As regular readers will know, I am not generally a fan of firing on-air commentators for errant, offensive ones. That’s not a hard and fast rule – circumstances matter. Certainly, criticism, even scorn, are perfectly appropriate responses when celebrities, including sports figures, wade into politics and speak with confidence about public affairs about which they are obviously ignorant. As far as disciplining on-air talent, I don’t really care whether ESPN or whomever deems it in their interests as a business to make the appropriate signals to whatever market segment they’re trying to appease, though I do care about the inconsistent standards they may apply, especially if those reinforce the kinds of existing prejudices and biases that concern me. If someone is good at their job – commenting on sports – and is also a moron when it comes to politics, so be it. It’s ESPN’s problem, not mine, whether such obnoxious displays of stupidity ultimately affect ESPN’s bottom line.
Which brings us to Curt Schilling. Schilling is a man of many opinions and a supreme cocksure attitude born of his undeniable success on the field. His right-wing political views have been well-known for many years. And he seems, in recent months, to have ratcheted up his circulation of those views. One such episode got him suspended for several weeks by ESPN – a retweeting of a meme making the darkest insinuations about Muslims and Nazis.
Schilling is back and continues to circulate obnoxious crap. Here’s a sampling from Deadspin. Every one of the posts cataloged there is built on a foundation of stupidity so profound as to be beneath contempt. Perhaps wrongly, I consider Schilling a smart guy, at least when he talks about baseball. But we all, of course, can be smart about some things and not so smart about others. And when it comes to politics, Schilling is as ludicrously ill-informed as he is certain that he’s right.
But one thing I can’t resist flagging is an exchange between Schilling and a writer for Awful Announcing, Dan Levy. The exchange unfolded at the time of Schilling’s suspension and began with a long email from Schilling attacking Levy for a general lack of integrity, an alleged attack on Schilling’s sometime broadcast partner Jessica Mendoza and for specifically taking out of context the meaning of the offending meme.
The original meme posed the following dark warning: “It’s said *only* 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, *only* 7% of Germans were Nazis. How’d that go?”
Schilling’s approving retweet included the comment: “the math is staggering when you get to the true #’s.” Of course, the figure for 1940 Germany is embarrassingly off-base, as Schilling eventually acknowledged.
But he tried a different tack in his angry email to Levy (which he asked Levy not to publish. Levy refused to comply). In that email, Schilling claimed that the real offense was committed by Levy because – wait for it – Levy left out of his description of the Schilling retweet the word “only.” In other words, Schilling actually tried to suggest, the meaning of the tweet was to communicate that most Muslims are wonderful people.
Here’s Levy’s response to that staggeringly disingenuous claim:
Curt, you used an image with Hitler doing a Seig Heil. You don’t think that’s going to light a flame under people? You do know that graphic you posted on Twitter and Facebook is framed to suggest that Americans need to be vigilant when it comes to Muslims, that we never know “which” 5-10% are extremists, so we should suspect all of them before they take over the world and enslave and murder us. You can hide behind the numbers, though you’ve already admitted how off-base the notion is that there were only 4% (sic) of Germans who were Nazis when Hitler and the Nazi party were elected into office before murdering millions of people (mostly my people, for what that’s worth to you), but that’s what the message you posted really says to people. To suggest I omitted words to shift the narrative is paranoid. We’ve written several times on you in the last week, including posting the original tweet in full, with links back to it every time for reference.
Levy also pointed out that Schilling has distributed other highly offensive graphics about Muslims, with no qualifying statements about how “most” are fine.
What troubles me about this entire episode is less Schilling’s pathological lack of self-awareness and incapacity to accept responsibility for his own ideas, though those are viscerally disturbing. What’s really upsetting is that we live in a time in which major public figures are openly demonizing very large numbers of already-vulnerable Americans. The Trump and Carson campaigns, in particular, are trolling the ugliest depths of the American psyche, cravenly seeking political advantage by suggesting that many millions of Americans, whether undocumented immigrants or Muslims should be viewed as inherently dangerous and, by implication, as something other than human. If Ben Carson, for instance, raised basic questions about the fitness of Jews for high office, his campaign would have been over before he completed the sentence. Likewise, if Curt Schilling tweeted or otherwise trafficked in the fever swamps of anti-Semitism analogous to that which he has when it comes to Islam, I don’t think we have to guess as to his future at ESPN.
I’m Jewish, and plenty sensitive to clear instances of anti-Semitic insinuations. That doesn’t make me indifferent to the ugly anti-Muslim currents running through our country. ESPN has an obligation, I believe, to explain why this kind of hate speech is acceptable from their on-air personalities when it comes to Muslims and whether that reflects a consistent company policy generally applicable regardless of religious or ethnic affiliation.