When I was about five years old, I remember going with my mother to a drugstore in Houston. I saw two water fountains. One said “White” and the other “Colored”. An entirely new vista had opened up for me. Colored water. I’d never heard of that before, much less seen it. I was fascinated. I tugged on my mother’s purse and said “Momma, Momma, I want to see the colored water.”
And before anyone could stop me, I marched up to the font of this great new experience and hopped up on the little wooden steps—clearly put there for five year olds such as me to enjoy this wondrous experience—and pushed the knob on the water fountain. I kept pushing it until my mother whisked me off that step and out of the store before the old cracker who ran the place could “explain” anything to me. My innocence was preserved for the moment, and explanations of Jim Crow would come another day.
I believe that if a bad man seeks to make genuine contrition, seeks genuine forgiveness for his bad acts and wants to turn his life around, then society should forgive him and give him another chance. America is all about second chances.
However—that doesn’t mean that the path of the confessor is a simple one. I am not going to suggest a punishment for Don Imus beyond saying that however much he may wish forgiveness, crazy doesn’t get a seat at the mass media table. Hurtful doesn’t get a seat, some voices can be heard just fine without the mass media megaphone. Period. I know everyone’s trying to be all responsible with Don Imus—far more so than he was in his cavalier and insulting treatment of a great team of athletes—but there are some things that are so obviously wrong that you just don’t come back from them. That’s a commercial punishment, not a moral one.
I can’t help thinking that Imus’ defined his own punishment by his thoughtlessness. He will have to apologize to every woman he meets for the rest of his life. He will have to apologize to every person of color he meets the rest of his life. There’s a certain Biblical symmetry to that knowledge, and as I often say, I’m an Old Testament kind of guy. I take no joy in pointing this out, and I certainly would prefer the incident had never happened.
A Catholic theologian once wrote of forgiveness: “The greatest damage of an offense is that it destroys my freedom to be me, for I will find myself involuntarily dominated by the inner rage and resentment — a type of spiritual poison which will permeate all my being — which will be a subconscious but very powerful influence in most of my life.”
I hope that the team can overcome this very real possibility. I was very impressed with the team’s press conference as well as their coach’s statement. I have to say that I wasn’t aware of the dramatic story of the Rutgers’ team’s championship season, one that certainly rivals Glory Road, and at least for me, that story eclipses the Imus incident in lasting importance. That’s a story that should be told, and if I know my industry, that story is going to get told.
The team’s story is inspirational and uplifting, and even the way they have reacted to this final adversity in their season is inspiring. I don’t know any of the team, but it’s clear to me that they don’t have any problems with each other, they are dedicated and hard working, well-spoken and tough. And I will say what they didn’t: No snide cracker is going to take that away from them.
When I first heard the news report, I thought that Imus should pick on someone his own size. That was wrong.