Doug Gottlieb subbed for Colin Cowherd today. I guess the job requires a particularly high ratio of loud opinion to actual facts.
In a rant about Vick and other matters, Gottlieb attacked ill-informed athletes spouting ill-informed opinions about the Vick case. Among the people Gottlieb picked on was Stephon Marbury, whose comments about Vick earlier this week made him a favorite whipping boy on sports talk radio yesterday (as dwil noted would happen).
As Dwil wrote yesterday, Marbury compared dogfighting to deer hunting, suggesting that the former was a sport, just behind closed doors.
Gottlieb went after Marbury’s comments as ‘crazy talk’ and asserted that Marbury said what he said out of complete ignorance concerning the case. Ignorance because, according to Gottlieb, the gambling aspects of the case are not the real issue, nor is the dog-fighting itself – its “sporting” aspects, what has Vick in so much trouble.
Instead, according to Gottlieb, it was the cruelty with which the dogs were disposed of if they underperformed, that was the key legal point in the case. Marbury’s comments, according to Gottlieb, show that he was completely ignorant of the gruesome way in which Vick and his accomplices are said to have killed the dogs.
A couple of comments here. In the ten minutes that I heard Gottlieb, he harped almost constantly on other people’s ignorance, particularly mocking the sports discourse for allowing ill-informed athletes to spout ill-informed opinions.
Which begs the question: Did Gottlieb see any irony in this?
Sidebar: in the midst of his rant, Gottlieb spouted sports talk’s favorite new urban legend – that Jesse Jackson came to Durham during the height of the Duke Lacrosse case. I can find no evidence that he did so. Ditto for Sharpton).
In any event, the first point is that, concerning the Vick case, Gottlieb’s dead wrong from a legal standpoint. The indictment against Vick is for participating in a conspiracy in aid of an unlawful “animal fighting venture.” There is sensational material in the indictment – the notorious means by which dogs were executed if they failed to perform in test fights. And, I am told, those means could influence the judge when he sentences Vick. But, from a legal standpoint, it appears to scarcely matter whether the test dogs were drowned, electrocuted, or put out of their misery in some more “humane” way. The conspiracy for which Vick is being charged is a conspiracy to promote an illegal operation. Furthermore, as many commentators have noted in the past few days, it’s precisely the gambling aspects of the operation that could prove most difficult for Vick to overcome whenever it is that he applies for re-instatement with the NFL, which he will presumably do after the completion of his sentence and whatever suspension follows that.
It’s a favorite sport of many sports talking heads to mock athletes – especially African American ones – for their diction, their style of communication and, as in this case, their apparent ignorance. Do I think Gottlieb’s consciously hitting Marbury because he’s Black? No, I don’t. It’s just a very common dynamic. Last night, on FOX sports radio, Andrew Siciliano also bashed Marbury, and took pains to read out as slowly and mockingly as he could, Marbury’s words, dwelling for effect on the “you know” verbal pause in Marbury’s comments, and also making much of the fact that Marbury apparently incorrectly pluralized “deers.”
But, Gottlieb’s accusation of ignorance is itself confused. Marbury may not know about the graphic details in the indictment, though given how widely reported they are, I suspect he does know. And, one may disagree with Marbury comparing deer hunting to dog fighting, but the comparison itself is not irrelevant to the conversation, given that the dog-fighting itself is the central reason that Vick is in hot water.
In addition to mocking Marbury’s grammar and his supposed ignorance of the case, the most common criticism of Marbury was his apparent failure to grasp the elementary fact that deer hunting is legal while dog-fighting is illegal. But, let’s back up a minute here. I have heard it said a thousand times in the past few weeks, whether in relation to Barry Bonds or Michael Vick, that trotting out the line “innocent until proven guilty” is a bogus line, and is besides the point. Why? Because in the “court of public opinion” we don’t need to wait for legal verdicts to form judgments. We can form our own opinions, based on common sense and whatever else we rely upon to form our views of particular matters. Bottom line: sports talking heads don’t need to consult the law before they begin fulminatng. Gottlieb himself has, in the past, made the point emphatically in relation to steroids and baseball players.
And, that’s fine. But, if it’s legitimate for sports talk people to spout judgments irrespective of whether the legal process has revealed its truth, why, all of a sudden, have so many of the same sports people turned into officers of the court in attacking Marbury? Yes, as a factual legal matter, deer hunting is legal, and dog-fighting is illegal. And, of course, most of us can agree that the details in the Vick case are stomach-turning. But, is it really out of bounds to wonder out loud why some forms of killing animals for sport are OK, while others subject an individual to vilification? As many readers of TSF have pointed out, we in America have a highly idiosyncratic view of animal cruelty. Read up on how we get veal, for example. Siciliano tried to defend deer hunting last night by saying that people do it for food. But, that’s a joke. Yes, some people eat venison. But, I am willing to wager (metaphorically speaking, of course) that most deer killed by hunters don’t end up in their stomachs. (and check out these provocative remarks last month from Max Kellerman. Scroll down the post for the link). In other words, it’s a not entirely unreasonable philosophical question to raise – why is killing animals for sport OK in some contexts and not others? And, many of you may have good answers to that question. But, is Marbury really an idiot for asking that out loud?
Marbury’s an odd guy and he often says odd things. But, call me crazy – I don’t see his remarks the other day as so outlandish. The ridicule to which he was subjected has more to do, in my view, with a sports talk culture that, for all its populist tone, loves to condescend, to make itself feel superior to professional athletes because some athletes don’t always express themselves so coherently. Gottlieb’s attack was itself ill-informed and Siciliano’s was just cheap and gratuitous (consistent with the culture of snark apparently favored by the target demogrpahic).
Furthermore, as I’ve written previously, it is an on-going source of irritation to me that Marbury, who’s shown more of a social conscience than 99% of all athletes (and sports media), is an ongoing source of ridicule, tempered nary at all by any respect for what he’s tried to do off the court.
I’m not here to defend the substance of Marbury’s comments. They’re a matter for debate. But, the smugness of much of sports media – its unearned self-righteous indignation and condescension is reaching frankly nauseating extremes. And, its parasitic relationship to bad news is no less so. The last six weeks have been a dream come true for all those talking heads who, at the beginning of July, were bemoaning how little happens on the sports calendar before football starts.
I’ll give credit to Gottlieb for acknowledging one important truth yesterday: that in his line of work, mocking athletes for speaking up on controversial issues is great for business.