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Rush to Judgment?

I want to talk about the Rush Limbaugh (search)-ESPN dispute, but first, a disclaimer. I served as the principle substitute on Rush's radio program for seven years, and regard him as a friend -- not a bosom buddy, but a friend.

Now, to the issues. Limbaugh made two assertions: First, that Donovan McNabb (search) is an overrated quarterback. That's a debatable proposition; I think he's nuts on this one.

Then comes the claim that reporters are kindly disposed toward black quarterbacks. That's possible: NFL bosses for decades refused to let blacks hold leadership positions on, or off the field and reporters know it.

In any case, the comment isn't racist, but that didn't stop political opportunists accusing Rush of bias. Two Democratic presidential candidates and Wesley Clark called for his firing. Some other politicians who know better -- and you know who you are -- also started hot-dogging.

Here's the problem with the controversy: It is assumed that white guys, especially conservative white guys, have no right to talk about race. Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean (search) beautifully expresses the muddled sentiment: He has been calling for an open dialog about race, but he also called for Rush's head. Well, he can't have it both ways: Either you open the floor to people with whom you disagree, or you don't.

Frankly, we need to open the floor. But we also need to open our eyes. Here's the unmentionable secret: Racism isn't that big a deal any more. No sensible person supports it. Nobody of importance preaches it. It's rapidly becoming an ugly memory. If you want proof, open a Philadelphia paper tomorrow. If Donovan McNabb has a bad game, he'll get ripped ruthlessly, just like any other signal-caller. Which means that Rush's observation, if anything, was dated -- and that the sports world has become sufficiently colorblind to judge players by their performance and not their skin color.