Let Punishment Fit Crime

Admit it — you read this headline and you see a picture of Pacman Jones, and you expect another attack on the man with more arrests than NFL seasons.

First of all, Jones still has to prove himself on many levels — on defense, on special teams, and off the field. His recent request notwithstanding that fans and media abandon his infamous nickname, the Cowboys' most famous newcomer is not yet "Adam Jones." Adam Jones plays center field for the Baltimore Orioles, and is a rising star, and he doesn't have a rap sheet. He gets first dibs on the name.

But it was Pacman Jones' request to drop his infamous nickname that sparked the current controversy surrounding him, and in a pleasant turn of events, he's not the one feeling the heat.

New York-based radio host Don Imus was at it again Monday morning. Much of the country was blissfully unaware that the guy still existed (or at least had a job) until last spring, when his racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team got him fired from his previous job and left him unemployed for months. Upon his return to the airwaves, Imus apologized to anyone who would listen and insisted he had learned from his amazingly poor choice of words.

But Monday morning, on his satellite radio show, Imus reminded everyone why he became a national name last year — and once again, it wasn't for having talent or a sense of humor. A note was read on his show about Jones' request to go back to being referred to only by his given first name, and when Jones' legal issues were mentioned, Imus asked what color Jones is. Told that Jones is African-American, Imus said, "there you go. Now we know."

Anyone who heard the clip — and thanks to the internet and SportsCenter, most fans have — realized that Imus was back to his old practice of making a racist remark and calling it "humor." His claim Tuesday that he was "trying to be sarcastic" and was underscoring the idea that Jones had been arrested "only because he was black" was as transparently dishonest as his original comment was disgusting.

The fact is that Jones has deserved much of the criticism that has come his way. If he is guilty of everything of which he has been accused since entering the NFL, he deserves mockery and booing. Being an egomaniac or a jerk is not a crime. Want evidence? There are many who think Terrell Owens is both of those, but his behavior, while dramatic and sometimes confusing, has not landed him in jail — Jones has been booked repeatedly. He has said he has learned from his poor decisions of the past, and maybe the suspension that has been lightened to allow him to practice with his new team, but not lifted all the way to let him play … yet … will teach him the lesson in maturity his critics insist he so desperately needs. Barring another behavioral miscue, the rest of the suspension will be lifted before the season starts.

But Jones was the victim Monday, the victim of something nobody should have to endure. He was judged and degraded not for his decisions or behavior off the court, and not for his police record. He was mocked for the color of his skin.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had enough of Jones' legal issues and sent a message by suspending the mercurial cornerback for an entire year. If Jones learns from his behavior and the punishment it brought him, he won't get punished by the league again.

But Imus clearly learned nothing from the loss of his previous job, and the statement from his station is a sad statement about its lack of corporate backbone. Under the guise of "humor," Imus continues to spew race-based hatred and to perpetuate stereotypes that are hurtful and ignorant.

There are many who think Imusis nothing more than a poor man's Howard Stern — a very poor man's Howard Stern — and many who hold that opinion don't even like Stern. The popular Stern makes outlandish statements about many subjects, including race, but his thoughts — while sometimes controversial — often seem to be the result actual thought and reflection about a given situation. Imus has yet to suggest he is capable of either.

Jones got suspended for his role in a number of activities, even though his role in some has yet to be proven. Imus should be suspended from the airwaves for at least as long as Jones was forced to sit out (by the FCC, if his station doesn't have the guts to do it), and he should have Jones on as a guest, and be forced to grovel for Jones' forgiveness. Jones has been through a lot lately — all of which is the result of his own doing — but the rhetoric Imus coughed up Monday was inexcusable. His station and its sponsors need to hit him where it hurts (airtime and money) to see if that old dog can learn one of life's basic tricks.

Better yet, Imus should just be fired.

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