“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1 (NIV).
I need to preface this piece with the following disclaimer: I do not claim to have it together.
Like Paul the apostle wrote about himself in his letter to Philippi, I have not obtained it yet. I do not claim to be perfect; nor do I claim to have an immunity from pride or humbling mistakes.
But my twenty-nine plus years on the earth have given me a little bit of perspective. Thus, from my unique vantage point, I feel comfortable in giving a little friendly advice to those who may soon find themselves in the public eye:
If you’re gonna clown somebody for doing something bad, make sure you’re not doing the exact same thing to somebody else. It only makes you look that much worse.
Isiah Thomas: The New Al Capone
This issue vaulted to the forefront of my mind as I read a recent piece by ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, also known as the Boston Sports Guy. His readers had just alerted him to a recent interview of former NBA great and current Knicks GM Isiah Thomas by Stephen A. Smith on New York City’s ESPN radio affiliate 1050 AM. In the interview, Smith asked Thomas to comment, as a high-profile Black sports executive, on the lack of Black sports editors in the media.
Isiah responded by going on a mini-tirade about the bias that sports editors often exhibit in the ways that they process information, frame quotes, etc. Included was this rather defensive bit of commentary:
“And I’ve heard you say this on your show, Stephen A., you’ll call guys out about their ability but you don’t ever get into personal attacks … because that’s when you cross the line and most athletes can understand that. But when you’ve got little guys, you know, sitting behind the desk, you know 5 feet 2 and you never get a chance to see them and they take shots at your character and what you are as a man. If somebody would say those things to you on the street, and would walk up to you and just start saying that to any person in the street … Oh, there’d be a problem. And I’m gonna tell you, if I see this guy Bill Simmons, oh it’s gonna be a problem with me and him.”
Granted, this is a far cry from Pat Robertson almost putting out a hit on the president of Venezuela. But with these set of comments, and others like it, Isiah revealed the dark side of his normally mild-mannered, well-spoken public persona. He was basically saying, hey, you sportswriters are weasels, especially that Bill Simmons, and if I see him in person, I’m gonna squash him like a roach.
Now Simmons himself admitted that he has taken a lot of shots at Isiah Thomas, but he claims (and the links to his previous articles bolster this contention) that he’s never said anything bad about Isiah that A) weren’t documented facts about his personnel decisions as Knicks GM, B) statements about his style of play, or C) isolated incidents containing information independently corroborated by plenty of other unbiased sources.
In other words, he’s never said anything about Thomas that wasn’t either factually accurate or relatively true. But for doing this, again and again,Simmons deserves to catch a beat-down?
I feel a little bad bringing this next part up, because in some ways it feels like I’m piling on. Nevertheless, it’s kind of ironic that I learned about this issue with Isiah and Bill Simmons yesterday — the same day that headlines blared the news that Thomas’ own former VP of marketing, college basketball standout Anucha Brown Sanders, had filed suit against him and the Knicks’ parent company for sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
Among the many accusations leveled against Thomas was that he had turned other Knicks employees against her by berating her publicly with profanity-laced tirades. According to the New York Daily News, these become so frequent that even the Knicks’ star guard Stephon Marbury began referring to her as “a Black b****,” a term that Isiah himself had used on more than one occasion.
Now if that’s not a personal attack, I don’t know what is.
What’s more disturbing about the original incident between Isiah and Bill Simmons is that involved Stephen A. Smith, a man who is known for a brash, confrontational style (his critics call him “Screamin’ A”) and who supposedly doesn’t care who is offended by his version of the truth. Not only did he duck an opportunity to question a public official with a checkered history of decision-making, but he implied that he didn’t even know who Simmons was. This despite the fact they work for the same network (ESPN) and, according to Simmons, one of the producers of Smith’s ESPN2 talk show “Quite Frankly,” had previously contacted Simmons about flying to New York to be a guest on the show.
The next time Stephen A. Smith blasts some milquetoast sports anchor for not asking the hard questions, it’s only going to magnify his own lack of doing the same. This particular scenario may give him some legitimate cover, because hey — it’s not his job to book the guest, it’s the producers’ job. But still. Astute followers of the ESPN media conglomerate were left after this episode with jaws agape, wondering… what happened to Screamin’ A?
Quite frankly, it looks like he’s losing his edge.
Vince calls out Kobe
(In other news, the pot calls the kettle ‘black’)
If you don’t follow sports closely then you might not have heard, but on the same Sunday evening that the NFL’s two conference title games were deciding the participants of this year’s Super Bowl, LA Lakers guard Kobe Bryant set the sports world abuzz by scoring 81 points in a regular season basketball game against the Toronto Raptors.
This is a monumental achievement, eclipsing all other individual scoring accomplishments except for Wilt Chamberlain’s historic 100-point game in 1962. Naturally, everyone in the NBA world wanted to weigh in and give their take, so when reporters from the New Jersey Star Ledger asked New Jersey Nets guard Vince Carter what he thought, he told them he was worried about it sending a bad message to kids about individual vs. team play.
This from someone who averages almost as many shot attempts per game as Kobe Bryant, the man supposedly sending a bad message to kids about team play. And if Vince Carter’s current statistical output isn’t damning enough, his past is.
Toronto Raptor fans remember Vince Carter’s last year with the Raptors, when he played as a shadow of his former self. In 2000, his nickname was “Air Canada,” as he wowed fans all over the world with his athletic dunks, long-range shooting, and flashes of dominant play. But by 2004, in the middle of a long-term contract with the team, Carter was disillusioned with the team’s overall play and lack of payroll flexibility. He openly demanded to be traded on numerous occasions, and gradually forced the Raptors to trade him when it became clear that he would not play hard while suited up in Toronto.
So by repeatedly going through the motions and barely giving half an effort, he torpedoed the fortunes of the ballclub that drafted him and awarded him with a lucrative contract.
And this guy’s worried about Kobe Bryant sending a bad message to kids? Fuggedabout it. If pulling a ‘Kobe’ amounts to playing with matches, then pulling a ‘Vince’ is like hosting a backyard fireworks show with Fire Marshall Bill.
Not just sports but politics, too
You may expect this kind of thing from time to time with out-of-touch athletes, but it’s darn near become the standard with career politicians.
If you don’t believe me, see Sen. Ed Kennedy (D-Mass.), who practically got a hernia trying to block the appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Among his many protests was the idea that he felt Alito’s record showed he was “overly deferential” to the executive branch of government, the branch controlled by the President of the United States. Kennedy was trying to capitalize on the recent criticism of President Bush’s domestic wiretapping programs that many Democrats claim to be illegal. Kennedy claimed that an appointment of Alito to the Supreme Court would endanger the system of checks and balances that ensures an even distribution of power in our U.S. government.
Of course, if you read the transcript of his comments before Congress regarding the impending impeachment of then-president Clinton in 1998, curiously absent from his rhetoric is any mention of checks-and-balances. Instead, he decried partisan attacks on the president from an overzealous House Judiciary Committee.
So apparently it’s only okay to restrict the President’s authority if he doesn’t belong to your party.
Republicans have also gotten into the act, like the many who criticized U.S. Senator (and former first lady) Hillary Rodham Clinton for comparing Congress to a plantation, even though as the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page noted, then Republican Majority Leader Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) essentially said the same thing in 1994.
But even the new, rising stars of politics can endanger their credibility by denouncing problems abroad and overlooking those same problems at home. According to the Tribune’s John Kass, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) faces a difficult task, trying to lead the charge for a new ethical standard of conduct while downplaying the rampant corruption in his own state party. Between embattled governor Rod Blagojevich and the defiant mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley… it’s gotten to the point for Chicago Democrats that no-news-is-good-news.
But not all news out of Chicago is bad…
Oprah & Dave: Models of Contrition
No, not that Dave. I’m speaking of Dave Chapelle.
Because if you examine recent events, both Oprah Winfrey and Dave Chapelle have exhibited a striking willingness to tell the truth about themselves, even when it comes at great personal cost.
Oprah’s epiphany came more recently.
In September, she had enthusiastically endorsed a book of memoirs by James Frey entitled A Million Little Pieces. It was a melodramatic story of a drug-addicted criminal who experiences redemption through incarceration and personal discovery. Winfrey gushed about it repeatedly, claiming she and her whole staff had been absolutely riveted by the book.
It was so visceral, so gut-wrenching… and so false, according to an exposé by The Smoking Gun, a website dedicated to debunking myths. According to the TSG story, most of the details of the central characters, including himself, had been wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect. Oprah’s first inclination, once the controversy surfaced, was to defend her darling author — which she did via a phone call to “Larry King Live!” on CNN.
But once the truth was incontrovertibly evident, she again booked James Frey to appear on her show — and before a national audience, admitted that she was wrong for supporting him. Not only that, she blasted him for what she felt was a work of colossal deceit and betrayal. More important is what she didn’t do, which was try to sweep the whole thing under the rug, or take veiled shots at The Smoking Gun by claiming that they were jealous.
On a national stage, she was bold in admitting that she was wrong.
Similarly refreshing has been the ascent of comic firebrand Dave Chapelle. Known for his ascerbic wit and the gleeful, profane way he skewers our country racial sensibilities, he created a hit show for himself in 2003 with Comedy Central’s “Chapelle’s Show.” Two seasons and $50 million later, he found himself in a weird position. His show’s runaway success and the ubiquitous catchphrases he unwittingly unleashed (“I’m Rick James, b****!”) became increasingly uncomfortable for him, to the point where he began to realize he had created a monster — and it was getting too big for him to control.
What he could have done was keep collecting checks, and once he ran out of original things to say, he could have just kept recycling the same themes and racial cliches that vaulted him to stardom in the first place. But, as he revealed (subscription req’d) to Time reporter Christopher John Farley, he didn’t want success to change him. And more to the point, he began to wonder if his own sketches were crossing the line, and reinforcing the same stereotypes he had previously ridiculed.
So instead, he bounced.
Just straight up disappeared, taking a hasty “spiritual retreat” to South Africa. After he bolted during production of the show’s third season, and many speculated as to the cause of his sudden change of heart. (Including this wacky “Worth 1000” Photoshop contest.)
It wasn’t until the aforementioned Time interview that he revealed his inner motivation for leaving. And this interview, to me, represented Chapelle’s finest hour.
Because once he had taken the time to view the situation from an objective standpoint, he could have tried to distance himself from everything that he felt was wrong. He could have, very easily, blamed the others who surrounded him, especially since some of those people were White, and Lord knows White people make easy targets for racism these days.
But he didn’t go that route. Instead, he took the time to undergo some personal introspection, and pointed the finger — at himself.
Again, I say — how refreshing.
What Does This All Mean?
Avoiding hypocrisy is not the same thing as avoiding judgment.
The reason why I quoted Paul’s verse from Romans and not Jesus’ more famous judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged quote was because people tend to misunderstand that verse. Judgment is not the problem. As morally conscious, responsible citizens — we must use judgment.
The problem is when we judge others without taking a hard ethical inventory of our own flaws and issues.
It doesn’t work.
The same way the parental philosophy of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do doesn’t work. The same way that women who wear suggestive clothing can’t get men to take them seriously. The same way that trying to save the environment while driving a Hummer H2 doesn’t work.
Millions of regular people envy the money and notoriety that celebrities regularly enjoy. But we have an important advantage over celebrities, in that we can make most of our mistakes without the whole world knowing about it.
So if you admire Isiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, or Dave Chapelle, then honor them by learning from their mistakes.
I’m G*Natural, and thanks for mixin’ it up with me.