Remember when you were on the school playground and some wise guy was really getting the best of you with some trash talk? You’d deliver that infuriating turn of phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”
Or this rhyme, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say, bounces off me and sticks to you.”
Apart from the sentiment articulated in these sing-song expressions, culture always reacts as if sticks and stones were actually thrown.
In this space, I’ve decided to propose the “Freedom of Speech Hall of Fame.” It is dedicated to the astonishing commentary by conversationalists and their recipient’s extraordinary insensitivity.
You’ll notice that my first suggested inductees are not great political barons touting liberty, justice and patriotic pride. Wise or not, these are simply Americans conveying their personal opinions.
CBS Sports pundit Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder posthumously inducted for his comments from 1988 that African Americans were naturally superior athletes because they had been bred to produce stronger offspring during slavery.
Macon native John Rocker’s observations regarding New York Mets’ fans in a 1999 Sports Illustrated interview earns his inclusion. Using coarse language, Rocker openly shared disdain for foreigners in the Big Apple and among other things, compared Gotham to downtown Beirut.
In 2007, MSNBC’s host Don Imus described the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, which comprises of eight African-American and two white players, as “nappy-headed hos.”
During the summer of 2008, the Rev. Jesse Jackson whispered that he’d like to neuter then Sen. Barack Obama, for “speaking down to black people.” Jackson didn’t realize the cameras were rolling.
Earlier this year, Juan Williams was terminated at NPR after he publicly confessed unease. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried, I get nervous.”
Rush Limbaugh was labeled racist in October 2003 for suggesting the press favored then Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donavan McNabb because McNabb is black. Limbaugh resigned his duties as a pundit on the ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown show.
Hank Williams Jr. compared President Obama to Hitler Monday past. Network brass overreacted in pulling Junior’s well-branded Monday Night Football theme song. Then Williams posted a copy of what he sent ESPN executives on his website. “... By pulling my opening (song) ESPN stepped on the toes of the First Amendment-freedom of speech, so therefore me, my song, and ‘All My Rowdy Friends’ are out of here. It’s been a great run.”
Three weeks ago, septuagenarian Tony Bennett offered this cockamamie idea; “They flew the plane in, but we caused it,” The imprudent crooner was referring to the terrorists on 9/11 flying planes into buildings and went on to chide the United States for being a bully.
Veteran journalist Barbara Walters found out about double standards last week, after it was revealed that Texas Gov. Rick Perry had frequented a hunting club where a rock included the N-word carved on it. Walters used the actual N- word in a news context on ABC’s “The View” program. Black panelist Sherri Shepherd blasted Walters, who quickly responded by pointing out Whoopi Goldberg first used the N-word. Shepherd said it was the way Walters had said it; the “semantics.”
This column serves as a reminder that while government can’t harass us for free political dissertation, there are costs associated with any liberated expressions in a society that’s so thin-skinned and often looking to be offended.
Kenny Burgamy serves as a marketing consultant and is co-host of the Kenny B. Charles E., TV, radio and Internet program.