It did not begin that evening when a six-foot eight-inch center leaned over and bit off the ear of the six-foot three-inch guard he was trying to get past. Instead it started the next morning when a radio shock jock was talking about the incident on-air. "What can you say?," he said, in a matter-of-fact voice, "these people are descended from cannibals."
Mindful of recent controversies regarding radio talk show hosts, the network was quick to react; firing not only the shock jock, but his co-host, producer, the technical crew, and the receptionist who did a remarkable job of dealing with angry callers -- even the vicious personal attacks by people she had never met.
The word "cannibal" was repeated ad nauseum by all of the 24-hour news networks. One of these shows had a discussion between a conservative television and radio host, a rather bulldog-shaped fellow with matching temperament, and a striking blonde known for her histrionics and apparent adam's apple.
"This is part of the liberal eco-feminists homo-erotic agenda," the host said, bristling with self-righteous indignation. "This is a free speech issue, and our free speech as God-fearing Americans is in jeopardy."
"I couldn't agree more," the blonde replied, seeming more amused than outraged. "We already have the "N-word. What do these people want, a C-word?"
"Er ... we already have that," the host said, sheepishly.
"Well, yes," the blonde said, quickly regaining her composure, "and I have been called that on many occasions."
"I've been called a fascist, a Nazi, a bully, and a leprechaun," the host added. "Do you think any of those bother me?"
Despite their talk show hosts maintaining this as a free-speech issue, their parent company had a different view. Their publishing house was ordered to delete from the book "African History", all mention of the Zimba, cannibal warriors who had terrorized East Africa in the late 1500's. When the author, an Oxford history professor, protested this action, the book was dropped completely from the catalogue.
Despite the firings and promises by the network of greater sensitivity on racial issues, the media firestorm (as they liked to call it), continued. Leading the charge (another popular cliche) was an African-American community leader with a hoarse voice and perpetually bad hair. "They say don't take it personally," he said, talking to a reporter of questionable sexual orientation. "How can I not take offense when they insult our culture, our morals, our hair?"
One satiric cable program, (which despite its name is only on four times a week, with repeats during very frequent vacation breaks) tried to suggest that we may have grown too sensitive to slurs, thus empowering them. It was a funny routine but few got the message. Most viewers seemed to have the opinion that it was okay to restrict everyone's free speech but theirs.
There were reports of widespread violence due to the shock jock's comments (actually, one 7-year-old African American student shouted "I'm a cannibal, fear me!", and attacked a 10-year-old Caucasian student in the schoolyard -- which most onlookers, the Caucasian student included, did not find alarming). This prompted the President to act. He called a variety of media experts and community leaders to the White House. Neither the basketball player nor the radio personality were invited.
The media people, fearing FCC action, pleaded a variety of free speech, family value, and national security issues -- none of which seemed compatible with any of their other points. The community leaders stressed their 350 year plight of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and unequal opportunities; and how what was now the "Can-word" reinforced unfortunate stereotypes.
The President listened, only stopping to look at his watch a few times, and promised to solve the issue. The next day, he interrupted prime-time television to deliver an address.
"My fellow Americans," he began, seeming troubled by what he was about to say, "there are times a President must make decisions. That is his job; to be a decider. Sometimes these decisions are not easy ones. Sometimes they are hard. But that's my job.
"Recently a matter has come up that is of vital importance. Some say it is a free speech issue. Some say it is a civil rights issue. I see it as a national security issue. Therefore I have no choice but to ban ... "
His voice ended abruptly as if something were caught in his throat. He looked at the page on the podium, winced, and then looked at the camera.
"I have decided that I have no choice but to ban the sport of basketball. All hoops and equipment will be removed from playgrounds. All scholastic programs will be ended. The NBA and WNBA will be abolished. And the United States will neither participate in Olympic basketball, nor will the American media carry basketball in the upcoming Games.
"This was a difficult decision to make. But it is the right one. Thank you and God Bless."
Only one radio talk show host, one with a taste for attractive women and questionably-obtained prescription medicines, agreed with the President's decision saying, "What has basketball done but encouraged all sorts of bad behavior? Is it too far to suggest that it has actually brought down our culture? We all should thank the President for having the wisdom to take action when action is needed."
Most of the media started running reports purporting how this would cause an increase in inner-city violence. These would start with dark, ominous-sounding music, flashy graphics, and titles like "Blood in the Play Ground" and "No Ball/More Blood" (blood being a common theme in these reports).
The very Monday after the President's speech, the Governor of Florida met with several members of Congress from his state. He instructed them to introduce Articles of Impeachment against his brother. Afterward, he was heard to say, "That's the last time he ruins my career."
Meanwhile, a silver-haired former radio personality sat back in his chair, drinking a cup of coffee. He listened to his lame, innocuous replacement talk about the controversy. Then he looked over at his cowboy hat. He reached over, put it on his head, and laughed.
-- Daniel Mulhollen