The most popular show on television today is canceled and every trace of it removed from the record; a consequence of the show’s top star committing the unforgivable Sin. This Sin is not spousal abuse, not child molestation, not even murder. In these twisted times, the unforgivable Sin does not even require a victim. In fact, it does not even require intent.
Today our masters have upheld the mere perception of racism as the unforgivable Sin. It is something from which no apology, no explanation, and no truth can offer an escape. You are to walk the Earth forevermore with the mark of shame upon your face. Or are you?
We all know the story of Roseanne Barr. ABC canceled her top rated show, hurting all those involved with it, just because of the perception of racism in one of Roseanne’s late night tweets.
For years, this blog has chronicled how the oversensitivity of our society (or at least those with the loudest voices) on certain topics chills free speech and perhaps opens the door to the future criminalization of speech. Polls show college students value diversity over free speech. Activists have even suggested mere support for free speech is fascist. There may be no way to turn this tide. There was hope the election of Donald Trump as President would catalyze a sea change. Instead, his election seems only to have emboldened the enemies of free speech. Those who committed the unforgivable Sin may have to look for redemption not in a changing society, but in a more personal approach.
Let’s examine the case of Doug Adler. Early last year, ESPN, which shares the same parent corporation as ABC, Disney, fired the tennis analyst Adler over his use of the term “guerrilla effect” to describe the on-court strategy of African American tennis star Venus Williams. Outraged viewers falsely believing Adler had referred to Williams as a gorilla demanded his termination. ESPN swiftly complied with these demands; eerily similar to ABC’s cancellation of Roseanne after outrage over Barr’s comedic description of top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett as the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes, despite purportedly not knowing of Jarrett’s African American ancestry.
A month after Adler’s firing, he suffered a heart attack, which was directly linked to the stress suffered from the termination and from being branded as a racist. Unable to find work to support his family, Adler brought suit against ESPN for wrongful termination and damages. The case is currently ongoing. ESPN argues “an announcer is responsible for offending the audience, regardless of the announcer’s intent.” In other words, the appeasement of an ignorant public is enough cause to ruin a life. The unforgivable Sin must not go unpunished.
From a legal standpoint, ESPN may be better positioned since it hired Adler to cover the 2017 Australian Open on a contractual basis and paid Adler for the full term of the contract. Still, through his suit, Adler paints the path for those who committed the unforgivable Sin. This path restores dignity, at least on a personal basis. It might be the best path for Roseanne as well.
Nevertheless, it does not end there. Those of us who value free speech should use our voices, if for nothing more than to restore our own personal dignity. We can speak up to highlight those like Disney who ruin lives and sew discord for the most frivolous of reasons. As Adler wrote May 28 on Twitter, “there’s nothing worse than sitting by idly when someone you know, or even don’t know, has been ‘done terribly wrong.'”
We can speak up even if we are just one David against an army of Goliaths. They can take away our job, our reputation, even our life, but they cannot take our dignity, even if our Sin is unforgivable.