Higher-ups cheer lowest common denominator

December 19, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

If you're a football fan, this is, as Johnny Mathis sings, the most wonderful time of the year. If it feels as if there's an NFL or college game on every day between now and Jan. 4, it isn't far from the truth.

Keeping it all in perspective will be a challenge - maybe more of a challenge than we recognize. After all, our elected and appointed leaders haven't done it. If those entrusted with maintaining priorities and focusing on what's truly important can't resist the allure of our true national pastime, then what chance do the unwashed masses have?

On the bright side, though, what has become apparent the past few weeks is that members of Congress, the founder of an influential political movement and a chapter head of America's oldest civil rights organization are all normal people just like us. They come from us, and they have the same interests and passions as us.

In short, they're nuts about football.

So Congress held hearings about the Bowl Championship Series, turning the halls of the Capitol into a pep rally for the representatives' favorite teams.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the driving force behind the Moral Majority and chancellor of Liberty University, fired the head coach of a football program without even a hint of academic, recruitment or criminal misbehavior - because his team didn't win enough.

And J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, took time away from his other responsibilities to criticize the Eagles' Donovan McNabb.

To answer the first and most obvious question: Yes, they all should have better things to do.

On the other hand: No, they can't help themselves. It's football.

Still, we demand a little more from those we put into positions of power and influence. They have to be better than us, sharper, more clear-thinking, less prone to the urges that drive us to paint our faces, ignore our families and skip a mortgage payment to buy a plasma-screen high-definition TV.

Congressmen, for instance, have to spend more time debating the war, housing the hurricane victims and even chiding college football officials for their lame graduation rates and shoddy hiring practices, and less time leading the cheers for their state's teams. Some of them would have been better off coming to the hearings dressed in mascot uniforms; Rep. Joe Barton should have given up all pretense and led a steer onto the floor in support of his beloved Texas Longhorns.

Falwell, meanwhile, said in a Sun story last week that he wants to model Liberty's football program after the likes of Notre Dame. We'll come back to that.

Everything else in the article reflected extremely well on Liberty. Regardless of one's feelings about Falwell and his politics, the standards to which the school appears to hold its athletes are commendable. You won't confuse this place with Colorado, for instance.

If you do confuse it with other schools, though, it's because apparently none of that means more than winning; otherwise, head coach Ken Karcher might have survived his 21-46 record. In that sense, its standards are the same as everyone else's, including Notre Dame's. Not so moral, but definitely in the majority.

Then there's Mondesire, whose name recognition, until recently, likely didn't extend beyond Philadelphia, where besides leading the NAACP chapter, he also is publisher of a weekly black newspaper. All in all, two noble callings - both of which were tainted nationwide by one epic rant in his column.

McNabb, Mondesire wrote, was "mediocre at best." His decision to become less of a runner and more of a pocket passer, he wrote, was "insulting" to all black quarterbacks who have fought the stereotypes about them. He called McNabb a "failure as a team leader" and pointed out that he should have resolved Terrell Owens' contract issues by giving up some of his own money. Mondesire implied that McNabb was a sellout. He even took juvenile jabs at his soup commercials.

Must have been a good week for freedom, justice and equality up in Philly.

Mondesire told The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday that he had nothing to apologize for, although he has tried to distinguish his role as "a fan of football" from that of a newspaper publisher and of an officer in a group that once fought against lynchings, separate-but-equal schools and segregated buses.

In his defense, though, we all know the difference now. And we all know what Mondesire, Falwell and the congressmen who participated in that hearing really are.

No matter what their titles are, and no matter what we ask of them on behalf of a better society - they're fans, fanatics, just like us.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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