My guilty pleasure is sports talk radio. Professional sports has always been an escape from reality and a way to relieve some of its pressures. Sports talk radio is just a way of extending the escape.
I turned on 97.5, The Fanatic, just in time to hear a discussion about the great debate of the day. Forget healthcare.gov, immigration reform and the NSA, Nick Foles versus Michael Vick is topic A. I turned the volume up and got ready for the entertaining rants from Nick from Passyunk and Manayunk Mickey.
The debate ended before it started when talk show host Tony Bruno said, “I’m not going to take a position on who should be the quarterback for this team because apparently that is a controversial topic in this town.” Wait a minute! Isn’t faux-controversy the foundation of sports talk radio’s existence? But Bruno was talking about a real-life controversial topic, not the sports controversy.
Moments later I was on a train to New York and talking with a Philadelphia sports fan. Over the past couple of years we have established an Amtrak kinship on a train filled with Giants, Patriots and Redskins fans. When I innocently said, “It looks like Foles has won the job,” one guy stunned me with his response: “You white guys have been hoping Michael Vick would go down so Foles could take over.” It wasn’t so much that he said it. It was that he said it with such ease and comfort.
This “white guy” in particular was supportive of the Eagles signing Michael Vick in 2009 and stated so publicly at the time. I can’t speak for all other “white guys,” but I believe most of us rooted for Vick and were ecstatic after the first half of the first Eagles game of the 2013 season, when Vick and the Eagles looked unstoppable. Most of us “white guys,” were happy to have Vick back when Foles looked bad against the Cowboys in Week 7.
But over the last three weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that Nick Foles should be the Eagles starting quarterback. It is black and white, but only figuratively. The black and white is the ink on the stats sheets. The Eagles are 4-1 with Foles as quarterback. He has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has the top quarterback rating in the NFL. Future Hall-of-Famers Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are second, third and fourth, respectively. Foles could be a big blue Smurf and he should be the starter with those statistics.
And still, racial discontent bubbles to the surface and infects the joy of sports with the ugliness of the real world. 97.5 sports talk show host Mike Misanelli took notice of the infection a month ago on his Facebook page.
It has become a common theme in the NFL in 2013, from the angry use of the n-word by Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper to racial intimidation in the Miami Dolphin’s locker room. In those two incidents, players imposed race where it didn’t belong. In the Eagles quarterback competition, it is the fans who are imposing race where it doesn’t belong.
I remember when Caroline Pla, an 11-year-old Bucks County girl, was fighting for the right to play football with the boys. Her coach, Jim Reichwein had a wonderful line that is appropriate today. “If you can tackle, if you can block, if you can throw the ball, it has nothing to do if you are a boy or a girl, or live in a mansion, or are homeless or the color of your skin. Football the game figures it out.”
Football decides. It has decided that Nick Foles is the better quarterback for the Eagles right now, and it made that decision on the field, insulated from the foibles and prejudice of the real world.
If only sports talk radio could be so insular, I could enjoy my guilty pleasure back with more pleasure and less guilt.
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