Sugar Sammy, Mathieu Bock-Côté et le fédéralisme

Je n’ai pas vu le nouveau spectacle en français de Sugar Sammy. S’il est aussi drôle en français qu’en anglais, et son sketch sur les Québecois me fait supposer que oui, on imagine que le spectacle est fort divertissant. Cependant, l’humoriste se targue d’être provocateur. Il n’est donc pas surprenant de l’entendre faire la blague suivante: “Il y a deux sortes de Québécois. Il y a les Québécois éduqués, cultivés, bien élevés. Pis il y a ceux qui ont voté oui.”

Cette blague me fait-elle rire? Me met-elle mal à l’aise? Les deux. C’est pour cela qu’elle est si efficace. D’un point de vue comique, le gag fonctionne; c’est un bon punch, qu’on voit venir sans savoir ce qu’il sera précisément. J’aime la blague malgré mon malaise parce qu’elle est ce que les Anglos appeleraient “edgy”. Elle s’appuie sur un stéréotype qui semble semer la terreur dans l’imaginaire québécois francophone. Elle brasse les francophones (et les 2-3 anglophones qui auraient voté oui) dans la perception qu’ils ont d’eux-mêmes.

Je suis un fan de ce genre d’humour. À mon sens, l’humour de qualité ne saurait n’être qu’un outil de divertissement; il doit aussi en être un de réflexion. Trop d’humoristes québécois (et français, d’ailleurs) donnent un spectable d’un ennui mortel tant il est conventionnel et aseptisé. Je préfère de beaucoup un humour provocant qui sort des sentiers battus, quitte à occasionnellement rater son coup ou à “aller trop loin”. Sugar Sammy ne donne pas dans le grivois à la Mike Ward et n’a pas la hargne d’un Jean-François Mercier, mais il joue sur les stéréotypes d’une manière à la fois provocatrice et charmante qui représente sa marque de commerce.

J’ai donc trouvé intéressant de lire la chronique de Mathieu Bock-Côté à son sujet. Il ne critique pas tant la blague individuelle, mais “le propos derrière le propos” (et parfois pas vraiment si derrière que cela). Bock-Côté remet sur la table les allégeances fédéralistes de l’humoriste, de même que sa croyance avouée au multiculturalisme canadien. Et le chroniqueur de conclure: “Si Sugar Sammy représente le Québec de demain, le Québec n’a pas d’avenir.” Ouch!

La perspective de Mathieu Bock-Côté, même si je ne suis pas toujours d’accord avec lui, est toujours intéressante. Cependant, je dois avouer que ma première réaction en voyant qu’il prenait le temps de parler de Sugar Sammy aura été de songer qu’il s’était passé bien peu de choses dans sa vie mardi dernier pour qu’il se lance dans l’analyse d’un sujet aussi peu important. À titre personnel, je pense qu’il ne faut pas perdre de vue que les blagues de Sugar Sammy se situent dans le cadre de sa démarche artistique. Après les “jokes de juifs” et les “jokes de noirs”, aura-t-on droit aux “jokes de souverainistes”? Peut-être. Mais c’est dans un tel contexte que je place sa blague. Au même titre que je ne crois pas que la majorité d’humoristes qui font des blagues sur les juifs, les noirs ou autres sont sincères lorsqu’ils le font, je ne pense pas que Sugar Sammy méprise aussi catégoriquement les souverainistes que ne le laisse croire son spectacle. Cela ne veut pas dire qu’il n’est pas en profond désaccord avec eux, mais je sens chez Sugar Sammy la capacité de distinguer entre l’adversaire et l’ennemi. La conversation politique du Québec se trouve, et on devine que c’est par pure partisanerie, trop souvent privée d’un tel discernement.

Cependant, il n’en demeure pas moins que les interprétations de Bock-Côté et de Sugar Sammy de la dynamique linguistique du Québec ont le mérite de donner une raison de se pencher sur l’état déplorable de la discussion autour de la question nationale en ce moment. Le dialogue actuel en lien avec cet enjeu est d’une pauvreté et d’une stupidité navrantes. Si nous avons véritablement l’intention de continuer la conversation sur la question nationale, et je crois que cette discussion, n’en déplaise à certains, demeure pertinente, il serait bon de songer à la tenir en adultes.

Cela commence par éviter les procès d’intention que fédéralistes et souverainistes se font systématiquement (certains diront depuis toujours) et qui sont tout bonnement nocifs à la productivité de la discussion, ce qui m’amène à Sugar Sammy. Je l’ai souvent entendu associer le fait d’être souverainiste à l’étroitesse d’esprit, à la paranoïa linguistique, au repli sur soi, etc. Il faut arrêter de tenir ce genre de rhétorique. Mettons les choses au clair. Les souverainistes n’ont pas le monopole de l’inculture, de l’étroitesse d’esprit et de tous ces autres maux. De fait, mon expérience ne me permet pas de dire que la majorité des souverainistes que je connais pensent ainsi. (Et, en passant, j’en connais beaucoup.) Je comprends parfaitement que Sugar Sammy soit en faveur du multiculturalisme. Soyons franc, c’est quelque peu logique, puisqu’il en est un produit, de même que de la Loi 101, d’ailleurs. Il est aussi un “success story” du multiculturalisme canadien. Donc, je ne peux lui reprocher son point de vue, si partiel soit-il, sur le multiculturalisme. Je ne peux non plus lui reprocher de critiquer ceux qui font le choix obstiné de demeurer unilingues francophones.

Quoique… hormis le fait que je m’interroge sur la quantité de gens qui refusent encore, par obstination, d’apprendre l’anglais, il faudrait faire une nuance. Le bilinguisme individuel est bien sûr une richesse. J’en sais quelque chose. Idem pour la diversité culturelle, qui fait partie de ma réalité, moi qui suis Montréalais. Cependant, il faut arrêter de permettre à la rhétorique voulant que “c’est une richesse” de tuer les discussions à leur sujet. Comme si, parce que ces phénomènes ont des effets positifs, il serait injustifiable de songer à les baliser ou à les règlementer. Comme si ces effets positifs rendent impensable une réflexion collective quant à la différence entre le bilinguisme individuel et le bilinguisme institutionnel, entre la diversité culturelle et le multiculturalisme institutionnalisé. Il nous faut être en mesure de discuter de ces enjeux; nous ne pouvons nous permettre de leur accorder le statut de tabou. Je n’ai pas de réponse précise à donner quant au chemin que nous devrions suivre mais, à vrai dire, en ce moment, les réponses sont secondaires et elles continueront de l’être tant qu’il ne nous sera pas possible de nous poser les questions.

Peut-on avouer, quitte à faire s’échauffer les esprits, que malgré toutes les statistiques qu’on peut brandir, Montréal traverse en ce moment un phénomène d’anglicisation comme elle n’en a pas connu depuis au moins ma naissance? Je ne suis pas Jacques Parizeau 2.0, mais je dois reconnaître que, me promenant constamment dans ma ville, je la ressens, cette anglicisation. On peut penser à la difficulté croissante qu’on éprouve à se faire servir en français au Centre-Ville. Le fait de se faire servir en français à Montréal se rapproche maintenant de l’accomodement raisonnable. Quand les serveurs/caissiers voient que j’insiste pour me faire servir en français, ils obtempèrent. Mais ils ont de plus en plus le don de faire sentir ceux qui tiennent à ce que la conversation se passe en français comme des fascistes anglophobes. Je ne suis pas un anglophobe, je ne suis pas souverainiste, mais je tiens au français et je crains pour son avenir dans ma ville. Ces points de vue, apparemment contradictoires peut-être, ne sont pas mutuellement exclusifs.

Bon, je vois venir ceux qui refusent de confronter cette réalité avec leurs gros sabots. Plus d’anglos que jamais parlent français. C’est vrai et je peux en témoigner lorsque je vois les anglos de ma génération; ils le parlent presque tous. Sauf que c’est poser la mauvaise question que de demander si les gens peuvent parler français. Clairement, la réponse est oui. Mais la question à poser est la suivante: le font-ils, entre eux, lorsqu’il n’y a pas d’emmerdeur comme moi pour les contraindre à le faire? Rien n’est moins sûr.

Quelle est la solution à ce problème? Est-ce un problème? Je n’ai pas les réponses, et celles-ci seront forcément subjectives. Mais peut-on au moins en parler plutôt que d’éviter ces sujets difficiles en lançant les clichés habituels sur la richesse de la diversité linguistique et culturelle? Cette richesse, personne ne la conteste, mais encore faudrait-il avoir le droit de se demander si le bilinguisme et le multiculturalisme institutionnels sont une bonne idée et, plus pressant encore, s’ils n’ont que des impacts positifs sur la société québécoise. Si la réponse devait être non, il vaudrait la peine de se demander ce qu’il faut faire pour contrecarrer leurs effets négatifs, n’est-ce pas?

Pendant que nous réfléchissons à cela, en voici une autre: peut-on avouer que le désir de renforcer les lois visant à protéger le français ne constitue pas une croisade contre les anglophones? D’ailleurs, j’ai besoin de prendre un moment pour me défouler. Les médias anglophones du Québec, particulièrement ceux de Montréal (pas qu’il en existe des masses à l’extérieur de la métropole), doivent redécouvrir la définition du mot “professionnalisme”. Je peux comprendre que Pauline Marois et son projet de Loi 14 n’enchantent pas les anglophones. Le projet de loi contient certains éléments qui me semblent tellement compliqués à faire respecter qu’ils ne sont pas viables à moins de créer un nouveau niveau de bureaucratie totalement excessif. Bon, on s’entend là-dessus. Mais il faut s’entendre sur autre chose: le projet de loi est aussi une pâle image, une version profondément édulcorée de la Loi 101 originale. Alors, d’où vient le drame? On peut ne pas être d’accord avec une initiative du gouvernement. Mais là où il y a déconnection avec la réalité, c’est que lorsque je suis les médias anglophones, j’ai l’impression que le Québec est une province totalitaire, liberticide, raciste et que le PQ tente de perpétrer un génocide de l’anglais sur son territoire. La réalité, la voici: le PQ sait qu’il devra mettre énormémement d’eau dans son vin peu importe ce qu’il tente de faire vu son statut de gouvernement minoritaire. Ce projet de loi n’est pas grand-chose d’autre qu’une colossale opération tape-à-l’oeil. Je repose donc la question (et elle se veut rhétorique): où y a-t-il matière à ressentir l’effroi que certaines chroniques de CTV et certains op-ed de la Gazette (liste non exhaustive) semblent vouloir créer? Nulle part.

Et pourtant… La tactique de plusieurs chroniqueurs et éditorialistes de ces établissements médiatiques se résume à contester la légitimité de notre gouvernement actuel. Voilà qui est imbécile et contre-productif. “Ce gouvernement n’a que 30-quelque % des voix; 70% de la population québécoise n’a pas voté PQ”, entend-on souvent ces derniers temps. Hmm… comment exprimer mon point de vue d’une manière qui soit compréhensible pour tout le monde… Ah, je l’ai! You don’t like it? Tough shit! C’est ainsi que notre système fonctionne! Lorsque trois partis peuvent légitimement aspirer au pouvoir, il est probable que la division des votes ressemble à ce que nous voyons en ce moment. La limite au pouvoir du gouvernement actuel est assurée par son statut de gouvernement minoritaire, mais au-delà de cela, le PQ a été élu. J’aimerais simplement que ceux qui pensent que la gouvernance souverainiste est en soi illégitime le disent, plutôt que de se cacher derrière cet argument crétin et démagogique qu’ils tiennent mystérieusement mort lorsque ce sont leurs Libéraux chéris qui sont au pouvoir. Je pense que les médias anglophones ont le devoir de calmer la tempête dans un verre d’eau qu’ils ont créée et qu’à défaut de le faire, leur comportement frise l’irresponsabilité. Bon, voilà qui conclut ma montée de lait.

La communauté juridique anglophone a lamenté que l’on remplace l’expression “minorités ethniques” par “communautés culturelles”, expression qui n’a aucun statut légal en ce moment. Potentiellement, cela pourrait en effet poser des problèmes pour les droits des minorités. Mais j’ai une question:  Si l’expression “communautés culturelles” n’a pour l’instant aucun statut légal, qu’est-ce qui empêche les tribunaux de lui en donner un? On peut même voir le potentiel, étant donné le nouveau terme plus englobant, d’étaler à un plus grand nombre d’individus les droits qui auraient autrefois été réservés aux minorités “ethniques”.

Mais les souverainistes contribuent eux aussi à la faiblesse du débat. Dans la continuité de la dynamique où l’on peine à distinguer l’adversaire de l’ennemi, on tend à présenter tous les fédéralistes comme des aplatventristes prêts à accepter tous les abus du gouvernement fédéral envers les compétences provinciales. On les présente aussi systématiquement comme des défenseurs du multiculturalisme qui préféreraient voir disparaître le français que de limiter un droit garanti par la Charte.

Peut-on avouer qu’il est possible d’être fédéraliste tout en étant profondément mal à l’aise quant aux tentatives du fédéral de s’immiscer dans les champs de compétence provinciaux? Le fédéralisme dont les termes de la division des pouvoirs ne sont pas respectés est voué à des tensions qui mèneront éventuellement les entités fédérées à demeurer au sein de la fédération pour des purs motifs de convenance. Ce n’est pas sur ce genre de base que l’on bâtira une véritable unité canadienne, encore moins au Québec. Malheureusement, le fédéralisme au Québec souffre du fait que nos gouvernements fédéralistes depuis Bourassa sont effectivement coupables d’aplatventrisme envers le fédéral. On ne peut donc s’étonner que les souverainistes revendiquent avec succès le monopole de la défense des compétences provinciales; les élus fédéralistes leur laissent ce terrain sans vraiment résister depuis trop longtemps. Cependant, cela ne veut pas dire qu’il n’existe pas de fédéralistes prêts à oeuvrer pour un plus grand respect de la séparation des pouvoirs. Je nous espère assez adultes pour reconnaître qu’un désaccord quant à l’attribution d’une compétence ne suffit pas à remettre le fédéralisme entier en question.

Peut-on aussi avouer qu’on peut être fédéraliste et trouver que la Charte est, à certains égards, contre-productive pour la cohésion sociale et qu’elle peut potentiellement saboter la souveraineté parlementaire? Je me prends en exemple: je suis fédéraliste, étudiant en droit et plusieurs dispositions de la Charte m’emmerdent royalement. Je déteste que la Loi 101 ait été plombée par les Chartes. Je déteste qu’une mesure aussi raisonnable et logique que la restriction à l’accès aux écoles passerelles ait été plombée également. Je déteste les accomodements déraisonnables que sont forcées de faire les provinces canadiennes au nom de la liberté de religion (voir les arrêts N.S. et Multani). Je déteste que la “Clause nonobstant” ait une portée tellement restreinte qu’elle ne peut pas adéquatement protéger la souveraineté parlementaire. Eh non, les souverainistes n’ont pas non plus, ne leur en déplaise, le monopole du désir de préserver le français.

Quel est véritablement le danger de reconnaître que fédéralistes et souverainistes pourraient peut-être accomplir beaucoup s’ils arrêtaient deux secondes de se démoniser? Ce n’est que mon hypothèse personnelle, mais je me demande sincèrement si ce n’est pas la peur d’accepter que l’autre camp puisse apporter des arguments pertinents dans le débat sur la question nationale. Je suppose qu’étant donné ces inquiétudes, le stupide dialogue de sourds qui sert de substitut à un véritable débat sur la question est réconfortant pour les élus en ce qu’il ne les force pas à aborder publiquement les vraies questions, leur évitant par le fait même d’en arriver à une réponse qui les désavantagerait. Il existe des souverainistes et des fédéralistes qui maintiennent leur position par attachement émotif. Je n’ai rien contre, mais cet attachement ne saurait bien sûr pas constituer un argument. Certains se sentent Canadiens, d’autres se sentent Québécois et cela ne risque pas de changer par le biais de l’argumentation. Je crois que tous doivent accepter, en tout fair-play, que le débat sur la question nationale porte sur de vraies questions de fond. Par exemple. l’économie du Québec deviendrait-elle comme celle de la Grèce en cas de victoire du oui? (J’en doute fort.) La souveraineté permettrait-elle de freiner le déclin du français? (Là aussi, j’ai mes doutes.)

Je pense qu’une personne aussi intelligente que Mathieu Bock-Côté peut contribuer à un argument qui s’élèverait de beaucoup au-dessus de la mêlée (pas difficile). De plus, en tant que souverainiste avoué, sa réaction à l’humour de Sugar Sammy est aussi compréhensible que prévisible (“un humoriste qui nous insulte”). Cependant, si on peut  lui reprocher une chose dans toute cette histoire, c’est de voir d’un oeil réducteur la position de Sugar Sammy sur les enjeux dont il est ici question. La position pro-bilinguisme, pro-multiculturalisme de Sugar Sammy s’explique aussi aisément. Il est d’origine indienne et a grandi avec une forte présence anglophone dans le quartier Côte-des-Neiges. Ce n’est pas surprenant qu’il favorise le multiculturalisme. On peut cependant lui reprocher d’avoir une vision archaïque des Québécois unilingues francophones. Peu de Québécois qui ne parlent pas anglais sont coupables de vouloir se “ghettoïser” par rapport au reste du pays et du monde. Certains n’ont pas de facilité pour les langues ou se sont mis trop tard à l’apprentissage de l’anglais et d’autres vivent dans des régions du Québec où l’anglais n’est simplement pas très présent. Il n’y a aucune mauvaise volonté, aucune peur de “l’autre”, aucune haine de l’anglais là-dedans. Sugar Sammy devrait tenir compte de cette réalité.

Cela dit, j’admire aussi l’affection que Sugar Sammy porte à la langue française. Enfant de la Loi 101, il aime et respecte de façon manifeste le français et je ne doute pas qu’il a à coeur de le préserver. Si tentante que soit l’idée de lui prêter des intentions, force est de constater que la position de l’humoriste est plus nuancée que ne veut l’admettre Mathieu Bock-Côté. Ce dernier a dit que si Sugar Sammy représente l’avenir du Québec, que le Québec n’a pas d’avenir. Je peux penser à bien des gens qui me font articuler cette même pensée, mais Sugar Sammy n’en fait pas partie. Il représente une belle fusion entre le multiculturalisme et la Loi 101. Si tous les immigrants s’intégraient comme Sugar Sammy, Mathieu Bock-Côté en aurait probablement moins à dire qu’il ne le fait actuellement sur les ratés du multiculturalisme. Malheureusement, ce n’est pas le cas.

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In defence of Blaine Gabbert and in rejection of Tim Tebow

After Forbes magazine named Tim Tebow the most influential athlete in all of sports, which exposes the fact that they obviously restrict their scope to North America (’cause you know, I can name you five soccer players I’d pick before him), some Jacksonville lawyer named John Morgan bought advertising space to try to make Tim Tebow-to- the-Jacksonville-Jaguars happen. This took place after a petition was sent to President Obama (…unbelievable!) to “pressure” him into getting the NFL to award Tebow to the Jags. Morgan is free to buy and use advertising space as he pleases, but his sanctimonious message, as well as the petition to the President, are so preposterous that I have an inappropriate Anthony Jeselnik-type joke on the tip of my tongue.

I have criticized the previous regime of Jack Del Rio/Mike Mularkey and Gene Smith virulently, and I take none of it back, but one thing even they got right was that Tebow isn’t the answer. The new Gus Bradley/David Caldwell administration, put together by new Jags owner Shahid Khan, understands this as well. Notwithstanding the sheer imbecility of the idea that the NFL should impose a player upon one of its franchises, the very notion that Tebow should join the Jaguars by any means is almost as problematic.

The likes of Skip Bayless have said over and over again that Tebow would have dramatically improved the quarterback position for the Jaguars because the alternatives were Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. Bayless himself wandered into heresy territory when he said that Tebow would have won them eight or nine games last year. That’s comical. You could have taken Montana or Elway in their prime, put them on that 2012 Jags team, and they’d have returned to the bench and said, “no can do, coach. This is a minor league team we’ve got there.” But we shouldn’t take Bayless seriously on Tebow. A quarterback of such limited passing ability might run for a few game-winning touchdowns against teams that would eventually pick in the Top 5. Hell, Vince Young won offensive rookie of the year doing that, despite the fact that he threw more picks than touchdowns as a rookie. Tebow might have led them the Jags to, let’s be generous, four wins for the sole reason that he’s the kind of player who might somewhat compensate for the incredible crassness of his supporting cast because of his athleticism and his short yardage back disposition.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that part of the reason why I don’t want Tebow with my Jags is viscerally personal. I am a Florida State Seminole through and through. Since Tebow is a filthy heathen Florida Gator, he is responsible for many moments of frustration on my part for which I could never forgive him. It would feel about the same way as if some dude bullied me in high school, and then wound up being my son’s position coach years later. The moment Tebow winds up in Jacksonville will be the moment when I become a New York Giants fan. That being said, I’d be completely capable of putting my personal feelings aside and admit that bringing in Tebow would be a good move, were this the case. But it is not. Allow me, dear reader to elaborate on a few reasons why it would be a dreadful idea.

The problem with Tebow

Let me stomp on my personal feelings and say this: Tebow should play in the NFL. What as, you ask? From a pure footballing standpoint, Tebow would fit as a backup quarterback for a team that has option elements incorporated in its offence. The 49ers come to mind, given that they may have fooled the Chiefs into giving a second-round pick (and perhaps a third rounder next year) for Alex Smith, but they still need a viable replacement for him. It would help the Niners to have a backup who doesn’t force them to scrap parts of their gameplan if Colin Kaepernick gets injured. Tebow could help in that regard. Is he nearly the same thrower? No, but that would be why he’d be backing up.

Here’s the problem: Teams are extremely wary of signing him for such a duty because of the media and fan frenzy that comes with him. That’s why, in retrospect, the Jets’ acquisition of Tebow was such a mistake. How could anyone, including Tebow himself, not get the sense that the Jets wanted him to win their starting job, given that they were placing him behind a supremely fragile starter in Mark Sanchez? Thus, when it didn’t happen, people started getting aggravated, especially when the perception became that Rex Ryan was going out of his way to keep Tebow off the field. The popular belief is now that the Jets “sabotaged” Tebow. Such speculation would of course be dismissed as sheer nonsense were this any other player, but that’s the fanfare Tim Tebow brings with him. What really sucks for him is that I’m not sure he wants it this way. Tebow, by all accounts, is a sharp guy, and surely he understands that as much as this fanfare can help you, as it did in Denver when he was chucking dirt balls while his defence was keeping the Broncos in the game, it can hurt you.

And it’s hurting Tebow a lot right now. Every NFL coach should logically be asking himself, “could this guy help us as a backup and perhaps with some option packages we could build for him?” But with the Forbes article, and the petition to President Obama (…unbelievable!), and the Jacksonville lawyer promoting Tebow with ads, every coach is instead wondering, “Do I want every interception my starter throws to become a PR nightmare?” What this means is that, because the pressure on you as a staff and on your starting QB would be too great, not to mention the potential divisiveness of the move for locker room harmony, signing Tebow as a backup isn’t a viable option anymore. If you’re going to bring him in, it must be as a starter.

But who wants to do that? If your team is crap, you might give it a thought. But since Tebow can’t throw, what you’re guaranteeing is that while he might, maybe, keep you out of the absolute bottom of the NFL’s cellar, he is a guy you’ll instantly look to improve upon the millisecond your team has the potential to finish over .500.  Smashing! And guess who’ll be on the wrong end of that PR disaster.  Hell, Denver’s Johns, that would be Fox and Elway, caught tremendous flack for replacing Tebow with Peyton Manning.

Let me give you a moment to think about this…

PEYTON! FRICKIN’ ! MANNING!

Sure, he was coming off the surgery and we didn’t know how he’d perform. But there were lots of people who objected to it on principle. They objected to replacing the kid who can’t throw with Peyton Manning, the greatest quarterback of the past 15 years (yes, better than Brady). The guy so cerebral he picks apart defences like a serial killer dismembering a body before our very eyes. The guy who got so many experts and fans to overlook the fact that the Colts never really had a defence during the whole time he played for them. The guy who got said experts and fans to overlook the fact that the Colts O-Line, during Manning’s last few years in Indy, was comprised mostly of undrafted free agents. For 15 years, he practically single-handedly got us to take the Colts seriously.

So you have a shot at that guy, but you’d keep Tebow instead. Even your grandmother knows that makes you a complete nutter. But that’s the irrational obsession Tebow creates. No team wants any part of it, and I can’t say I blame these coaches and GMs.

Not quite the time to give up on Blaine Gabbert

OK, but do the Jags not fit to a “t” my description of a bad team Tebow might help a bit? Well, yes. But here it helps to look at the specifics of this Jags team. In a post in which I commended the Jags for taking Texas A&M OT Luke Joeckel despite the popular perception that they didn’t need him, I said that playing behind that offensive line was the quarterbacking equivalent of being sentenced to death by firing squad. The Jags haven’t had consistent pass protection since Tony Boselli was playing left tackle for them. Now that they have both Joeckel and former Top 10 pick Eugene Monroe at the tackle spots, this might change. Which brings me to my next point.

The team’s starter, Blaine Gabbert, is entering his third year in the league. The widespread belief that he should already be considered a bust is one that I meant to challenge months ago, but couldn’t find the time. Well, here goes. The Jags drafted Gabbert in the first round two years ago. He is not some talent-deprived scrub you start because you have nobody else. There’s a reason why he got drafted so early. Am I saying he’s a Pro Bowler in the making? No, but what I am saying is that the sample we have to evaluate him in the NFL is flawed and insufficient and that should the Jags give up on him now, they risk giving up on a player who can be very successful but just wound up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

First and most obviously, Gabbert will be playing for his third head coach and offensive coordinator in three years. Ouch! Look at the bulk of first-round QBs who became great, or even good. They had some kind of continuity in terms of scheme and coaching style. Peyton Manning had Tom Moore, Brady had Charlie Weis (and then all the others who worked under him), Aaron Rodgers had Mike McCarthy and co., Eli has Kevin Gilbride, the list goes on. You can’t expect any young QB, bright and talented though he may be, to excel when the staff goes table rase every year. Some young quarterbacks get less-than-ideal situations to start their career. This isn’t less-than-ideal, it’s worse-than-awful.

Then comes the issue of the supporting cast. Let’s not even waste time analyzing the sheer dreadfulness of the squad he stepped into for Jack Del Rio’s last year in the Jax. Instead, let’s just look at last season, or as I call it, Mike Mularkey’s in-and-out.  Jags fans were treated to a mix of inadequacy and bad luck that a great fiction writer wouldn’t dare come up with. I’ve already talked a little bit about the offensive line. The only reliable long term fixture there is left tackle Eugene Monroe (and even that’s pushing it). The year they drafted Monroe, they used a second-round pick on another OT, Arizona’s Eben Britton, a good player who was, however, so injury-prone that he never settled into the lineup and is now in Chicago. The result is that the right tackle position has been filled, for some time now, by a committee of journeymen who would look like revolving doors against opposing pass rushers (did I mention I LOVE the Joeckel pick?). The centre is one of my personal favourites, Brad Meester, but he’s entering his 14th season in the league, and age is catching up. Meester was always smarter than he was overpowering, but now he’s become more injury-prone as well. The guard position symbolizes the terrible personnel decisions that have plagued this team over the years. So many reserve players have played left guard that I’ve lost count, while the right guard spot is manned by Uche Nwaneri, a fringe player making 5 million a year for reasons that only the previous administration can understand. These inside guys were beaten by more stunts than bad drug dealers and were a health hazard to whomever was playing quarterback back there.

And what of the skill positions? Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the only proven playmaker on the team, was lost for the season early, and none of his backups could come close to matching his productivity. Tight end Marcedes Lewis, whom the Jags decided to pay Rob Gronkowski money after one 10-touchdown season though his career had been uneventful until that point, can’t stretch the seam and is a relative non-factor in the passing game until the Jags get to the red zone, which doesn’t happen very often. The team also made the imbecilic decision to sign Laurent Robinson, whose resumé basically included tons of injuries and one good 3/4 of a season replacing Miles Austin in Dallas, to a 6-year, $32.5 million contract.

Timeout… Words are inadequate to describe how incredibly stupid that signing was. What did they give him that money for? So he could start his own space program? Actually, they didn’t give him all that money, because after a single season in Jacksonville, of which the highlight was a key fumble against Houston that allowed the Texans to survive a scare, the Jags released Robinson.

Now, where were we? Right, the skill positions. They drafted Justin Blackmon fifth overall. I was very happy with the pick. However, just about two days after the draft, Blackmon got busted for DUI and spent the first half of the season unable to separate from any defensive back. (Don’t get me started on the fact that he might be suspended for the first four games of the coming season). Gabbert got injured and was placed on IR in the middle of the season. It was only after Gabbert’s injury that Blackmon was nice enough to get his head out of his ass and start playing like a first rounder. If not for Cecil Shorts, who pulled off a Victor Cruz and emerged out of virtually nowhere, the Jags would not have had a single potent offensive weapon for the entire time Gabbert was quarterbacking them last year.

And then, people have the gall to say Gabbert holds onto the ball too long and takes too many sacks. How surprising! Who was he supposed to throw to? The guys wearing the different-coloured jerseys? No protection, no MoJo Drew, no Blackmon, Lewis a non-factor, Laurent Robinson is terrible; Broadway Joe would have wound up Broadway Hoe playing with this lot.

To put it more elegantly, you cannot expect a guy to succeed when the means to do so just aren’t there. This has been Blaine Gabbert’s reality so far in Jacksonville. I do not think that we can surmise, based on the problematic evidence we have up to this point, that he can’t get it done in the NFL. Is it possible that he was overrated coming out of college? Yes. Is it possible that he, as did the likes of David Carr, has picked up so many bad habits that he is now “beyond saving”? Absolutely. But two years on a team that was beyond terrible represents a sample that is both insufficient and potentially unrepresentative when it comes to judging Gabbert’s ability to be the Jags’ franchise quarterback. Here’s another thing that keeps me hopeful about Gabbert: he doesn’t compulsively turn the ball over like so many quarterback busts typically do. He’ll eat it rather than get picked. Give him protection and receivers who might get open once in a while and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a metamorphosis from Gabbert.

Fast forward to this year. They get MoJo back. They drafted Luke Joeckel to help with the offensive line. They have Cecil Shorts, and they’ll get at least 12 games out of Blackmon, which would be 12 times more than Gabbert got from him last year. And the X-Factor could be another rookie, Denard Robinson, whose playmaking skills could be used in many different ways. They are starting to put together something interesting on offence. This is why I’ll be the first person to suggest that they cut Gabbert loose if we don’t see marked improvement from him this year. But those who call him a bust right now are jumping the gun. He isn’t JaMarcus Russell. Gabbert has none of the self-destructive traits that ruined the careers of the likes of Russell and Ryan Leaf, and failing that, the Jags simply cannot afford to give up on him so early.

There are so many quarterback busts who become victims of circumstances that it amazes me that few so-called experts ever seem to pause to give this reality a second look. Not every bust at quarterback is a Russell or a Leaf; in fact, few of them are. Usually, quarterbacks who don’t work out either:

  1. Come in a little overrated and/or mentally fragile and can’t live up to the enormous expectations placed on them (see Sanchez, Mark), or…
  2. just never manage to overcome the incredibly crappy rosters they are expected to revitalize.

I’m thrilled that the new Jags administration seems determined to cut Blaine Gabbert only if he proves to belong in group 1, not group 2. If they find out that they can win with Gabbert provided they surround him with enough pieces on offence and put together a defence that can stop the other team every once in a blue moon, it makes sense that they would go that route. If that’s the case, Gabbert would be more of an answer for the Jags than Tim Tebow could ever hope to be.

A glass half-empty take on the Jason Collins saga

There is absolutely no doubting that Jason Collins’ “coming-out” is an act of considerable courage considering how strongly homosexuality remains frowned upon in certain circles, especially in the United States. While I certainly can appreciate this, I cannot help but long for the day when such considerations won’t be considerations at all, and when we shall judge homosexuals the same way we would everybody else: by what they do, not by what they are.

Collins is the first NBA player to admit being gay. It took long enough – it seems logical that there must have been other gay NBA players who didn’t dare do the same. That’s tragic in itself; you’d hope that one day, the notion of coming out will be replaced by the notion of just being out. You’d hope that being gay would not require the kind of announcement cancer patients have to make to their families. But more significant than the moronic rambles of a few bible-thumping homophobes is the widespread stigma that would have stayed with a professional athlete (or anyone) for the duration of his career and beyond, a stigma which could have been camouflaged under the cloak of “meritocracy.”

In that respect, Collins’ coming-out represents a breaking down of barriers, and that alone is cause for joy. (Mind you, it’s likely not a coincidence that he happens to be a 34-year-old journeyman player near the end of his career. If LeBron James was gay, do you think he’d dare come out of the closet now?)  There are those who have tried to mask their prejudice behind the suggestion that this isn’t a big deal. Oh, it’s a big deal, alright. My suggestion is not that it isn’t a big deal, my suggestion is that it shouldn’t be. But there seems to be an elephant in the room, and now seems like the perfect time to get rid of it. I know the elephant is there when I read what just might be the dumbest tweet of the year. Here is said tweet:

Tim Tebow: “I’m a Christian.”

Media: “Keep it to yourself.”

Jason Collins: “I’m gay.”

Media: “You’re a hero.”

The factually incorrect content of the tweet itself is not even worth answering. It would be much like debating a flat-earther. There is no use or merit to debunking this stupidity. However, you can point to the underlying suggestion of the tweet to explain why a story like Jason Collins’ remains a big deal. I cannot pull punches here; I cannot be nice. There are people out there who take it upon themselves to speak for religious institutions that, if they had their way, would keep homosexuals humiliated and ostracized. Christian religions get no help from this specific idiotic tweet, because it combines their dogmatic homophobia with an acute awareness of their diminishing importance. Basically, it’s just sad. However, I don’t want to point to a specific institution, because no single religion has a monopoly on attempting to institutionalize homophobia. It was Christianity in this case, but it could very well have been another one.

I must say I do care for not attacking the Christians, Jews and Muslims I know and care about, believers who can tell apart the positive moral messages of their religions from their inevitable paranoid and hateful lunacy. There are believers out there who have offered support to Jason Collins.  Those people are intelligent and rational enough to realize that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t define him/her to nearly the extent that the stigma homosexuals still have to live with today would have you believe. (I don’t know about you, but when I think of myself, the first thing that comes to mind is not that I’m heterosexual, though I am.) So it’s important to me to separate the reasonable believers from the loonier ones, who not only will accept the superstitious stupidity of Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy, but quote it at every turn as a justification for labeling an entire section of society as unnatural or immoral, and treating those people as second-class citizens. Which brings me to Chris Broussard. Broussard is a basketball analyst for ESPN. When asked for his thoughts, his response went like this:

“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication .. .whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.”

I’m very sorry to have to say this, but my initial reaction upon hearing Broussard’s take is best summed up in this speech:

OK, on a serious note, lots to quarrel with here. First, even I, the nasty anti-theist, know the bulk of the gay bashing happens in the Old Testament. Jesus himself had nothing to say about homosexuals. Actually, my verse-reciting skills are a bit off, but I seem to remember Jesus urging his disciples to love one another as he loved them. Secondly, last I checked Christianity is a system of values to which you must adhere to call yourself a Christian. So, if Jason Collins adheres to those, though why he’d want to goes beyond the limits of my imagination (then again, it very much is a religion of self-loathing), he would qualify as a Christian, in all logic.

Thirdly, and I saved the most important for last, Christianity is not just a personal moral model, it’s a social one as well. So given that I take Broussard on his word that he adheres to this model, guess what, Chris: your cowardly disclaimer about the fact that you have no problem with Collins playing in the NBA means jack shit! The second you bring Christian values into this, you are instantly stating you believe homosexuality to be a disorder that need be condemned. No amount of sugar-coating on your part will change the core of your message.

See, the Jason Collins story is a big deal because of every Chris Broussard out there who still literally believes that Jason Collins is an abomination, and there are lots of them. It’s a big deal because the likes of Chris Broussard vocally condemn the likes of Jason Collins for their nature, still today. As long as the likes of Jason Collins refrain from identifying themselves as gay out of fear of the consequences the likes of Chris Broussard might inflict upon them, stories like this will always be a big deal.

Two more points are worth making about Broussard. First, he is far too unimportant to be made into a martyr. Secondly, he didn’t give himself the tribune to express his imbecilic opinion. He just used it when it was granted to him.

Which bring me to ESPN. I was hoping they wouldn’t sack Broussard, which they didn’t, but I must admit I was somewhat surprised that, in their so-called apology, the network didn’t even acknowledge that what Broussard said was wrong. Had they apologized for Broussard while warning him privately that this type of discourse is unacceptable, I would have been fine with it. You prefer an occasional slip-up like this to censoring the guy? I get it. But this is not how the network views this incident, it appears. ESPN described it as “the expression of personal opinions.” Really, huh? Personal opinion? Let us rewind and look at how ESPN handled another dicey situation.

A few months ago, ESPN fired Rob Parker for comments questioning Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin’s “blackness.” In those comments, Parker made references to the fact that Griffin has a white girlfriend and reportedly is a Republican, which he followed up by asking whether Griffin is a “brother or a cornball brother.” There is positively no denying that Parker’s comment was moronic and indefensible and could be construed as downright racist.  So ESPN decides that since Parker’s contract was expiring, this would be a good reason not to renew it. This is perfectly justifiable, as we can imagine that ESPN would not want someone holding a racist discourse on its airwaves.

But let me get this straight. Racism? Bad, so bad that we’re going to fire you for it. Homophobia? The expression of personal opinions. Well, so much for avoiding double standards. Are we to understand that in the eyes of ESPN, homophobia isn’t as bad as racism? Now, I want to be perfectly clear. IN NO WAY am I suggesting ESPN overreacted to Parker’s racism. I am saying Chris Broussard’s homophobia is just as bad and ESPN should have taken it just as seriously, seeing as how both are brands of undiscriminating hatred and their expression, a form of hate speech. Unfortunately, there are only two possible conclusions one can draw from this, and neither is encouraging. Either ESPN (1) think the public outrage over imposing a sanction (firing or something else) on a “good christian” would be worse than the bashing they took for the firing of Parker or (2) they really do think homophobia isn’t as big a deal as racism. I will not go into the details of either prospect, but whichever one is the reason for ESPN’s complacency with Broussard, one truth needs to be confronted.

All the journalists I’ve read who have commented on the issue have been like a troop of ballerinas tiptoeing around the role of religion in the Jason Collins story. Well, in contrast with the ballerinas, allow me to be the bull inside the China shop. It appears that, once again, religion makes for the perfect excuse to inject a little relativism in a debate which would otherwise have no place for it. If not for the superstitious nonsense, how does ESPN allow Broussard to say that Collins is an unnatural, immoral, second-class human being?

However, as we’ve seen with the reactions to Collins’ coming-out, we too easily allow plain prejudice to go unquestioned as long as it falls within the scope of religious dogma. Am I the only one who has a problem with this? You can get shitcanned from TV for saying something racist, or antisemitic, or xenophobic or even just politically incorrect (ask Bill Maher). But cite religion as a justification for homophobia and you’re bulletproof, at least on ESPN. Once again, I want to be clear. It’s not that I want Chris Broussard silenced. I’d rather see him discredited, and to my delight, many have taken to doing exactly that. This notwithstanding, what I really want is for ESPN to set the records straight with us. Why do they deem what Rob Parker said to be so much worse than Broussard’s faith-based homophobic statement about Jason Collins? Racism and homophobia strike me as equally reprehensible. So does ESPN just think differently, or are there other interests at play here? We’ll probably never know.

Charles P. Pierce of Grantland is perfectly right when he says we shouldn’t pin on Jason Collins our hopes for a better world.  A single individual could not possibly hope to change a tradition of demonizing homosexuals that goes back several centuries, nor could he hope to change the bullshit machismo culture still so prevalent in sports (a subject I haven’t touched on, but which is significant nonetheless). But I suppose that if his coming-out helps bring the homophobic ramblings of scripture into the slightest disrepute and lessen the faith-based stigma associated with homosexuality, we are one step closer to stories like Collins’ truly not being a big deal, which should be the ultimate goal. But when that happens, it won’t be because we don’t want to annoy heteros who are uncomfortable with homosexuality. It will be because the stigma, and the intolerance that feeds it, will be gone. And then, maybe the Collins story will turn out not to be a glass half-empty one after all.

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