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Friday, August 02, 2013

Words and actions

Two mostly unrelated items about differences between words and conduct and about what we, as a public, do and should get outraged about.

1) The Republican strategy heading into the August recess is to counter the notion that the GOP is hostile to women (as indicated by the rash of state-level legislation designed to curtail all exercises of female reproductive freedom) by arguing that the Democrats are hostile to women because they are not denouncing Anthony Wiener for sexting or San Diego Mayor Bob Filner for alleged sexual harassment, nor calling for either one to resign/drop out of the race. This, the Republicans argue, is hypocisy, given Democrats' reaction to the statements about rape by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock during the 2012 election cycle. To absolutely no one's surprise, the lazy intellectual lightweights who constitute much of the political press have taken the bait. Worse, the AP suggests--while Akin and Mourdock were attacked for their words, the Democrats are not calling out Weiner and Fillner for their actions.

First, I'm not sure the distinction is so clear here. Weiner's conduct, at least, involves words (or words and some pictures). On the other hand, while Akin and Mourdock were criticized for their words, they were words spoken in an electoral campaign, words that reflected or predicted actions--how they had voted or would vote in the future on matters such as Planned Parenthood funding and the scope of rape exceptions in abortion laws. In any event, it seems to me the important distinction is not between conduct and action, but between public and private behavior and between lawful and unlawful behavior. As David Weigel argues in Slate, the press (again, no surprise) proceeds as if sex scandals (especially those involving lawful-but-sleazy behavior) are more important than (or at least as equaly important as) actual laws that actual elected officials actually introduce and vote for. Perhaps Democrats should call on Fillner to resign. But that has no bearing on Democrats calling public attention to the words of a candidate for office, where those words lend insight to the beliefs that this candidate would attempt to enact into law.

2) Riley Cooper, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, is in deep trouble because he was video-recorded using a racial epithet in talking about who he was ready to get into a fight with. Cooper apologized all over the place (and not the typical celebrity non-apology apology) and was fined (but not suspended) by the team. Cooper today left the team to seek counseling and at least one Philadelphia commentator has suggested that this will cost him his job (and, implicitly, that no team ever will touch him).

But the NFL (all big-time sports, actually) are notorious for giving players second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances for off-field misconduct. Players who have engaged in domestic violence, sexual violence, sexual harassment, drunk driving, and other misconduct (again, involving action) are routinely welcomed back and allowed to continue playing for their teams, perhaps following a short suspension or fine. Without condoning, excusing, or minimizing what Cooper said, is dropping a racial epithet (in a context, by the way, where it was unquestionably lawful) really more unforgiveable than all of those things?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 2, 2013 at 05:04 PM in Current Affairs, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink


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Of course one prominent Democrat from my state did call on Filner to resign, Senator Dianne Feinstein. And around the same time or shortly thereafter, so did the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and leaders of the San Diego Democratic party. I also recall several Democrats, some in office, others out, likewise saying Weiner should withdraw from the mayoral race. And his recent precipitous drop in the polls suggests more than a few Democratic votes agree. I nonetheless agree with the main points of your post regarding the relevant distinctions and the absurdity of the NFL's "policy" toward egregiously misbehaving players.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 3, 2013 8:34:56 AM

Among the other apparently less egregious offenses by nfl players, there is of course dog killing.

Posted by: GDP | Aug 3, 2013 1:14:15 PM

I live in Philly and I found Riley Cooper's comments despicable. but you are right, sports gives the fallen second and third and seventh (see Steve Howe, ex-Dodgers pitcher) chances.
What is also disturbing is that little has been said about the fact that he was probably really drunk and the impact of alcohol on behavior.
In any event, a lot of his teammates are justifiably upset and are having a hard to time even talking with this guy.
And finally although reprehensible, mean spirited, callous, insensitive, bigoted and ignorant, his comments did not break the law. Whether he loses his livelihood over this major error is still to be determined.

Posted by: STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) | Aug 4, 2013 9:10:35 AM

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