Friday, November 19, 2004

Out on a limb

I decided once I got back to the office that I'd write my weekly commentary about this Terrell Owens issue. It was decided after I saw comments from both Rush Limbaugh and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy saying that the skit involving Owens and Nicollette Sheridan (of ABC's "Desparate Housewives") was "racially offensive."

Anyway, here's the column, in draft.

Terrell Owens is in trouble again.

And now, everyone from T.O to the Philadelphia Eagles to ABC is apologizing on national media for his "steamy" introductory skit to last week’s episode of "Monday Night Football."

Everyone else is weighing in on the skit, which featured Owens talking with "Desperate Housewives" costar Nicollette Sheridan, who wore only a towel, which she eventually dropped before jumping into T.O.’s arms.

Was it the partial nudity (viewers saw her from the back) that raised so many hackles across the nation? Was it the fact that the segment aired at 9 p.m. on the east coast, but 6 p.m. on the west? Was it the "suggestive" nature of the segment?

That’s not what Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy thinks. He’s gone on the record saying he found the segment "racially offensive."

So the problem is the fact that Owens is black and Sheridan is white, then?

Well, Dungy seemed to think that the skit was "stereotypical" toward black athletes.

I’d be interested to know what Dungy thought about last season’s Super Bowl halftime show performance by Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.

Conservative radio motormouth Rush Limbaugh also had to say his piece on the steamy skit. According to a transcript of his show, it’s "too close to this whole Kobe Bryant situation for comfort," echoing sentiments already expressed by Dungy.

I’m sorry, what? I fail to see the correlation between the Bryant case and this latest stunt of Terrell Owens’.

Bryant was accused of a felony – statutory rape. Terrell Owens was in a racy skit on network television. I don’t see what the two instances have in common.

Except, of course, that they both involve a black man and a white woman.

Seems to me that this is what’s causing the most uproar, whether the agitators will admit it or not. It isn’t the partial nudity – why, Sheridan’s ABC show has that kind of stuff on all the time, I’m led to believe, and they’re getting big ratings, not angry phone calls from the Federal Communications Commission.

We broke the nudity barrier on cable TV ten years ago, with "NYPD Blue."

I suppose I had naively been under the impression that we were past this kind of nonsense. Are we still closed-minded enough to be drawing lines in the sand over which members of other races "shall not cross"? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Dungy is one of five black coaches in the National Football League, another being the Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith.

According to ESPN, Smith took exception with the skit’s risque content, but that was it.

"I saw a naked lady with an athlete, period," he said. "Black, white, that doesn’t really matter an awful lot to me."

It’s fine to be outraged over the content of national television. There’s plenty to be outraged over. But let’s make sure we’re all clear on why we’re outraged.

If the bile starts rising at the implication of an interracial relationship, it might be time to reevaluate your sense of moral propriety.