Monday, October 16, 2006

Steve Lyons, Jimmy Snyder and Phil Mushnick

Steve Lyons was fired this weekend after saying "Lou's habla-ing some espanol there, and I'm still looking for my wallet. I don't understand him, and I don't want to sit close to him now." Lou is Lou Piniella, part of the FOX broadcasting team that included Lyons.

If you watched the broadcast, you heard Piniella liken the surprising production of a player to "finding a wallet." While this is not important to the potentially insensitive remarks made by Lyons, it is important when looking at the press coverage of the incident. By failing to mention Piniella's line about finding a wallet, but including Lyons' quip about "looking for his wallet," Lyons' quote is unfairly taken out of context.

The SI article linked above provides full details of the incident and attempts to include the appropriate background and contextual information. The circulating AP article includes Piniella's quote, although it does appear below Lyons' full quip. The Philadelphia Inquirer provides Lyons' quote without Piniella's mention of the wallet.

Phil Mushnick of the New York Post argued that Lyons was hired to offer comedic commentary and fired for the same reason, writing "[s]o now what? Do we just toss Steve Lyons on the scrap heap of sportscasters fired for social insensitivity? That would be simple. And easy. And unfair."

Mushnick compared Lyons to Jimmy Snyder:
"The precedent was set in 1988, when Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder, hired by CBS because he was a street guy with a big mouth, was fired for the same reasons. What Snyder said about the ascent of African-American athletes, while fact-based, sounded offensive."
And it is here where Mushnick brings coverage of the Lyons termination to a unique level. Here's why. Lyons was fired for making what was perceived as insensitive remarks (I'm not making a judgment here). Jimmy the Greek was also fired for making insensitive remarks. Now, Mushnick writes that Lyons and Snyder were both fired for the same reason, which is essentially true. However, while Mushnick acknowledges both were fired for the comments, Mushnick includes the throw-away line that Snyder's comments were "fact-based."

By calling Snyder's statement fact-based, Mushnick is himself presenting Snyder's comments to the public. Jonathan Rowe, writing in the Washington Monthly in April of 1988, wrote an extensive article about the Snyder affair. Rowe wrote "[Snyder] said that black athletic prowess dates back to slavery. The slave owner, he said, would 'breed his big black to his big black woman so that he would have a big black kid.'"

Rowe went on to dissect Snyder's comments and unearthed that while most anecdotal evidence did in fact agree with Snyder's claim, empirical evidence shows the claim to be false. Rowe quoted anthropologist Michael Blakely: "It was pure and simple a matter of reproducing large numbers rather than body types...that kind of breeding couldn't possibly lead to any difference in athletic ability."

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