By: John Molori
October 24, 2006

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Fox deserves credit for axing Lyons; Baseball analyst lacked judgment; local reaction predictable

When Fox fired baseball analyst Steve Lyons for racially insensitive comments uttered during the recent American League Championship Series, another fire fall of political correctness critics and race baiting bigots ensued.

The laments that Lyons was just joking and that our society has become too sensitive rained down incessantly.

If you missed it, during the ALCS between Oakland and Detroit, Fox analyst Lou Piniella initially said that the surprising play of Oakland's Marco Scutaro was akin to finding a wallet.

Subsequently, Piniella used the terms "en fuego" and "frio" in his commentary. Lyons then stated that Piniella was "hablaing Espanol" and added, "I still can't find my wallet. I don't understand him (Piniella) and I don't want to sit too close to him now."

Fox reportedly received numerous complaints stating that Lyons' comments were offensive to Latinos. In response, Lyons was fired. This was not Lyons' first foray into perceived insensitivity toward a select group of people. In the past, he has made light of blindness and Judaism.

Many of Lyons' defenders said that Fox was just looking for a convenient excuse to dump Lyons. They also said that Lyons meant no offense to Piniella, who happens to come from Spanish descent.

Regarding the first point, Steve Lyons is hardly a major broadcast talent in the mold of a Joe Buck or Tim McCarver. With all due respect, if Fox wanted to fire Lyons that much, they could have dismissed him at anytime for no reason at all without much viewer backlash.

Moreover, Lyons' contract was up soon anyway. Fox could have simply not re-upped with Lyons.

Only Lyons can answer the second point. In the aftermath of the incident, Lyons apologized and said he did not mean to offend Piniella or anyone. I believe him and I don't think he should be labeled a racist.

This, however, does not excuse Lyons nor his defenders who fail to accept that times have changed and that we do, indeed, live in a more diverse and racially sensitive society.

Saying such things on national television in front of millions of viewers is as ignorant as it is repugnant. Times have changed and broadcasters have to adjust to these changes whether they like them or not.

Simply put, Lyons should not have gone there. His words were not funny, entertaining or informative. They added nothing and were completely irrelevant to the game and the situation. Lyons' brief history of past missteps should have made him all the wiser.

Much of the local reaction to Lyons' firing was predictable. WEEI morning host Gerry Callahan went on a tirade against Fox in his October 17 Boston Herald column.

Callahan stated, "Even if Steve Lyons meant it the way his bosses at Fox allegedly took it - Watch your wallet around the Spanish-speaking guy - it would have been just another crude joke on a network that cranks them out the way Spike TV cranks out car crashes."

So Callahan considers racial insensitivity "just another crude joke." I think that sheds a ton of light on where he is on the social development chain. I'm thinking it's somewhere between Archie Bunker and David Duke.

Callahan also wrote that Fox's sister station F/X airs the risqué drama "Nip/Tuck." As usual, Callahan used examples that fit his small-minded argument.

There is a difference between breasts and bigotry. Anyone who is bothered by anything they see on any network has the right to voice their views. Clearly, enough people were offended by Lyons comments to move Fox to take action.

Did Callahan's column mention that Fox is also the network that airs " 24," a program that Callahan has spent hours of valuable radio time praising to no end?

Did he write that sister station Fox News is home to numerous personalities who share Callahan's conservative political views? No, because that wouldn't further his written diatribe against Fox.

I think Callahan has a rather twisted view of the job description of a baseball analyst. He wrote, "It seemed Lyons was doing his job - making jokes, cracking wise, trying to bring the locker room into the booth." Hence the problem. Callahan has never understood that there is a huge difference between the locker room and the broadcast booth.

For one, there aren't millions of people listening in the locker room. The smaller audience doesn't make racially insensitive comments right, but it sure does lessen the chance of being fired.

Steve Lyons is not comedian Dennis Miller, hired by ABC's "Monday Night Football" (MNF) in 2000 to add humor to the broadcast. He is not Tony Kornheiser hired by ESPN's MNF this year to add unique perspective. Lyons is an ex-player. His expertise is hitting not humor.

Of course, Callahan's comments are about as shocking as finding wicker at a Christmas Tree Shop. He consistently spews questionable viewpoints toward minorities, homosexuals, even people with tattoos.

Regarding Fox, Callahan wrote, "David Hill, head of Fox Sports, knew many in the mainstream media would see it his way because that's what the mainstream media do in these situations: They jump up and bark like trained seals, feigning offense even when no reasonable person truly believes they were offended.

"Better to err on the side of the PC forces than to appear sympathetic toward a Neanderthal like Lyons. Why, don't you remember? Last time, he made fun of a blind guy!"

Exactly what sympathy did Lyons earn? Should we feel sorry for him because he showed a blatant disregard for the consequences of his ignorance? If any of us said those things in our respective offices, what do you think would happen?

Callahan's brand of racism on radio most often goes unpunished. He receives little or no admonition thanks to his faithful enablers, namely program chief Jason Wolfe, GM Julie Kahn and Entercom Radio's high priced lawyers. Media Blitz attempted to create a dialogue with Wolfe weeks ago, but a call has still gone unanswered.

Thank goodness that David Hill is more responsible than WEEI and Entercom. I applaud Fox for policing themselves. The likes of Wolfe and Kahn seem to be too busy counting advertising revenue and ratings shares to care.

On WEEI's "Big Show," Steve DeOssie referred to the criticism of Lyons as "liberal whining." When a caller said that Lyons' comments reinforced negative stereotypes of Latinos, the "Big Show" crew implied that it was the caller who might be racist because he is aware of such stereotypes.

Callahan also alluded to this in his column writing, "I don't have access to the list of unacceptable stereotypes that apparently hangs in the Fox corporate offices." Well, maybe you should get a copy, Gerry. It might make your words sound more like intelligent political discourse and less like a George Wallace cabinet meeting.

Recognizing that tired old s tereotypes exist is a sign of sensitivity, not racism. As for DeOssie, he is one of the most intelligent guys on radio, a consistently great listen and network caliber in talent, but I question his assertion that the Lyons issue is about political philosophy.

Recognizing that Lyons made offensive comments is not about politics, but about respect for others.

Callahan expressed dismay that Lyons' words were a "fireable offense." Of course he did. He works at WEEI, a place where it's seemingly OK to insult and offend any group as long as the ratings are soaring. WEEI is not the real world. Out here, if you make racially insulting remarks, you may have to face consequences.

Yes, our society has become more sensitive, maybe even too sensitive. Tough, deal with it. Broadcast professionals have a responsibility to think before they speak. This country has always encouraged ethnic harmony and tolerance. Fox was right for discouraging comments that impede those goals.

John Molori's columns are published in The Boston Metro, Patriots Football Weekly, ColdHardFootballFacts.com, Boston Sports Review, Boston Baseball Magazine, Methuen Life, TheRemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonPressBox.com, BostonSportsMedia.com and BostonSportz.com. Email John at MoloriMedia@aol.com.


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