The Press Buffet: The Garden State Loves Rutgers

Saturday, April 14, 2007

We've heard a great deal of bloviating about the Don Imus/Rutgers situation. Some of the talk has come from supporters of free speech who are sick of political correctness, or knee-jerk fan reaction from morning radio listeners. Far more has come from talking heads of various racial backgrounds saying "this should not be tolerated in the 21st century."

Today the Press Buffet will check a corner of the globe where Imus' radio show gained an early toehold, and where the Lady Knights enjoy their most rabid fan support.

Welcome to New Jersey.

Newark Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politti posits a truth that is probably lost on a national media figure who holds most of his audience at the end of a telephone line: Don't judge someone unless you've walked a mile in their shoes, or at least bothered to learn their names. Best quote - "These girls represent him. How did he think people from the tristate area would take to that? They represent all of us." - Ed Black, Essence Carson's High School Coach.


From the Rutgers campus newspaper, which is bizarrely named the Targum, writer Jameelah Kareem says the excuses won't cut it this time. Her answer to those who say that Imus has crossed this line before?

I keep hearing people defending Don Imus - saying he has made remarks about all other types of people and different races before on his show, so why is it different this time? It is different this time because we are going to make it different.

She's right. We as a society decide where that line is drawn, and every time we speak up, the next thoughtless cad has to weigh his remarks all the more carefully before he speaks. I don't think anyone wants to deny idiots the right to say offensive things, but grass-roots reactions, like the recent national outcry over Imus' statements, make the potential consequences clear to those who want to become millionaires by walking that fine line.


Nic Martino of the Daily Targum points out that Imus' choice of target ruined a "moment of pure grace" for women who had fought hard in the classroom and on the practice court to get to the pinnacle of women's college basketball. He hopes they get their wish to put it all in the past.


And, for a final thousand words, back to the Star-Ledger for a look at the work of photographer Tony Kurdzuk, who captured the well-deserved celebration that finally came for the Rutgers women, as they were welcomed to their home court by proud fans.


Not to be a pollyanna about it, but I think some real good came out of this event, though it will probably be a long time before these ladies can see it that way. People who might not have thought twice about women's basketball, let alone Rutgers women's basketball, stood up and shouted that these women deserve respect. Nobody's first amendment rights were abridged in any way - Don Imus was not censored - but the notion that freedom walks hand in hand with responsibility was affirmed forcefully.

Best of all, the distaff Scarlet Knights displayed incredible poise under fire and reminded us why sports and student athletics matter. Vivian Stringer forged a team in Piscataway, and they responded like a team. Essence Carson, in particular, showed that she is the type of woman any of us would be proud to call sister - when thrust upon a national stage by a thoughtless characterization, she blew that characterization to smithereens with passionate and moving words that defined grace under pressure.

So let's end this the way it should have ended all along: Congratulations to the women of Rutgers on a spectacular season.


Extra P.


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