Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

Swimming in a Flood of News

The news comes at a fast and furious rate in the age of President Donald Trump, but Wednesday’s pace was downright discombobulating. Some bigger than usual bombshells about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia came not from anonymous sources somewhere in the bureaucracy but rather from four under-oath high level figures, here in Kansas the more conservative sort of Republican economic philosophy took a hard hit, and just to the south the University of Oklahoma’s longtime football coach unexpectedly up and quit.
The most attention was paid to the written testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, which confirmed all those previously anonymously-sourced stories that Comey says Trump had expressed a hope that the FBI would relent in its investigation of Trump’s fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and had asked for a pledge of loyalty to the president. As far as Trump’s most strident critics are concerned that’s sufficient for an impeachable obstruction of justice charge, which seems a bit of an overreach, for now at least, and Trump’s staunchest supporters are claiming vindication by Comey’s admission that he had indeed assured Trump on three separate occasions that the president wasn’t being investigation as an individual, as Trump had noted in Comey’s termination letter, which is not likely to make anybody but other staunch Trump supporters feel good.
Comey will provide oral testimony and answer questions from Republicans and Democrats today, and Trump’s staunchest supporters should be ready with some better arguments. All of the broadcast networks will be televising the Senate hearings live, just like in the Watergate days, and the bars in Washington, D.C., are opening early and offering such specials as “covfefe cocktails” for the expected audience, and the story Comey will tell is far more fascinating than anything that’s going on in the pre-empted soap operas.
Comey’s seven pages of written testimony, apparently backed up by some very contemporaneous notes he’d written on the way home from his encounters with the president, include some novelistic but believable details.
He recalls a moment during a private presidential dinner when “the president said, ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” Comey later recalls that “Near the end of our dinner, the president returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want. Honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo that I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
Today’s rating-grabbing telecast will likely include further literary flourishes, along with Republicans and Democrats and Trump’s most strident critics and staunchest defenders understanding the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but our guess is that Trump should ready himself for another bad news cycle. Comey’s recollections are apparently backed up by provably contemporaneous notes, and all the dialogue does seem to have a certain verisimilitude about it, based on what we’ve seen of Comey and Trump. Although Comey has infuriated Democrats by announcing an investigation of the Democratic nominee during the late stages of the campaign and infuriated Republicans by failing to lock her up, at least his bipartisan honesty has never been questioned, while Trump has undeniably been caught in some whoppers. Even if the public does accept Comey’s version of events it’s still an overreach to make an obstruction of justice case, given the different interpretations of “honest loyalty” and almost anything else Trump says, but it’s going to be hard to make Trump look good.
You might not have seen it floating by in the flood of news, but The Washington Post had also reported in a mostly-anonymously-sourced story that Trump had also asked a couple of other top-notch national security types to push back against that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and two of them gave under-oath testimony to that pesky Senate committee. National intelligence director Dan Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, both denied they had ever been asked by anyone to do anything untoward, but when the questions got more specific they declined to answer, and at one point Coats freely admitted he didn’t have any particular legal basis for not answering. Even the Republicans seemed peeved by the arguable contempt of Congress, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, taunted by Trump as “Little Marco” during their primary duel, made some good points.
All that is obviously getting in the way of Trump’s infrastructure and health care reform and tax reform agenda, and the tax reform part of the agenda took way out here in Kansas. Enough establishment-type Republicans joined with the Democrats to override the staunchly anti-establishment Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax increase, which pretty much brings to an end the tax-cutting program that Trump is proposing. Economics is a complicated science, and there’s an argument to be made that the Kansas economy wouldn’t have thrived any better under the tax-and-spend schemes that have harmed so many blue states, but the Brownback tax cuts inarguably haven’t produced the economic growth that was promised and we’ve even lagged behind the Obama-era overall economy, and the state’s school and social service funding were getting down to the bare bones that alarm even such old-fashioned Kansas Republicans as ourselves, so of course even the national press is gloating. The old-fashioned establishment sorts of Republicans around here arguably acquitted themselves in the matter, but Trump shouldn’t count on them having his back in the coming news cycles.
It was such a busy day we’re still not sure why Bob Stoops relinquished control of that OU Sooners football team, which looks to have another exciting and maybe even championship season coming up. Over the years he’s infuriated Sooners fans with some inexcusable bowl game losses and then delighted them with some chapionship-trophy-hoisting upsets, but he’s got Kansas State ties and seems a decent sort of fellow and after 18 years he’s leaving his successor a much better team than the one he inherited, so we wish him well in his future endeavors.
As for all the rest of these characters in the news these days, we’re wishing all them and all the rest of us our best.

— Bud Norman

Free Speech and Racist Frat Rats

The latest battle against censorship on campus is being fought at the University of Oklahoma, just a few hours drive down I-35 from us, and it’s an ugly affair. Modern academia and its censorious impulses provide free speech advocates with plenty of opportunities to stand up for reasonable opinions that somehow offend liberal sensibilities, but in this case we are obliged to defend the right to some unabashedly old-fashioned racist boorishness.
It all started when the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chartered a party bus and decided to celebrate the occasion with a boastful chant about their racially exclusive admission policies, replete with frequent use of a certain notorious fighting word and a jocular reference to lynching, and not in the ironically anti-racist manner of the more up-to-date nightclub comedians. Somebody recorded the event with a cellular phone’s video camera, of course, and it wound up on the internet, of course, and of course much offense was taken. The outrage was such that hundreds of OU students and faculty staged a protest, the national fraternity revoked the offending chapter’s charter, and the university’s president summarily expelled the two students who had been identified as leading the chant.
As free speech advocates we have no quarrel with the peaceful protests, and acknowledge the national fraternity’s right to restrict its membership however it chooses, but the expulsions are another matter. The courts have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment and cannot punish students for their speech, no matter how offensive, and for a variety of good reasons. Aside from the plain language of the Constitution, any restriction on free speech will inevitably lead to another, important ideas will be squelched because some well-organized group or another will find them offensive, and given how very touchy academia is these days there’s no telling where it all might end. Already America’s universities are restricting debate on a variety of issues, from the global warming issue to Israel to the “culture of rape” that is said to pervade the modern campus, but the dialogue about race is especially constrained. Anyone challenging liberal orthodoxy on matters of race is routinely branded a racist, even if they are trying to address the frequently disastrous results of liberal orthodoxy for black America, and any effort to ban racism, no matter how well-intentioned, will allow the keepers of the faith to shut down debate completely. Given how many well-organized groups are taking offense at the slightest provocation these days, placating them all would require limiting scholarly discourse to quiet, guilty shrugs and sympathetic nods.
Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be offended by those boorish frat boys and their witless chant, or that you shouldn’t avail yourself of a heaping portion of free speech to express your offense, or that widespread public scorn isn’t an appropriate way of dealing with such unambiguously racist sentiments. In fact, we note that such stigmatizing has rather effectively made the public expression of such racist sentiments rare, and improved race relations to the point that a bunch of drunk frats joking about lynching seems to be a more pressing problem than actual lynchings. Similar results might be achieved if society were to once again attach a stigma to deliberately vulgar language and contraceptive abortion and unwed parenthood and a host of other social ills that the left doesn’t seem to find offensive, but even in these cases we would prefer social persuasion to governmental coercion.
The president of OU might soon find himself in one of those courts that have long held that public universities are bound by the First Amendment, and we won’t mind seeing him lose this one. He was formerly a governor and senator for Oklahoma, back when then state used to elect Democrats to such high offices, and was known for his occasional liberalism and constant devotion to state’s oil and gas industries, so we suspect the same political instincts led him to expel those two students. The controversy caused OU to lose a potential football recruit to the University of Alabama, after all, so the students had not only offended liberal sensibilities but also posed a threat to a crucial business interest. This will only exacerbate the public’s scorn for the two students, and further deter future racist chants on campus, but we’re not so concerned. If that potential football recruit truly believes he won’t encounter any racist frat boys at the University of Alabama he won’t be able to comprehend a playbook, much less an American history textbook, so he probably wouldn’t have done the Sooners any good even if those racist frat boys hadn’t been too stupid to know that there are cell phone video cameras everywhere these days and everything winds up on the internet.

— Bud Norman