ESPN and the Medical Center

u.s., Missouri, espn, medical center, cardinal glennon

ESPN has upset a radio talk show guy in Ohio over its refusal to run a commercial from a children’s medical center because the ad references Jesus and God. The social commentator is a sports analyst with a bedrock Midwestern view, who braces the world with a blanched out face and “runaway-bride” eyes. He gave the listening public a touch of his Midwestern mind on what’s being called the ESPN-Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center fiasco.

Every year the SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in Missouri appeals to the public to leave messages of hope and maybe a toy or two under the tree at the medical center. The children love it and look forward to it. To spread the appeal, the Medical Center taped a commercial using in part these words: “celebrate the birth of Jesus” and “help us reveal God’s healing message.” Seeking to buy time and run the commercial on the ESPN channel, they forwarded it to ESPN for its review.

Well, Jesus Christ, Almighty (is that permitted?), one would have thought they’d killed the President.

ESPN’s legal department informed the Medical Center that they wouldn’t run the commercial because the quotes, set forth above, were “problematic.” As one source intimated, well, what did SSM Cardinal Glennon think was going to happen? Of course those words are problematic.  An invitation to celebrate a birthday? An entreaty to spread a healing message? Absolutely not.

It’s just this just kind of propaganda that can bring down a nation under attack from fanatics of every stripe. Birthdays? A cult-like celebration to mark the earth’s successive turn about the sun with roots going all the way back to the Druids and before that. Healing messages? An obvious ploy to exploit the sad gullibility of those seeking some relief for their children or themselves.

As for God and Jesus? The public relations team at the SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center should have taken the advice of their betters; polite people don’t talk about politics or religion in polite company. Problematic? The Medical Center should be relieved that ESPN didn’t characterize the quotes as they could have characterized them, as being the dangerous incitements to foment discord, chaos and confusion that they are.

Or not.

Forgetting that it’s a just a private broadcasting company and not an arm of the federal government, the brilliant lawyers at ESPN raised, the protective umbrella of one of the Constitution’s most misunderstood clauses, the one regarding the separation of Church and State. Pleading a kind of political correctness that’s hypersensitive to the hypersensitivity of hypothetical, nameless, faceless others, who would might take offense, hypothetically speaking, at the problematic language, ESPN refused to run the commercial.

As they say in the writers’ union: “You can’t write this stuff.”

The only nugget of real concern, all but hidden within the bizarre comedy, is ESPN’s actual sensitivity to expressions that might exacerbate divisions, real or perceived. ESPN can intuit as being present across the face of this nation’s fragile surface.

Turning to D.C., daily reports of Congress’s failure to get along with itself surely reflects the current failure of many Americans inability to get along with other Americans. The politics of division, mastered in the late campaigns of Richard Nixon when Republican’s moved into the south, south west and blue collar segments of  urban America, now reveal the long term, systemic damage caused after forty years of political parties pitting segments of the electorate against one another.

Americans don’t trust their government. Americans don’t trust institutions. Americans don’t trust their employers or the corporate structure. Americans don’t trust one another.

America is like an egg whose shell is etched with the same kind of fine lines or imminent cracks one can see in the surface glazes of an old master’s oil painting. America holds it together one day at a time and although, for now, the shell remains intact, ESPN, in its caution, suspected that it wouldn’t take much more than the broadcast of religious words like “Jesus” and “God” to smash the fragile shell, to blow the whole thing high, wide and handsome.

ESPN’s initial stand was poorly conceived and misguided, but in a strange way, almost understandable and sadly so.

Division causes anxiety – anxiety cause frustration and frustration causes anger. This Christmas season America is a divided and angry nation. Although they’ve convinced themselves otherwise, most Americans really don’t know why.  The root cause of the anger they feel, which, in great part, is due to the political gamesmanship that’s been going on since 1968 (the first year since the Civil War that America tore at the seams), remains hidden to them. So, they seek out more topical, social issues that will afford them some reason to justify and validate their feelings. It just so happens that there are plenty of issues, secular and religious, to choose from.

Yesterday, December 12, 2013, ESPN caved, or came to their senses, or woke up from their Dallas-sequel and agreed to run the Medical Center’s commercial this weekend. A recent check of nearby windows and doors indicates that on the publication of ESPN’s decision, the world, as all know it, did not end. Rent’s still due on the 1st, as is the new year.

Maybe 2014 will be a year in which all Americans can take a step back and think on how we came to this red-blue breakdown, how and where it began, who started it and why, and what the citizenry can do about it for the benefit of all.

Opinion written by Michael Hogan





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