By Mike McArdle
Donovan McNabb, a star athlete from the time he was in middle
school, had probably long looked forward to the day when he
would enter the NFL. But when it happened and the Philadelphia
Eagles selected him with the second overall pick in the draft,
the choice was greeted with a sound very familiar to Philadelphia
A group of Philly sports fans, encouraged and accompanied
by a sports talk show host, had wanted the team to select
Texas running back Ricky Williams and had traveled to New
York, power-guzzling their favorite adult beverages along
the way, to encourage the team to take Williams. The fans
who once pelted Santa Claus with snowballs and raucously cheered
a career-ending injury to Dallas' Michael Irvin had done it
again. The incident made the news shows that evening and was
a topic of discussion for years whenever McNabb's tenure as
Philadelphia quarterback came up.
An athlete being verbally mugged by Philly fans is nothing
new. But this week McNabb was blindsided by something more
insidious than plastered fans or charging linebackers - a
moonlighting talk show host.
Rush Limbaugh, hero to all disgruntled white guys who think
the world would be a much better place if the fifties just
came back, told the sports world that McNabb isn't really
a good quarterback - fans and the sports press just say
he's a good quarterback because he's black.
"I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think
what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL,"
the radio blowhard said. "The media has been very desirous
that a black quarterback do well. They're interested in black
coaches and black quarterbacks doing well; I think there's
a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit
for the performance of his team, that he really didn't deserve."
Limbaugh has made a phenomenal living preaching to a choir
of people who see a black bank manager or a black company
vice president and assume immediately that that person has
been promoted ahead of a more qualified white person because
the company is afraid they will have Jesse Jackson on their
doorstep if they don't do so. They are convinced that a great
meritocracy once existed in America and people got ahead on
talent and hard work alone (or at least they had to wait around
to inherit their wealth - some for quite a few years) but
that liberals and blacks and civil rights activists trashed
this wonderful world and substituted a world in which all
that is needed for success is black skin, a Spanish surname
or the absence of a male appendage.
They like to view whites, and especially white males, and
even more especially white males who go to church, as members
of a persecuted minority. They long to return to return to
the age of "rugged individualism" as their man Rush
likes to put it.
And there are a lot of them out there apparently. Enough
to make Limbaugh quite rich and to keep his phone lines hopping
with the angry voices of "dittoheads" who seem to
feel that he's the first one to say the things they've wanted
to hear since they flunked out of school in the sixth grade.
Donovan McNabb long ago made peace with the people who booed
him on draft day. The dreadful team that he joined that day
has gone to two consecutive NFC championship games and McNabb
has played in the Pro Bowl. Last year he played one of his
greatest games hobbling around on what turned out to be a
broken fibula. But the injury caused him to miss the final
six weeks of the season and some feel he has not fully come
back from it. During the third quarter of a game earlier this
year some fans began booing (hey, these are still Philly fans)
and demanding that local folk hero, A.J. Feely, who guided
the team in McNabb's absence last year be sent into the game.
(The young, handsome Feely is almost as popular as McNabb
in the city. He is surely the only third string quarterback
in the NFL who has his own radio show).
But there was a concern because there had been a noticeable
drop-off in McNabb's performance both at the end of last year
and the beginning of the current season. Limbaugh took advantage
of McNabb's slump to brand his entire career a mirage caused
by the press and the league's desire to elevate the performance
of a black quarterback above what it really was.
McNabb should not make peace with Rush Limbaugh. Rush is
mired in a world where McNabb would have been made a defensive
back or running back in his college career because blacks
were not regarded as capable of leading an offense.
The player who was selected immediately after McNabb on
that draft day in 1999 was a black quarterback named Akili
Smith from the University of Oregon. After a few dismal years
with the woeful Bengals, Smith was cut by the Packers in training
camp this year. Poor guy. I guess Limbaugh never told him
about the media's affirmative action program for black quarterbacks.
Editor's note: Rush Limbaugh has since resigned from ESPN,
and is also allegedly a drug addict.