Political Correctness

Tony Dungy’s attempts yesterday at clarifying his earlier remarks about Michael Sam – especially since there is some question about whether he accurately characterized their timing – only deepened the sense that Dungy’s professed concern with “distraction” was really just a cover for a more basic prejudice.

Unsurprisingly, though, some are defending Dungy on the grounds that he’s entitled to his opinion (a fact no one is actually disputing) and that he’s a man of conviction being unfairly trampled by the forces of political correctness.

Dan Patrick, Dungy’s Football Night in America colleague on NBC, said this morning that while he disagreed with Dungy’s views on gay marriage, for instance, he admired the fact that Dungy takes strong stands. In this instance, that’s something of an odd tack to take, since Dungy has been quite indirect in this instance.

But on the larger issue of the laudatory nature of taking strong stands – that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? I doubt very much whether Patrick would admire David Duke for taking strong stands on race relations, for example. I am not, to be clear, arguing that what Dungy has said about Michael Sam or gay marriage is the exact equivalent of the stuff that David Duke has spewed. I am, however, arguing that very few people actually praise strong stands for their own sake under all circumstances. Instead, what is typically going on is that the person praising the strong stand simply doesn’t find the position in question *that* objectionable. Yes, Dan Patrick supports gay rights. But Dungy’s views on gays, grounded as they are in the bible, are understandable to him. Indeed, they appear to strike Patrick as the valid views of a deeply religious man, even if he doesn’t agree. If Dungy were anti-Semitic and attributed those views to the bible, I doubt whether Patrick would admire Dungy for his intestinal fortitude.

This brings us to the larger subject of political correctness. Since the 1980s, PC has been used as an epithet – typically directed at those on the left – to signal that the guilty parties are trying to shut down legitimate debate and otherwise impose their beliefs on everyone else. Political  correctness poisons the commons by using the pretext of a joke or stray phrase to ensure that no meaningful dialogue about vitally important issues can take place. It squashes open debate, forces everyone to walk around on eggshells and generally makes us worse off as a society. Those are the premises implicit in invocations of the term.

Political correctness is, however, invoked highly selectively. When Dwight Howard and others athletes were pilloried last week for tweets that expressed sympathy with Palestinian rights, their critics were not generally accused of ‘political correctness.’ Instead, the term PC is typically deployed to defend those who’ve made comments that insult historically disadvantaged groups. In doing so, it attempts to flip prevailing realities of power on their head.

For example, last week, Kirk Minihane of WEEI/NESN called Erin Andrews a “gutless bitch.” The remark caused quite a bit of controversy. Today, on Dennis and Callahan, Minihane apologized for using the b-word, though he stood by all of his other comments and insults directed at Andrews. D and C clearly thought Minihane had nothing to apologize for and, naturally, lamented how the forces of “political correctness” had once again taken a simple “joke” and blown it up into a federal case. In doing so, they did what countless bigots have done – painted themselves as courageous soothsayers unfairly victimized by a culture blind to truth and only interested in making certain groups feel good about themselves.

It’s an audacious inversion of reality. There was nothing courageous about calling Andrews what Minihane did. Of course he can criticize her and her chops as a reporter. But it takes no guts to do what countless men have done to women from time immemorial – demean them merely for being women (that’s what it means to use gender specific language to insult women). Nor does it follow that draping yourself in the cloak of victim of political correctness makes you a hero. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a jackass is just a jackass.

Likewise, it doesn’t take courage for Tony Dungy to “take a stand” against a group of individuals that, historically, has been remorselessly demeaned and persecuted. It is true that there has been a significant cultural shift, so that there is now *some* price to pay for  expressing ideas that, directly or indirectly, cast aspersions on traditionally disfavored groups. But that new reality is not a reason to confuse ignorance with bravery.

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