Look it, I know I’m right about this. I’m not going to retract anything. I’m not – oh, they’re cringing in there. Don’t cringe over this. They’re not cringing; I’m just kidding. I’m not going to back off of there. Absolutely. Not yet in this country is there anything to apologize for in expressing an opinion – particularly about sports, for crying out loud! When absolutely – you know, I used this line and my wife says I’ve overdone it – at the end of the day in sports nobody’s taxes get raised, nobody gets sent off to war. But, yeah, people get their feelings hurt in sports every day. Their teams lose. They get disappointed by a whole bunch of things that happen in sports.
But it is in a distinct place in our culture. It does contribute quite a bit to the self-esteem of populations, cities where there are professional and college teams, no question about it, and there are high, great sensitivities. But I am not going to sit here and apologize or regret anything I said because, A, I was right; B, I’ve got people now who agree not only was I right, but that what was said was not anything that needs to be apologized for. Now, there are a lot of people who disagree with that, but that’s fine. You know, over the course of my hosting this program, ladies and gentlemen – and I do have in almost all that we’re talking about today – I have a 15-plus-year reference that I can cite, and I certainly have here.
I have not once, never on this program – other than in the cases where we’ve had wacko callers who have engaged in profanity or things that are in obvious, obvious ways over the line – I have never, ever said that something somebody said to me shouldn’t be heard. I have never told them they don’t have the right to say that and how dare they call me and how dare they think that. That has never been part of this program. What I’ve always said on this program is, “Meet me in the arena of ideas. Meet me smack-dab in the arena of ideas, and I’ll discuss anything with anybody, and I’m willing to be wrong, and I’m willing to be stupid. I’m willing to run the risk of being both because this is what freedom is essentially all about in a free society.”
There are others, not me, who are telling other people to shut up, to not say things because they don’t have the right to say things, they don’t have the right to think things, and they ought to be punished when they do, but it’s not me. I’m not the one that’s intolerant nor are many on my side of the ideological aisle. It is the other side that has created speech codes: political correctness. It is they who have determined what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and what punishment ought to descend to people or ascend to people who have violated their codes. In fact, people who disagree with me on this program get moved to the top of the caller roster line.
I have always made that promise, and that promise has always been kept. So nobody is told to shut up here. Nobody is told what they shouldn’t say, told they can’t say things on this program. It’s quite the opposite. I’ve always, as I say, said, “Meet me in the arena of ideas.” In this instance it is now being said that well, everybody knew what they were going to get at ESPN, and nobody should be surprised by this, and that ESPN is actually to blame for this. What is this kind of thinking in a free country with free speech? The characterizations of not only what I’ve said, but what others have said to me is pretty dangerous. You know, the effort, I guess, to silence some people from speaking because they’re afraid of what others’ reaction to it will be, is pretty successful.
I don’t play the game by those rules, and I’m willing to accept what happens. But I am not, at same time when the outcry results, going to say, “please forgive me, I guess I really didn’t mean it.” I meant everything said, thought about it the night before, intended to say it, very proud that I said it, I think it’s right. So throw me in jail. So fire me. That’s what people have wanted to do, that’s what people are applauding today. Fine, I’ll gladly. If that’s what it takes to stand up for free speech, fine. There are a lot more details to this than I want you to know, some of the things that actually transpired. We’ll get to all that. Plus I’ve got news stacks of stuff, and it’s Open Line Friday where your phone calls will be featured. So sit tight, relax, buckle yourselves in if necessary.
Much of the e-mail is about the ESPN situation. I want to address that here, and I want to address some of the points that have been made and give you a little history of the whole timeline here. In essence, I want to give my side of this and throw it out there for you to mix and throw out and include with everything that you’ve heard, and give you a chance to react to this in the context of being fully informed. The question has been asked, “Why did ESPN hire me?” As I mentioned to you, they first tried ten years ago – 1992, ’93, somewhere around there – and it was to be on the pregame show, and I met with the same people that I met with this past May when they came to me again. Back ten years ago or so, they just couldn’t come up with the concept.
I wanted to do it but I had no idea what I would do. They didn’t really have anything, either. They went away, stayed in contact, would go up there occasionally, a few times to watch the games with the pregame crew after the Sunday show. They have all the games on different monitors up there. It’s cool to be able to watch all the games at the same time, and I got to know some of the people over the course of the years since ten years ago when they first approached me. But when they came back to me this past May they had a specific idea. Their idea was that I would provide the viewpoint of the fan, and in this context of being fan – meaning I’m not a sports journalist.
I don’t cover the league or teams on a regular basis. I basically know what I know about the NFL as other fans do by watching the media, reading newspapers, websites and watching television, and, like any other fan of the NFL, I have opinions. And this was coupled, no doubt, with the fact that I am a professional broadcaster. Whether anybody’s made this point or not, it’s relevant. This is a network that broadcasts. It does so on cable, but it still broadcasts. It makes infinite sense that they would at some point choose a highly trained broadcast specialist. They’ve got ex-jocks, and they’ve got Chris Berman, who is himself the epitome of a broadcast specialist.
So that was it, and I was to challenge the things that I heard and disagreed with when they had discussions of various items or topics during the course of each week, and originally I was to have three of these per show. It proved popular at the outset so they added a fourth challenge, and they included me in the “picks” segment, and included me in other areas. They were looking, in fact, after the first couple weeks to include or increase opportunities for me to participate in the program, which I was happy with. I loved it. I thought it was a tremendous amount of fun, and if ratings are a measure of success – and they clearly are, they may be the primary measure – it was working.
So the thing that people misunderstand, there’s a lot of the sports media today and others, “Well, ESPN should have known what they were getting when they hired Limbaugh.” Now what is that? They knew what they were getting. What are they getting? Apparently the answer – there’s a stock answer to this, if you listen to the people who are asking the question – and apparently the stock answer is, “They were getting somebody provocative.” Now, this is to me, I think, an interesting point because, yeah, I was provocative but that’s not the purpose. That’s not what I sought to be. I’m one of those people, I don’t have to try to be provocative; somehow it just happens. You know, it’s an amazing thing, but it just happens.
Now, I think it is an important point. This is tantamount to saying they hired somebody to be outrageous. That’s what this “they knew what they were getting” business means. And I am not oriented toward outrageousness, and this comment that I made about McNabb and the Philadelphia sports media is not outrageous. It’s only outrageous because some of the people who heard it have a speech code, and they have vowed they’re not going to be forced to listen to that sort of stuff, and if they ever hear it they’re going to categorize it as something that is extreme or uncouth, but it wasn’t outrageous! It was a total mainstream comment that you’re free to agree with or disagree with.
They didn’t want to take it on, didn’t want to discuss it with me. They just wanted me to get out of the picture because of whatever effect the comment had on them. Anybody can be provocative; anybody can be outrageous. It takes no talent and no skill to do that. And, you know, I’ve told you all this, too. My first real talk show job in Sacramento, best advice I’ve ever been given, they said, “Yeah, we look for controversy here. This was at KFBK, and we’ll back you to the hilt – if you mean what you say. But if you’re just going to go on the radio and say things to make people mad, if you’re going to go on there and be outrageous just for the sake of it, and you’re going to go on the air just to say things that you don’t even believe, you’re just trying to tweak people, we’re not going to support that.”
Well, I have no desire to say things I don’t mean. I never have had, and I did not want to start now. There’s no defending it. There’s no explaining it. If you say things you don’t even believe, how can you ever be right about it. That was not the point. My point is to say things I believe, to bring my perspective. They brought me in for my perspective and my fandom of the league, not because I am some outrageous polarizing figure. Now, this particular challenge involving Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia sports media. There was an underlying theme to this challenge and it was media bias in the sports media.
Nobody ever talks about that but me, but it’s plain as day that it’s there. There is just as much left-wing media bias in the sports media as there is in the mainstream news media. And I was simply making that opinion known. Now, people don’t like it, don’t agree with it, fine. Talk to me about it and tell me I’m full of it or what have you, but it seems to me I hit a nerve here. They want to shut it down and categorize it as something that it is not. By the way, as I mentioned, there’s actually a column that ran on Slate and I posted it on the website, too, that actually backs up every point that I made.
It’s a piece by, I think his name is Allen Barra. Yeah, Allen Barra of Slate.com. And I’ll get to that here in just a second. Ignored in all of this flap over what I said about the sports media and McNabb – and just to repeat, I’ll be glad to repeat it. What I said was that, I said, “Donovan McNabb is not as good a quarterback as his reputation suggests.” I had a disagreement with his reputation on the field to his reputation in the media. And my claim, my opinion was that there is a desire on the part of sportswriters and the NFL to champion black athletes. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a thing wrong with it, but you can’t deny it exists.
We’ve got a new rule called the Rooney rule, which is designed to interview black assistant head coaches and get them jobs. By the way, nobody said anything about my essay on that three weeks ago, which I came out and sympathetically defended black coaches with this rule and hoped that they wouldn’t end up being used as pawns. [Video: high | low] Nobody cited that, as they wanted to say that I had introduced race into this picture in a negative way. Nobody cited the fact that Tom Jackson and Michael Irvin did not react on the spot. Nobody reacted on the spot when I said what I said last Sunday.
There are now reasons for this being explained, but one of them is, I’m going to get my side on this. I have a fine relationship with both of those men, Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson. I consider both of them to have become friends. I’ve discussed life with both of them. I’ve discussed things that might happen in the future. We’ve sat down and discussed those things that new friends discuss. You know, finding areas of commonality. There hasn’t been one ounce of friction between me and anybody else on this staff. Yet that didn’t show up. It was just assumed that I’m whatever I am, conservative, and so whatever I say is automatically going to offend certain people of a certain race – and none of this is true.
None of this is true, and none of this was cited, and none of this was defended because that would have meant a path of some resistance. Put it this way: let’s move on from the actual event that happened on Sunday and the challenge and the reaction to it as I’ve shared with you. The heat didn’t arrive till Tuesday when the Philadelphia print media had a cow. There were at least four publications in Philadelphia that just went nuts over this. Some of them were just raving lunatics. I mean, you ought to read these stories and listen to how you and this audience are categorized and characterized, how I am characterized. I have a “twisted view” of America all because of my comment about Donovan McNabb. Clearly it’s not that.
Actually my comment was about the media. But they think I have a twisted view of America because I’m conservative. I don’t even know how many of these guys that wrote these big pieces on Tuesday have even bothered to listen to this program, as opposed to listen to what is said or what they can find doing a Nexis search. And doing a Nexis search will find what critics have written about this program but not much of what people who like the program have said. So the brouhaha heats up, and at first at ESPN, the management there is fabulous. They are vigorously defending me and they put out this statement saying this is being misunderstood, there’s no racial intent here at all – which there wasn’t – Limbaugh simply comparing his reputation on the field to his reputation in the media. Then it started going downhill from that point.
Let me wrap this ESPN stuff up. I’ve been a little windy here with this, but I wanted to be detailed about it, as detailed as I could. As I said, ESPN was great at the beginning. They were vigorously defending this and doing their best to diffuse it. But behind the scenes something was happening – and that is Tommy Jackson, who I love, and you would, too. He’s one of the most engaging, nonstop talkers. You can’t get a word in edgewise with him. This guy’s got more football knowledge and more football opinions than anybody I’ve ever been around, and Michael Irvin is working extremely hard at being as good as he can get on this program, as good as he can be – and he’s succeeding at it.
Steve Young, Chris Berman – these guys are just the best at what they do. And they welcomed me to this show, and they didn’t have any question. They didn’t have any problems at all. But, what happened when they didn’t respond to me on this show on Sunday, and the media firestorm hit, apparently I have been told that they started getting beaten up by their friends. Tom Jackson particularly was named to me as being unhappy, but Michael Irvin and others were apparently really getting hammered by their people for letting me get away with that.
As Irvin said today in a newspaper story, he didn’t think anything was wrong when it happened. Berman didn’t think anything had been said untoward when it happened. It was only when he read the comments and then: hey, this looks a little different, cut-and-dried, but when I heard this thing it wasn’t that big a deal. And so they’re now faced with pressure, societal peer pressure. So apparently they got hold of the ESPN management and expressed their unhappiness and concern, and they didn’t want to be cast in this role. They want to just do football. They don’t want to mess with this other stuff. That’s not what they do. They’re not comfortable with it.
Let’s face it, folks. Every day of my existence on this program has been to one degree or another related to or shrouded in controversy. They haven’t been and don’t want to be. That’s not how they view this. It takes getting used to. I didn’t the first two or three years or even longer. It was tough for me, too. I said, “Why am I doing this? Nobody ever hated me before I started this. Now all I’m doing is telling people what I think and half the people that hear me hate my guts.” Nobody ever thought I was all these horrible things before. But, you know, you learn there’s a price to pay. And in certain instances a measure of success. They didn’t want it.
So the ESPN people called and told me this and I said, “What do you want to do? Here’s what I want to do: I want to go to the production meeting Saturday as always, and I want to plan a segment to deal with this, where the people that have now got a problem with it can come back at me on a program that will be the most-watched edition of this program ever. We can put together a segment. You’re going to have a tune-in factor like you’ve never had before, and if they’ve got problems, and if they need to redeem themselves, fine, let ’em have at me. I won’t even wear any armor.” I thought that’s what this was to be anyway. I thought that when I was challenged I was going to get challenged back.
I’m used to that, and I was told that the situation was such that they didn’t think that the existing cast members would go for that. Now, I want to make something very clear. I am not at all dumping on these guys – don’t misunderstand this. I’m just telling you what I’ve been told. And when I was told that is when I decided to resign. The last thing I want to do is make these guys uncomfortable. This is their show. Tom Jackson and Chris Berman have been doing this for 17 years. Irvin, this is his first year. Steve Young, this is his third or fourth or maybe fifth by now; time flies. But it’s their show. I was new to it this year, and took it in a direction that they don’t really want it to go.
I don’t want to force anything on anybody, and if that was the case – and that’s what I was told – that’s when I decided to resign, purely to offer the path of least resistance for my castmates. I didn’t resign because I wanted to buckle under to the pressure of what I said, and that’s not what this was. And, in fact, the people at ESPN never said that that would be the case, that we can’t continue to have you doing this. “You can stay, but you can’t do this.” They never said that. This kind of firestorm – and I’m sure it’s the racial component. These guys just didn’t want to put up with it. So I resigned on that basis, and that’s it.
But I haven’t changed my opinion of what I said originally. I mean, to say this needs to be apologized for is laughable. I’m not even oriented towards it. I was not trying to get a rise out of anybody. I was not trying to make anybody mad. I was not trying to get noticed. I was just offering my opinion. It’s what I think. It’s how I explain the media’s continued devotion to McNabb despite a performance that doesn’t really meet the idolatry or the lavished praise that he gets. He’s a good guy. He’s a great guy, and he’s a good quarterback. We were talking. The whole segment, don’t forget, was “What’s wrong with McNabb?” and my whole point was not a whole lot. [Video: high | low]
We’re doing the segment: “Why do we perceive something wrong?” It’s because the press has built him up. And I’m tell you something else, the idea that I introduced race into this? Andrea Peyser points out today do a Google search on black quarterbacks, you’ll find so many stories by newspaper people, elevating black athletes – which is fine, I didn’t introduce this. Where do you think I got the idea, where do you think I got my opinion that there may be a little bias, prejudice toward McNabb? I got it from exposing myself to the Philadelphia media and others on McNabb. I didn’t make it up. That’s why I’m not going to apologize for it, because I’m not even wrong about it.