As a writer and a lover of language, I am the kind of person who almost never gets incensed when someone says something ridiculously outrageous, because experience has shown that the vast majority of the time, they either misspoke or were taken out of context by people who didn’t like them in the first place. I’ve been called wishy-washy and worse, but I generally believe that communication works better when people actually try to understand each other, rather than trying to trip them up every time they say something slightly wrong.
Because of that, I tend to give the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, “outrageous” opinions are outrageous because almost no one actually thinks them.
Which brings us to Colin Cowherd. Yesterday on his show on ESPN Radio, Cowherd was talking about the Marlins hiring general manager Dan Jennings as their manager, and he took exception to people saying how complex the game of baseball is. He said:
It’s too complex? I’ve never bought into that “baseball is too complex.” Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has not been known in my lifetime as having world class academic abilities. A lot of those kids come from rough backgrounds and have not had opportunities academically that other kids from other countries have. Baseball is like any sport. It’s mostly instincts. A sportswriter who covers baseball could go up to Tony La Russa and make an argument and Tony would listen and it would seem reasonable. There’s not a single NFL writer in the country who could diagram a play for Bill Belichick. You know, we get caught up in this whole “thinking-man’s game.” Is it in the same family? Most people could do it. It’s not being a concert pianist. It’s in the same family.
I first heard about this when I watched a video clip on Deadspin, and my antennae immediately went up. Why? Because that video clip cuts off abruptly right after he said, “Really? A third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.” You can tell that he wasn’t done talking, but the clip cut off, which is usually a big clue that someone is being taken out of context. And as you can see from reading the quote above, that’s exactly what happened. He provided more context after the clip stopped.
Unfortunately, the context doesn’t portray him as any less of an idiot, just a slightly different kind of idiot. While the Deadspin clip would have you believe he was saying, “Everyone from the Dominican Republic is too unintelligent to understand anything complex,” what he was actually saying was, “I am completely unaware of the difference between intelligence and education.”
Today on his show, Cowherd “apologized,” but only enough to prove that he doesn’t get it:
I could’ve made the point without using one country, and there’s all sorts of smart people from the Dominican Republic. I could’ve said a third of baseball’s talent is being furnished from countries with economic hardships, therefore educational hurdles. For the record, I used the Dominican Republic because they’ve furnished baseball with so many great players. … It wasn’t a shot at them. It was data. Five, seven years ago I talked about the same subject. Was I clunky? Perhaps. Did people not like my tone? I get it. Sometimes my tone stinks.
Yes, sometimes Cowherd’s tone stinks. That’s basically his job description, no different from Jim Rome or Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher or anyone else who gets paid to stir up controversy for a living. I don’t have a problem with that, since I am not forced to listen to any of them. But tone was not the problem here.
The ability to understand complex topics has a lot more to do with a person’s intelligence than his level of education. The only time education plays a part is when one topic is an extension of another; for example, you will do much better in calculus if you have a solid understanding of algebra and geometry and trigonometry first.
But baseball is not calculus, or if it is, the underlying baseball trigonometry is not taught in schools. If anything, a Dominican player who quit school at age 12 to focus on playing baseball is likely to learn more of baseball’s complexities than some American kid sitting in math and science classes. By the time those two hypothetical boys become fully grown baseball players, the American will be more “educated,” but there will be nothing about him that is better equipped to understand a sacrifice bunt or the infield fly rule or what pitch to throw in a given situation.
(All of this is ignoring the other obvious flaw in Cowherd’s argument, which is that he jumped from a discussion of managing a baseball team to the complexities of playing baseball, which are two entirely different things.)
I don’t believe that Colin Cowherd actually believes that Dominican baseball players are inherently intellectually inferior to American players. But it seems clear that he does believe that they are less intelligent, because he does not grasp the difference between intelligence and education.
Vladimir Guerrero would not have been a better baseball player if he had more than a fifth-grade education. That’s not because the game is simple enough even for him to understand; it’s because he wouldn’t have learned anything in grades 6-12 that would have been applicable.