Is Don Imus irredeemably stupid or just a run-of-the-mill racist? Perhaps the answer is both. On Monday, Imus’s sports sidekick, Warner Wolf, was going over the incredibly long arrest history of football star Adam "Pacman" Jones and Imus just couldn’t help himself, interrupting with the kind of question Rush Limbaugh would love: "What color is he?"
"African-American," said Wolf. "Well, there you go," harrumphed Imus. "Now we know." That is the racist part. The stupidity swirls about Imus’s subsequent excuse for the inexcusable. He was apparently–in the proud tradition of the civil rights movement–standing up for racial justice. The next day on his show, in a desperate effort to hang onto his job, Imus claimed, "Obviously, [the police] are picking on him. So I asked Warner what color he was. Well, obviously, I already knew what color he was. What people should be outraged about is they arrest blacks for no reason. There was no reason to arrest this kid six times. Maybe he did something once, but I mean everyone does something once." He also said Jones is a "lovely kid."
If you believe that Imus was actually speaking out against racism, you must also believe the war in
But even if you do believe that Imus has traded in his five-gallon cowboy hat for a black beret, his own words contradict this. This is the man run out of CBS radio and MSNBC last year for calling the
Jones, who despite his arrests and year-long suspension from the league, has never actually been convicted of anything, said yesterday, "I’m truly upset about the comments. Obviously Mr. Imus has problems with African-Americans. I’m upset, and I hope the station he works for handles it accordingly. I will pray for him."
Yet so far WABC has done nothing. They’re seemingly convinced that Imus was merely making a misunderstood anti-racist statement. Other defenders have come out of the woodwork, although with allies like these, Imus won’t be gaining anymore credibility. For instance there’s Sean Hannity, who argues, "Do you realize I’ve heard this guy repeatedly talk about race relations and the negativity and the negative impact it’s had on people’s lives? Don’t you think if you heard that these comments would be in a broader context that you could judge him by before you run out there?" But even conservative commentators who defended Imus vociferously in the past have said that this might be a
It’s past time for Imus to go. It is ridiculous that people like Sean Hannity, who are all for shredding the Constitution when it comes to the rights of antiwar protesters or detainees in the "war on terror," wrap themselves in the Bill of Rights and champion the First Amendment and "free speech" when it comes to Imus. This has nothing to do with free speech. This is about whether blatant racism is acceptable both in sports and on commercial radio. This is about whether we embrace the idea that with a microphone comes some measure of responsibility. Finally, most critical, this is about whether Imus himself will ever have to own up to anything. He blamed the black community and hip-hop for his comments about the
Imus can spare us all the kabuki theater of pretending to show how much he has learned from the
[Dave Zirin is the first sports correspondent for the Nation Magazine He is the author of “Welcome to the Terrordome” (Haymarket) and “A People’s History of Sports in the