The Fabrication of Courage by Sports Media

For my money, it doesn’t get sadder than Mike Golic of ESPN's Mike and Mike regaling his listeners on his morning show about how the St. Louis Rams players were “courageous” last November 30th for taking to the field with their hands in the air, signifying the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” symbol of the Ferguson protestors.

What he didn't know, and neither did the masses listening, was that before the game that same Sunday morning of November 30th, a short drive away, Zemir Begic, a white Bosnian, was sitting in his car when the “peaceful” rioters began visiting some of their non-violence against him by damaging his car.  He got out, confronting them about what he felt to be the unjustified destruction of his property -- so the mob beat him to death with hammers and left him on the street.

The explanation for his death? "We think it was wrong place, wrong time," police representative Schron Jackson offered.

Imagine, for just one brief moment, that this had been the explanation given for Michael Brown's death in Ferguson.

We can't imagine the outrage that might cause, but one can certainly only imagine how often the gang who killed Zemir Begic had thrown their hands in the air in protest at one point or another since Brown’s death, equally upset about the injustice in Darren Wilson's nonindictment, furious for the same reasons that these Rams players felt compelled to commit to their "courageous" spectacle on the football field.

I’ll admit it -- this symbolic “hands-up” gesture has had remarkable staying power beyond my expectations. Call me naïve and a bit more faithful in humanity’s capacity for reason than reality suggests than I should be, but the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” narrative should have been understood as nonsense and unfounded symbolism long ago in consideration to the mountain of evidence which suggests that it never took place. Even the gaggle that would typically champ at the bit at this kind of racially-focused frenzy admit that it has nothing to do with actual circumstances and more to do with symbolism to promote a cause.  And I'd imagine that others who at first found it a fashionable symbol have since ceased using it.

And how could any sensible person not? The findings of multiple forensic analyses and a majority of eyewitness accounts refute the notion that Michael Brown was innocently walking the streets before submitting in such a way, only to have Officer Wilson shoot him.

But enough of the facts. The story about these courageous football players -- that’s what people wanted to hear.

So Mike Golic went on to suggest that the NFL should not punish these players, because "that's their conviction," and punishing them for it would be unjustified, citing that players are already subject to stringent rules about public expression -- unreasonable stuff, too, such as having to wear suits when fielding questions at post-game press conferences.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Mike Golic commented, part of a scattered diatribe in defense of the players. His thoughts then meandered between this being the players’ “freedom of speech” and they should therefore not be punished by the NFL, to the NFL otherwise unreasonably regulating players’ public expression, finally concluding that sports are the perfect place for such public and divisive social expression, because without such actions in sports we would not have actions in sports that are “courageous.”

These red herrings that he went on to slather should be familiar by now. First, we have the “everyone’s entitled to their opinion” failsafe, coupled with the “freedom of speech” angle -- presenting these pretentious abstractions as centrist analysis.

The obvious response to this is that everyone is indeed entitled to his opinion, but not his own facts. And the facts clearly suggest that the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” premise is bunk, so these players were ignorantly goose-stepping to a media drumbeat that is seemingly and unjustly alleging that Darren Wilson is a murderer, when the evidence suggests that this would be an unjust label.  Two New York cops are dead right now as a result of that untrue, yet stupidly pervasive fiction.  

But perhaps most importantly, this has never been a freedom of speech issue in the context of American citizens’ rights. That’s such a painfully obvious statement that it seems silly to have to explain it further. The government is not reprimanding or punishing these players for their expression, nor were these players ever in fear of such reprisal. Their right to free speech, in the context of the negative rights enumerated in the Constitution’s First Amendment, was never in doubt. But what courage!

I wonder, just how married is Mike Golic to this notion of “free speech” in sports? I wonder if he thinks that Jimmy the Greek’s right to “freedom of speech” was violated when he was fired for his incendiary and racist comments against blacks that damaged the network’s brand? If he would be in support of the CBS decision to fire Jimmy the Greek but oppose efforts by the Rams or the NFL to punish these players for their incendiary statement, he is married to the social paradigm against which Jimmy the Greek offended, not “freedom of speech.”

But the most aggravating, and most dangerous, aspect surrounding this entire scenario is the ridiculous notion that this expression was somehow “courageous.” Nothing about it was courageous, and neither was LeBron James' "I Can't Breathe" spectacle or Sheila Jackson Lee’s sideshow in the halls of Congress. These are episodes of theatrics which advance an unsubstantiated and malicious narrative against cops that appears to have no grounding in facts outside of those who follow the rabble-rousing rhetoric of a race-hustling media and political machine which seems all too anxious to jump on board with a sensational story and stir racial animosity -- and nothing more.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.