Steve Lyons and Donna Shalala: We Hardly Knew Ye

I’d love to get all exercised about Steve Lyons making some slightly off-color remarks last week. Really, I would. But I can’t. I just can’t.

See, here’s the thing. I don’t care.

I don’t care that he alluded to his wallet missing in the same sentence as he noted that Lou Pinniella was “habla-ing Espanol”, which caused some twitchy dweeb at Fox to assume he meant — and could only mean — that this connection in conversation was evidence of bigotry and racism. Who knows, Steve Lyons probably stomps kittens to death in his spare time, too.

Obviously. The conclusion follows from the premises.

What I do care about is that Lyons got fired for uttering a couple of sentences that could be interpreted as being racial.

Sometimes people say some things that are, maybe, not quite as measured as they might otherwise be, in a more perfect world where we can all eat ice cream for dinner every night without gaining weight, and nobody ever mis-speaks. Again, I just don’t care.

That is a mighty high standard, and I don’t care to be held to it. I don’t hold others to it, and I sure don’t expect those who have to blab incessantly, for hours on end, for their job, to never ever ever say anything stupid. Who could live up to that?

More generally, what good is a standard that is nearly impossible to meet? And whose interests are served by such a standard?

The real issues here are these. One, corporate America is chickenshit when it comes to stuff like this. Any old controversy, and they run for the exits as fast as their shiny Italian loafers will carry them. Principles be damned! And two, we’ve helped create that culture with our stupid “political correctness” drive of the last 20 years. Reap what you sow, etc. And, possibly, three, Steve Lyons was on thin ice already anway, and all they needed was an excuse to fire him (I have no idea, I’m just offering that as a freebie. Wild speculation, free of charge. You’re welcome).

This kind of thing drives me batty. Why do we get so jumpy about things people say on the spur of the moment? It’s just the usual ration of random bullshit flying out of the mouths of people who are paid to flap their jaws. Sometimes, some of it is going to be even more useless than normal. Are we going to pretend to be surprised by that unavoidable fact?

If somebody says something, even in public, that everybody realizes is pretty stupid or offensive, who is harmed by this? Everybody already knows its dumb. Does firing the guy cause the words to be extricated back into the mouth from whence they came? Does it rewind the clock and make it all better? What is gained by firing the guy? Say your apology, show appropriate contrition, and move on.

Is the very idea that the words are out there, bouncing around in the public arena, rather than inside somebody’s head, is that so scary, really? Are we going to melt, or something? Are we that tender and moist that we have to protect ourselves from even mentioning words and ideas, and friggin’ jokes, all things that are certainly open to interpretation in the first place? ‘Cuz I’m not. Don’t know about you, but I’m OK with it. Are you?

Besides, we all know Lou Piniella is a huge wallet-stealer. HUGE. Lyons just got tired of covering for him. Wouldn’t you? A big time guy like Lou Piniella goes around stealing folks’ wallets — just for sport, mind you, he sure doesn’t need the coin — wouldn’t you get tired of protecting him? Sure you would.

On the other hand, we have Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami. They had a prison fight the other day with Florida International, and a football game broke out. Haha. Ha.

OK, it’s not all that funny. What is especially not funny is the ridiculous reaction of Shalala as the head of a university involved in this fight. The university suspended the players for one game, and announced a zero tolerance policy. That’s it.

First of all, one game, across the board, is not enough for what transpired on that field Saturday night. One particular player was stomping on helpless Florida International players with his cleats. Some were swinging their helmets as weapons.

Second, shouldn’t there already be a zero tolerance policy against prison fights during college football games? What this tells me is that there is a culture of permissiveness and thuggishness on that football team, which, based on the last two decades of televised evidence, is not really going out on a limb. Yeah, I’m brave that way.

So let’s put all this together. Friday night, Steve Lyons makes an ill-advised joke in good fun with his broadcast partner, and gets fired. Saturday, Miami players use their cleats and helmets as weapons, and get only a one-game suspension.

Call me kooky, but shouldn’t we have a little more tolerance for words and ideas and jokes, and a little less for assault and battery with a deadly weapon?

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