Monday, January 25, 2010
Next Time, Just Take the Day Off
If you haven't heard by now, ESPN's Mike Greenberg nearly got hit by a career-ending train last Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Or, perhaps, he almost stepped in front of that train on his own stupid accord.
Rattling off an intro, he said "Martin Luther CoonKING Day" and then plowed ahead hoping nobody heard.
Um, wrong. In this day and age, especially where he's simulcast on TV without a 7-second delay or dump button, everything gets heard.
Mortified, he issued a 5-sentence apology later in the day. ESPN accepted the apology, and moved on.
It was, I hate to admit it, the right call.
Sometimes, a slip is just a slip. Even though I have been rather shocked to hear some people raise an eyebrow like "heeeeyyy, wait a minute!"
One of the more common lines of argument goes like this: "Even if it's a slip, the mere fact that it came out of his mouth, MEANT THAT IT IS SOMEWHERE IN HIS HEAD!"
Well, I don't think Mike Greenberg is a racist. Weenie? Yes. Racist. No.
But let's just deconstruct the logic of those who think that this should be a "bigger deal" so to speak.
Do you really think that some white announcers can't wait for this annual federal holiday to "slip in" a little "oops" to make a racist joke? That guys who have worked their whole life to build a career in broadcasting, are willing to "let it ride" that they can pull this off?
Unless you believe that, you must then take the "it was intentional" theory off the table.
The fall back argument is that such a hateful word shouldn't ever be in a broadcaster's head, much less close enough to his lips to let it accidentally come out.
Well that's insane. Any adult has certainly heard of the word "coon" used as a racist slur. So by definition, it is IN your head. Even if you reject it, never use it, and abhor it being said by anyone, it is there.
Why then could it come out?
Because saying "Martin Luther King" involves the "oooh" in "Luther" and the hard "Kuh" in "King." And if you include the "Junior" there is another "ooh" waiting as a phonetic land mine on the other side.
Granted, the sounds aren't exactly right next to each other, but I can see how you can screw them up if you are especially sloppy.
Or ESPN has been paying, promoting, and harboring one huge racist with a great cover as a nebbishy metrosexual, and thank God this glitch finally revealed it!
I have joked to my colleagues in radio over the years, that MLK Day is the "most lethal broadcasting day on the calendar" for us white guys.
It seems like any screw up now, no matter how small, can be lethal. And forget being a white guy who actually wants to use a MLK related topic for discussion on this day.
Ohhhh, no, pal. What are you insane?
Anything you say, can and will be used against you.
My theory is that Greenberg knew this, and knew of another famous incident where a weatherman in Las Vegas by the name of Rob Blair LOST HIS JOB for the exact gaffe. Despite apologies on air, and elsewhere, and despite the station GM admitting it was just a slip of the tongue, he was gonzo!
Like a golfer on a nemesis hole with a lake down the right side of the fairway, all you can think of is "don't hit it in the lake." Greeny, probably had some nervous gremlin in his head that was saying "don'tsaycoon, don'tsaycoon, don'tsaycoon".
Sound ridiculous? Sorta. But arguing that he's a racist is even more ridiculous.
If you were told to walk down a 100 yard sidewalk without stepping on any cracks, you would probably do that with ease.
How about if you were told that stepping on a single crack, however, would cause you to be fired, and likely end your career?
Well then, it would be a pretty nerve wracking 100 yard walk, no?
All that said, it would be better to just take the day off if you are a white dude on the radio. The only problem, is that the holiday takes place smack dab in the middle of the NFL playoffs, not to mention winter. Aside from skiing, what are going to do with that day off?
So I always work that day, if that's okay with everybody.
And I rarely, if ever, say the words "Martin Luther King Jr," just to be extra safe and all.
I hope that too, doesn't make me a racist.