I've been thinking for a few days about what, if anything, I had to say about Don Imus and his offensive comments.
Unlike most opinion-mongers on the Internet these days, I wanted to give myself some time to digest as much information as possible before passing judgement on the situation. With the announcement yesterday that CBS has fired Imus over his racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team, I'm left to wonder:
Why are Americans only satisfied when someone gets crucified?
We always want someone to pay, as if the only thing that can right a wrong is a pound of flesh. (Lawsuits, the death penalty, insurance settlements ... the list goes on.) But instead of looking at every injustice as an opportunity to punish the wrongdoer, why don't we more often look at injustices as opportunities to educate?
There's no doubt what Imus said is deplorable and absolutely unacceptable, but I find it unfortunate that the first reaction of grandstanding third parties is to call for the man to lose his job, as if that was the only thing that could harm Imus enough to right the wrong.
In the wake of the furor he caused, Imus was contrite and sorry. He courageously faced his critics when he just as easily could have hidden and waited for the storm to pass. But of all the people to respond in the media to Imus' epithet, the only ones to seize the opportunity before them were the very people Imus impinged: The players themselves, and their coach, C. Vivian Stringer (in photo, above).
As hurt as they were, never once did they call for his job. Instead, they chose to have a meeting with Imus -- private, behind closed doors, no media invited. They chose, in the end, to accept his apology, and begin the process of forgiveness, which brings its close friend -- healing -- with it.
"These comments are indicative of greater ills in our culture," the team's statement said Friday. "It is not just Mr. Imus, and we hope that this will be and serve as a catalyst for change. Let us continue to work hard together to make this world a better place."
And of all the "reverends" who have been so vocal in the wake of the comments, only one -- Stringer's own pastor, Rev. DeForest Soaries -- eximplified the compassion of his religion.
For those that believe America has taken a step forward because Imus was fired, I beg to differ. Although no hero, is there any better man to share what was learned from this experience than the very man who had to learn the most from the mistake? Instead, the only message seems to be, "Don't say one wrong thing, or you'll lose your job." After all, when Rev. Al Sharpton suggested to Imus that he should not walk away from this unscathed -- meaning he should be fired -- Imus spoke a truthful response:
At a news conference later Friday, (Soaries) announced a plan to hold a town meeting within 30 days on the Rutgers campus involving educators, entertainers, young people and clergy to address a culture that "has produced language that has denigrated women."
"No African-American leader, no national leader should consider this a victory," Soaries said in reference to Imus' firing. "We have to begin working on a reponse to the larger problem."
"Unscathed? Don't you think I'm humiliated?" Imus said. "Don't you think I'm embarrassed?"No, America will talk a step forward when our society truly understand why words such as his are so hurtful -- something that will only happen when leaders use these incidents as teachable moments rather than opportunities to rage with rhetoric.