, exclaimed a frustrated Holmes from the podium during the conference. With relatives of Marciano in attendance, it made for a very tense moment as the words were spoken and the interview continued. It was understandable: Holmes felt robbed.
Still, it was something that shouldn’t have been said and nobody knows that more than Larry Holmes, himself. During a telephone interview in 2007, he told Reuters that “It still haunts you. After all these years, people won’t let go.”
He went on to explain how he didn’t mean it in a derogatory way but acknowledged that he shouldn’t have said what he felt in the manner that he did. He admitted that the unfortunate remark sullied his reputation and probably cost him endorsements since as he puts it, “people still bring it up.”
There was one person coming to his defense at the time, Howard Cosell. Cosell, by then an advocate for boxing reform, challenged the necessity of immediate post-fight press conferences, saying that emotions were still raw and ran too high to just think that combatants could simply walk in after 15 rounds of mayhem and address the press as well as each other in a civil manner. It was a valid point that holds water even today, in all sports.
He recognized this disconnect we have with professional athletes. We want them to be available to us, at all times. Even when things aren’t going well, we expect them to recite all the right, respectful and courteous platitudes.
There was no separation afforded Paul, so what we got was unabridged, unadulterated opinion; albeit an opinion about the game after coming out on the losing side. It helped none that the analysis concerned the opposite sex; something to be viewed by some as strictly subjective. Here’s the thing though: if we don’t want honesty from people, even their own subjective honesty, we’re going to have to stop asking questions. Either that or let’s do what Howard suggested years ago and put a bit of distance in these after-event press conferences.
But even doing that doesn’t change how we handle such declarations. Our forthright political-correctness pushes all of us into a corner of conformity where if you step even slightly outside of the realm of public accepted thought or speech, you’re crucified. Then again, maybe this is just what we need.
You want to know the truth about how someone feels; ask them after a competition. This improvised lie detector could be used to probe one’s most intimate and personal feelings about almost anything or anybody. And it works best if the person being questioned loses the competition. That’s when you know you’ll get the real glory.
And I’m talking everybody. Track those pick-up games Obama likes to play and be there when he loses one. Then ask him how he really feels about Bibi Netanyahu or Vladimir Putin. Does Mitch McConnell play cards? Ask his opinion of Obama after he’s lost a few hands of bridge; or better still, ask John Boehner while he’s stuck in a sand trap, already over par on the back nine.
Let’s face it; people say really, really stupid things and they also can shoot straight from the heart at the most inopportune times. Sometimes they’re just plain asinine but other times they’re asinine and racially tinged. Sometimes they even say these things without being under the duress of fierce competition.
I’m just saying that if what we seek is true acceptance of all, we must then accept all that people say, openly and without restrictions. An open society demands such sacrifices; sacrifices of hurt feelings that obstruct the abolition of misconceptions.
Photo – “Leonarde Keeler 1937” by Agence de presse Meurisse – Bibliothèque nationale de France. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonarde_Keeler_1937.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Leonarde_Keeler_1937.jpg