Sportswriter Harvey Araton's column Sunday on the retirement of NFL broadcasting legend John Madden kicked him on the way out the door, actually accusing Madden, a former coach turned influential football analyst, of only talking about football: "Madden, for the most part, kept his eye on the football."
His mantra should have been: it's a football game, duh! He was a revolutionary in the booth, especially as a master of shtick. Unfortunately, as the national voice of his sport, he was more the mouse who didn't roar but played it safe, by punting most controversy, like other champion American pitchmen, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods....Across three decades, as the N.F.L. became the unparalleled success story and financial model in American sports, there were many subjects worthy (labor, steroids, concussions, etc.) of someone with a vast weekly audience and a daily pass into television reporters' newspaper columns. Madden, for the most part, kept his eye on the football....Admittedly, no laws are broken by the failure to use a platform for social good, but Jordan and Woods over the years have been called out for never speaking out, risking their corporate appeal. Why only athletes? Why not men like Madden?
For comparison's sake, can you imagine Bob Costas - who at the national level is as much the voice of baseball as Madden has been football's - achieving his level of deserved respect by commenting almost exclusively about what happens between the white lines?
There's a history here that makes Araton's rant not just rude, but obnoxious. Compare Araton's disappointment that Madden failed to speak out with his horrified reaction in his May 26, 2006 column, after the Duke women's lacrosse team had the audacity to support their male colleagues being falsely accused of rape bysaying they would wearheadbands that read INNOCENT at their next match.
Far from supporting the athletes for taking a stand on a public issue, for commenting on something outside the white lines, Araton instead wondered why the college administrators had not intervened to stop that sort ofspeech:
Innocent until ? Presumed innocence? Those are sweatband statements that would be more palatable. Even then, does cross-team friendship and university pride negate common sense at a college as difficult to gain admission to as Duke? Has anyone - from the women's lacrosse coach, Kerstin Kimel, to the Duke president, Richard H. Brodhead - reminded the players of the kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on?
Shouldn't the judicial system be allowed to work without the accused being martyred, considering the long history in this country of black women being abused by white men of means?