Billy Packer hater that I am, I’m remiss in not blogging about the latest Packergate controversy. During an interview last Friday with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Packer accused Rose of “fagging out.” Here’s the clip:
The condemnations came fast and furious. Mjd wrote, “If you’re broadcasting the Final Four, and you’re the voice that accompanies the most watched college basketball game of the year, and you’ve been doing this for 33 years … I don’t think it’s asking much to keep the word ‘fag’ out of your mouth in public.” Deadspin mused, “If Packer really didn’t understand the term he was using, it’s probably not wise to allow a guy like that on television at all.” Sportable chimed in, “ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to call Packer racist, homophobic, or sexist because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s obvious that Packer hates everyone on Earth. … In other news, Tim Hardaway has announced that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d love to assume Jim NantzÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s duties alongside Packer during next yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s NCAA Tournament.” Bloggers all over the college basketball blogosphere eagerly called for Packer’s firing.
I detest homophobia, and if a broadcaster went on the air and used the word “fag” as a homophobic slur, I’d find it offensive.
But that’s not what Billy Packer did. The word “fag” has multiple meanings, and when Packer told Charlie Rose, “you always fag out,” he wasn’t using the word as a homophobic slur. He was using it…to mean “exhaust or tire out.”
Ugh…okay. Here’s the thing….Yes, I understand what the term “fagging out” means. I get it….you tire out….like a cigarette burning out….fag is a British slang for cigarette. I get all of that. But why be that insensitive and use the phrase? It’s just so idiotic and ignorant to not pay attention to what you’re saying.
A Brazil nut was once known as a “N****r Toe”. Do we still call it that? Of course not….it’s an inflammatory term, and has no business in our dialect.
The Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay-rights group, unsurprisingly agrees: “[E]very time someone uses the F Word, gay kids in high school die a little bit on the inside. … Billy Packer and the CBS Network should know better and must apologize for the hurt that this kind of remark causes.”
LeslieAnne Wade, vice president of communications for Sports, told Outsports, “I know he wasn’t meaning to be insensitive at all.” But she added, “While it is a term that is in the dictionary, it was still a poor choice of words. I’m confident that he would agree that it was a bad choice of words.”
Ms. Wade’s confidence, it turns out, was misplaced. On Thursday, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer said he wasn’t being insensitive or homophobic when he made a comment while being interviewed Friday from Atlanta on The Charlie Rose Show, which airs on PBS. …
“I said he fagged out on me and it had nothing to do with sexual connotation,” Packer said yesterday in a phone interview. “I got to know Charlie a number of years ago and have great admiration for his program and intellect. He is a big Dukie, and he has been talking a number of years about coming to the Final Four to be a runner.”
Dictionary.com defines fag out as meaning “to tire or weary by labor; exhaust.”
Which is what Packer said he meant.
“The term has nothing to do with sexuality,” Packer said. “I think he is the most eligible bachelor. It’s about a guy too lazy to get the work.” …
What Packer is probably most guilty of is being out of touch, which isn’t the first time this charge has been leveled. In 1996 he referred to then-Georgetown point guard (now former 76er) Allen Iverson as a “tough monkey.” Packer himself said he is not a politically correct person. …
And despite this latest controversy, he insists that he did nothing wrong. Packer said the expression comes out of the word fatigue.
“I can assure you I will use that phrase again and I won’t think twice about it,” he said. “My meaning is genuine.”
That last remark had even some of Packer’s defenders, like the above-quoted Michael David Smith, backtracking:
I initially defended Packer, but I have a harder time doing that now. Packer’s defiance runs in stark contrast to what a CBS spokeswoman said (”I’m confident that he would agree that it was a bad choice of words.”) And by saying he has great respect for Charlie Rose, is he implying that he would feel free to call someone a “fag” if he didn’t have great respect for him?
And Packer’s critics are even more up in arms: “No Billy your meaning was/is not genuine. If your meaning was genuine you would have either A) Not used a derogatory word no matter what the connotation was. B) Apologized if there was confusion/harm, and explained the true meaning of the term.”
So, where do I come down on all this? I’m of at least two minds on it… possibly three or four. On the one hand, I’m a strong believer in gay rights and a strong opponent of discrimination and bigotry, and as such, I have no love for people who use the word “fag” offensively. On the other hand, I’m also a strong opponent of political correctness run amok, and as such, I hate it when people get in trouble for such non-offenses as saying the word “niggardly” or using the expression “to call a spade a spade,” where there is absolutely no racist intent on the part of the speaker, nor any actual offensive content to the words spoken, only a misunderstanding whereby the listener believes — incorrectly — that something offensive has been said.
On the other other hand, isn’t there a point where it would be wiser to stop using an antiquated colloquialism that’s uncomfortably similar to a far more commonly used slur? It’s different when we’re talking about an actual word, like “niggardly,” or an expression that’s commonly used, like “call a spade a spade.” But does it make any sense to resurrect an outdated expression that nobody even uses any more, just as a matter of anti-PC principle, when it would be easier and less painful to just let it die?
On top of all that, and ultimately eclipsing all principled arguments, is the fact that I hate Billy Packer. Hate, hate, hate. I think he is a blight on the landscape of college basketball, and even if I thought he was getting in trouble for no good reason, the most I would do is shed a single tear for him while playing the CBS Sports theme song on the world’s smallest violin. There are about a thousand reasons why Billy Packer should have been fired long ago, so really, I would love to see him fired for this, whether that’s technically justifiable or not, just because it would mean he’d be gone — good riddance! — and replaced by a Final Four analyst who, you know, doesn’t suck. As a Deadspin commenter, quoted by Charles Rich, aptly put it: “Firing Billy Packer for a very un-PC statement is like putting Al Capone behind bars for tax evasion. Not the worst thing he’s ever done but we’ll take it!”