- Jemele Hill, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine
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When Rush Limbaugh came out in support of Donovan McNabb after Bernard Hopkins essentially called McNabb a sellout, it was the final indicator that McNabb's turn-the-other-cheek approach doesn't work.
There's nothing wrong with taking the high road. But there's a fine line between taking the high road and establishing a pattern that sends the message that disrespect is acceptable.
It has reached the point to which McNabb is doing himself a disservice by not addressing those who publicly attack his character.
Last week, Hopkins said McNabb wasn't black enough because he was raised comfortably in a Chicago suburb. As if poverty is all that authenticates the black experience.
"He's got a suntan," Hopkins said. "That's all."
Hopkins' comments were unbelievably ignorant. McNabb's agent, Fletcher Smith, released a statement on McNabb's behalf, denouncing Hopkins' statements.
"It perpetuates a maliciously inaccurate stereotype that insinuates those African-Americans who have access to a wider variety of resources are somehow culturally different than their brethren," Smith said.
But that's the problem. McNabb's agent shouldn't have been the one firing back.
Hopkins, a Philadelphia native, had previously and repeatedly questioned McNabb's ability to lead the Eagles, so McNabb was well within his right to publicly rebuke Hopkins with the same vigor.
McNabb should also stand up to the Washington Redskins, who have gone out of their way to embarrass the six-time Pro Bowler.
This week, John Beck said he was glad McNabb didn't appear to have a future with the Redskins and he sees himself as the team's quarterback.
Pretty strong words from a guy who hasn't started a game since 2007.
"I don't pay attention," McNabb told reporters Wednesday while appearing at the opening of a health center in Washington, D.C. "I really don't know what he said. All I've heard is that [coach Mike] Shanahan is backing John Beck to be the starter. It really doesn't matter to me. If I'm here, or if I'm elsewhere, I'll be fine."
Outspoken, thin-skinned and defensive athletes alienate people, but nobody embraces pushovers.
McNabb seems to believe that if he doesn't respond the criticisms of him will lose their power.
But in this case, that's not true. The criticisms seem to be gaining momentum, and all his silence does is confirm his detractors' ill-advised disparagement.
Some people now wonder whether Terrell Owens was right all along, or if Hopkins has a point.
If you recall, Owens was among the first to publicly feud with McNabb in 2005. Even though Owens and McNabb have supposedly repaired their relationship, Owens took another jab at McNabb after Shanahan said he benched McNabb in the final minutes of the Redskins game against Detroit last season because McNabb didn't have the "cardiovascular endurance" to run the team's two-minute drill.
"I don't really want to start anything, but I did play in the Super Bowl and there were rumors where he couldn't get our two-minute offense going at the end of the game," Owens said on his television show with Chad Ochocinco. "I'm just saying."
Just once I'd love to see McNabb respond as if he were Charles Barkley. I'd welcome McNabb telling Hopkins what he can do with his misguided sense of blackness. I would be elated if McNabb reminded Beck that he's been in the league four years and never won a game as a starter.
Instead, McNabb reminded everyone what a great guy Beck is.
"He does a great job preparing himself," McNabb said Wednesday. "I've known him since he was about 16 years old. I've trained with him in Arizona, he went to BYU. He's done a great job, and I'm sure he's taking on that role because he's kind of been given the position, so to speak. He'll do a good job if that was to happen."
I'm not attacking McNabb, but if I were a teammate and read those comments I would be disappointed that the leader of my team wasn't more passionate.
I know this isn't easy for McNabb because, if he takes a stronger stand against his detractors, he runs the risk of looking petty and oversensitive. I reached out to his agent in hopes McNabb would seize the opportunity to defend himself. He declined.
But maybe the reason McNabb is such a target is because people know he won't fight back. Someone else will do the fighting for him.
Jemele Hill can be reached at email@example.com.
Donovan McNabb is doing himself a disservice by not addressing those who publicly attack his character.