Feud between local Bucs blog and ESPN
It's not the biggest media feud in the history of sports, but there's a nasty little dust-up between a national TV personality and a popular local blog about the Bucs. It all started Sunday when JoeBucsFan.com accused ESPN's Trey Wingo, host of the network's NFL Live and an anchor on SportsCenter, of insulting Bucs coach Raheem Morris after Wingo referred to Morris as "Radio Raheem.''
JoeBucsFan.com writer Steve Isbitts then wrote a post that started with this opening sentence: "Why would an anchor on that alleged news show SportsCenter call Bucs head coach Raheem Morris 'Radio Raheem?' ''
The post then pointed out how some local residents who do not like Morris refer to him as "Radio,'' the title character of a 2003 film starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a mentally-challenged young African-American who works for a high school football team. However, Wingo, when reached Wednesday afternoon, said his reference was to "Radio Raheem,'' a character in Spike Lee's 1989 film Do The Right Thing. The post did make mention of Do The Right Thing.
"Do The Right Thing is one of my favorite all-time movies and I made the reference because they both share the name Raheem,'' Wingo said. "That is all there is to it. To read anything more into that is unfair and just wrong.''
It's also worth mentioning that there is a football connection to the Do The Right Thing reference. The character of Radio Raheem was played by Bill Nunn, whose father, Bill Sr., is a long-time and well-known scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
However, when reached Wednesday afternoon, Isbitts maintained it didn't matter which character Wingo was referring to, that it was still insulting and that Wingo only made the reference because Morris is an African-American. He added he did not think Wingo was a racist. Isbitts also said he did not try to speak to Wingo before writing his post, saying it wasn't "necessary'' and Wingo's reaction was "not relevant.''
In his post, Isbitts wrote, "Calling Morris 'Radio Raheem' is an insult, for sure, no doubt born from the color of Morris' skin.''
Here's my take on the situation:
1. It's incredibly hard to believe that Wingo even looks at local message boards and would have absolutely no way of knowing that some refer to Morris as "Radio.'' Therefore, it seems obvious that Wingo was referring to the Do The Right Thing character and made the reference because both Morris and the character in the movie share the same first name -- which is not a common first name. ESPN anchors are known for pop culture references and it doesn't seem that unusual for Wingo to make reference to a movie as well known as Do The Right Thing. I don't see how using a play on words to compare two people -- one real and one of pop culture -- with the same unusual first name is even slightly insulting. Ask this: If the movie Radio, the movie Wingo was NOT referencing, had never existed, would Wingo's one-time nickname for Morris still be insulting?
2. My gut tells me JoeBucsFan heard the word "Radio'' and automatically assumed Wingo was referring to the Cuba Gooding Jr. character and based its blog post on that assumption. I'm also guessing that Isbitts didn't immediately make the connection between what Wingo said and the Do The Right Thing character. In his post, he doesn't mention Do The Right Thing until well after he accused Wingo of insulting Morris and well after he explained the Cuba Gooding Jr. character.
3. Two things need to be noted. One is JoeBucsFan has scolded folks in the past for referring to Morris as "Radio.'' It also should be noted that JoeBucsFan is not a fan of ESPN. The blog consistently refers to ESPN as BSPN with the BS standing for what you think it stands for. Couple that with Isbitts' opening line of the post, calling SportsCenter an "alleged news show'' and it's hard not to wonder if JoeBucsFan can be objective when it comes to ESPN or any reference to the word "Radio.''
4. Isbitts' line: "an insult, for sure, no doubt born from the color of Morris' skin'' is treading dangerously close to accusing someone of racism, a charge way too serious to be thrown around lightly and carelessly as the post did. Isbitts insisted several times in an interview that he was not accusing Wingo of racism. So, at worst, the sentence was reckless. At best, it was poorly written. But when you accuse someone of being insulting and then immediately mention race, how else is one supposed to read it?
5. It's not always necessary to reach out to television personalities for things they say on the air, but in this case -- when you make such a strong reference to race playing a role in a perceived insult -- the writer absolutely has to reach out to the personality. In this case, Isbitts was wrong for at least not attempting to reach Wingo or ESPN. Isbitts said he has tried in the past to get a comment from ESPN over other stories and that he is "0-for-7'' in his efforts. Maybe ESPN would not have responded to this request either, seeing as how it was from a local blog, but Isbitts had to have at least tried over such a serious matter. As a former writer at a reputable newspaper (The Tampa Tribune), Isbitts is not just some guy with a computer who decided to start his own blog. He knows the standards of educated and experienced journalists.
Finally, I'm guessing Isbitts is surprised that his post, written on a local blog, caused such a ruckus, and perhaps that's the lesson here for all of us. Whatever is written on the Internet is not necessarily written into a vacuum. People might actually read it and you better be aware of your words whether you're writing for a national Web site, a newspaper or hometown blog, or the comments sections of any of them.