It isn't always easy to be politically correct. Sometimes, in fact, it's an outright struggle.

For instance: you hear a statement that you're sure is politically incorrect. Your nerve endings tingle. Your juices start to flow. Oh boy, you say to yourself, here's yet another example of injustice in a society absolutely riddled with the stuff. You cannot wait to tell teacher and get patted on the head.

Just one problem. This statement that you heard? You're not sure exactly how it's politically incorrect. You can't really say. Actually, logic tells you that it might not be politically incorrect after all, but logic, as you well know, is a spell that has been cast on the well-meaning and pure of heart in the world by sexists and racists and ageists and the rest of the nasty ists out there. You know in your heart that the statement was politically incorrect, and if you can't explain it, that's because the statement was politically incorrect at so profound a level that words do not exist to describe it.

Take what Bob Ryan (search) said a few days ago. Ryan is a sportswriter for the Boston Globe who, admittedly, has been known to let his tongue run a little fast and loose on occasion. Last year, the Globe suspended him for a month for saying on a Boston TV station that someone should "smack" Joumana Kidd (search), wife of NBA star Jason Kidd (search), because she so often showed up at courtside with the couple's young son, thereby making herself more attractive to cameras.

But that is background. Here's the foreground:

Recently, in discussing the NCAA (search) men’s basketball tournament on a program on ESPN Radio, Ryan said that Vanderbilt’s basketball team had “too many white guys” on it to beat Western Michigan. As it turns out, Ryan was wrong; final score: Vandy: 71, Western Michigan: 58.

Ryan’s real error, though, was in the realm of political correctness. The ist vigilantes descended upon him like ants on icing.

Didn’t Ryan insult white guys, not blacks, and isn’t it okay to insult white guys?

Well, yeah, I guess, of course, but . . .

And didn’t he praise black guys, at least indirectly, by suggesting that they are likely to be better basketball players than whites?

Yeah, he did, but, see, that’s the problem. Because if you praise blacks for their athletic skills, you imply a corresponding lack of ability in other realms, such as the intellectual and the moral. Political Correctness 101.

Huh?

So wretchedly loony is political correctness that the ist vigilantes not only pounce when you insult a favored group, they pounce when you praise a favored group for the wrong reason.

Bob Ryan’s response to the furor, which, admittedly, is a furor of more limited scope than that being caused by the Iraqi occupation, is worth quoting at length:

“The audience at ESPN is presumably a sports-savvy audience, which means that in terms of basketball they know the code, ethics and culture of basketball, which is, in case anyone new to the game like some of these idiots that apparently have responded in a negative fashion, the code is it’s a black man’s game and the white man is privileged to be allowed to step on the court.  That is known by both blacks and whites. If it weren’t easy to joke about this in the culture, you wouldn't be able to have a movie entitled White Men Can’t Jump.”

Ryan is right. I have played basketball all my life — junior high school, high school, college, and now in various geriatric competitions. Race is openly discussed, casually joked about; the atmosphere on a basketball court is so free and easy when it comes to matters of race that it should be the envy of the society as a whole.

I take issue with Ryan on only one point. He called those who criticized his comment “idiots.” They are worse. They are poisoners of the well, people so eager to dress themselves up in robes of virtue that they will impute vice to others in order establish their own superiority.

White men can't jump. The politically correct can’t think.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).

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