Le Batard, who is the best thing going on ESPN radio and has been for a long time, was impassioned in discussing the protesting/rioting in Baltimore. Le Batard comes on nationally at 4pm and at the top the hour, referring to the previous hour with his local listeners, Le Batard complained about the fact that whenever he brings up issues of race, he gets hammered. The immediate complaint from his listeners is that they want him to talk sports, not all this other stuff. They want their escape, not to be saddled with weighty and dreary issues. I suspect it’s less the fact that Le Batard discusses these issues than the particular point of view he brings to them. As he said today, we have a problem with race in this country. And, Le Batard intoned repeatedly, whatever you think of the behavior of some of those out on the streets (a very small sliver of the protesters who, nevertheless garner disproportionate attention), you are simply wrong to focus on their behavior rather than the source of all this – the police actions that resulted in the death of Freddie Gray.
Indeed, Le Batard said, Baltimore’s black residents are screaming out in frustration over the militarized police force occupying their neighborhoods and ruling by fear and violence. In fact, while Le Batard was not condoning the looting and other law-breaking that have become a part of the story, he did keep making the case that only those acts garner consistent media attention. His two interlocutors, Jon “Stugotz” Weiner and Greg Cote, pushed back against LeBatard quite a bit. Cote in particular kept insisting that the rioters were drawing sympathy away from the other protesters and taking attention away from where it belonged – on the behavior of the police themselves. Stugotz weighed in in a similar vein. But he also asked Cote how it should look to African Americans that people are more upset about looting than about the death of a man in police custody. Le Batard kept asking what the protesters should do – what actions could they take that would receive sustained attention and result in meaningful change? The lack of an obvious answer to that question was itself a source of immense frustration. One that made some of the mayhem understandable, if not justifiable. And props to Cote and Stugotz for engaging seriously with Dan – I know it’s their job, but they did it well – when they obviously differ, at least in substantial part, from his way of seeing things.
Le Batard’s intelligence, iconoclasm and tendency to question premises that most sports commentators never give a second thought to make him unique among elite sports media. Today, his voice was especially welcome.
On a related note, Ray Lewis’ impassioned plea to stop burning his city is getting a lot of attention today. As Le Batard and crew said, Lewis brings that kind of fieriness to much of his life. It’d be nice if, next time someone dies in policy custody under highly questionable circumstances, he brought similar impassioned fury to bear.
Update: I meant to flag this earlier. Writing in Forbes online, Dan Diamond highlights the staggering differences in life circumstances between Baltimore’s black and white residents. These are especially evident in their disparate health outcomes:
Black infants in Baltimore are almost nine times more likely to die before age 1 than White infants. AIDS cases are nearly five times more common in the African-American community.
“Only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market,” interim Hopkins provost Jonathan Bagger said last year. “[B]ut there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.”
That inequality is staggering when you consider that one of the best health systems in the world — Johns Hopkins Health System — is based in Baltimore. And many of the nation’s top government health care officials live in or commute to Baltimore, to work at the Medicare and Medicaid office.
Yet Baltimore’s infant mortality is on par with Moldova and Belize.
This amounts to a constantly lit fuse.