Though more interested in the Celtics this season than in recent years, I somehow missed the radio broadcast of the game against the Rockets the other night. (I also spaced on catching Gorman and Heinsohn on the tube.) So, I am only now learning that Cedric Maxwell said a stupid thing; a stupid thing said for which he will offer an on-air apology during tonight’s broadcast of the Celtics/Knicks (little bottom-feeder) Garden party.
I’ve always imagined that Maxwell is a really good guy. Seemingly smart, fun-loving, and appearing not to take himself nor those around him too seriously. And he does a pretty good job as analyst. Great player, too: certainly enjoyed him shutting down Bernard King whatever year that was. My only brush with him was at an airport luggage carousel. (Where else?) I was on a recruiting trip for Harvard hoops; all my bags had Reebok emblazoned on them – they were our sponsors and gave us free stuff. Maxwell, a few years into his retirement, apparently thinking I looked more like a Reebok rep than a college basketball coach, came up to me and asked me if I worked for the sneaker company. I don’t know . . . was he looking for a gym bag? Sneakers? An endorsement deal?
Anyway, his ‘mot faux‘ (pardon my French) puts him only as the latest in a long line of those who said (presumably because they were thinking) stupid things. Stupid things that are typically sexist, racist, homophobic; the sort of thing that, undeniably, helps promote and ensure fear, mistrust, division. (“Aw, c’mon, it was just a joke.”) Let’s see: Howard Cosell, Jimmy the Greek, Steve Lyons, and a couple of local Boston radio doofuses: Dennis and Callahan, and many, many others. In the case of Maxwell, it’s easy to imagine, given his carefree, joking, keep-it-loose style, it’s entirely plausible, obvious, in fact, that he was hoping to make a joke, to be funny, to appeal to those who might think it funny. Hmmmm. Maybe not so funny to girls who are listeners or the mothers and fathers of girls and women who continue to seek equal footing, a fair shake in society. I know that sounds sort of heavy, but put yourself in a girl’s shoes, or of a parent of a girl who wants her to have all the opportunities anyone else has. At one point, maybe not so long ago, “go back to the cottonfields” might have been an attempt at humor, too. That one was never funny either.
But my problem with all this isn’t so much the speakers, my problem is with what is soon conjured by their superiors (or employers) as the salve to heal the wound, the little band-aid on the boo-boo: this idea of “on-air apology”. That’s all well and good, I suppose, if the goal is to save the job or neck of the misspeaker. But the real problem, the real issue is all those listeners, all those for whom the joke WAS funny (and intended). If there is to be real restitution or retribution, some worthwhile and impactful effort needs to be put forth to demonstrate that the speaker and the group that employs the speaker really means what the apology says. Dennis and Callahan should have been put together with the Center for the Study of Sport and Society or a similar organization to hold “on-air” forums to discuss racism, racist language and its effect on us all. Definitely. It was a great opportunity to turn a negative around. Similarly, Mawell and his employer, Entercom Communications, should team with Women’s Sports Foundation. (or somebody) and face squarely the issue of sexism, sexist language and its damaging effects. If the apology means anything, then that message needs to reach deep inside not only the joker himself, but all those for whom the joke was intended.
Besides, Violet Palmer is a really good ref (and I’m crying about calls all the time). Otherwise she would not have been in the league so long. And I believe Cedric Maxwell knows that, too.