On Twitter, ESPN’s Rob Parker apologized for his comments about Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. He expressed “sincerity” and “understanding” and completely contradicted the defiant tone he took on that same forum in the immediate aftermath of his intentionally controversial implications about Griffin as a person.
Parker has been suspended for 30 days by ESPN and is, for the moment, keeping his job. Much like Parker, ESPN’s reaction came after the fact when the response was so profoundly and universally negative that they had to do something, so they suspended him and made a flamboyant show of “deciding” what to do with him. This suspension presumably includes the time already served, which means that Parker will be suspended for two more weeks and then be back doing whatever it is he does. Maybe. Judging by ESPN’s usual conduct, they’ll wait and see whether the suspension and apology are enough to quell the anger. If it’s not, then they’ll fire him. His place at the network is still not completely secure.
He says he’s sorry, but I don’t know how sorry he is. There are levels of sorry. When you have someone tied to a chair and are towering over the helpless figure, holding their life in your hands, then yes, they’ll be sorry for whatever they think they’re supposed to be sorry for. In Parker’s situation, it was either be sorry or be fired, so of course he’ll say he’s sorry.
Making it worse is the pure lack of conviction behind Parker’s critique of Griffin. If Parker had a foundation for his criticisms, he’d have the ability to make a cogent argument and defend it rather than using it for selfish purposes. Considering Parker’s replies to those who challenged him on the same platform in which he posted his apology—Twitter—he’s not actually sorry. From start to finish, it’s been a farce. It’s staged. And that typifies ESPN’s conundrum.
Parker wasn’t hired to deliver intelligent analysis on sports. He was hired to do exactly what he did with Griffin—draw attention to himself by any methods necessary. Then it blew out of control. At first he stood behind his statements, then backtracked on them when he got into trouble. I find it difficult accept Parker’s reflection over this episode or that he had a sudden epiphany and realized he was wrong; he apologized because it was either apologize or lose his job.
The underpinning for being truly regretful is to have a set of belief systems to begin with and that is not, nor has it ever been the case with Parker. What does he believe? Does he believe that Griffin’s validity in the black community is in question due to what amounted to accusations because Griffin is reportedly a Republican and has a white fiancée? Or was he stirring things up on ESPN because that’s why they hired him?
That’s the key point: why they hired him.
ESPN didn’t hire Parker for his writing skills because he doesn’t have any. They didn’t hire him because of his sports knowledge because he doesn’t have any of that either. They hired him to garner ratings, webhits and attention by doing exactly what he did. Once the negativity exploded, he was suspended. When a disposable underling has a wide range of freedoms to achieve the ends mandated by his bosses, he can say or do what he wants…until it boomerangs on the bosses and they have to deal with it as ESPN did. Then the empty vessel, in this instance Parker, is on his own.
The only circumstance under which Parker should be fired is if ESPN chooses to abandon the rhetoric that Parker was hired to provide. If they decided to take that route and say, “we’re not indulging in this type of lowest common denominator programming anymore,” and wanted to hammer that fact home by using Parker as an example of what would no longer be tolerated, then yes, Parker should have been fired. But they haven’t done that, nor does it appear that they intend to. They’re still putting forth the pretense of a genuine debate between their personalities when the programming they present is anything but. It’s a show. With that in mind, what’s the difference if it’s Parker or Random Guy or Girl X who would replace Parker if they fired him? There is none.
For the sake of public consumption and the perception of taking a stand, ESPN suspended Parker, Parker accepted the suspension as part of the clear terms of clemency from his employer, and he apologized. But just like Parker’s coerced apology rife with contrite terminology, I doubt its legitimacy because, judging from history and the way this tragicomedy played out for both Parker and ESPN, it’s not legitimate at all.