Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh appeared on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports this week, in which Andrea Kremer gives an inside look at the man behind the square jaw and khaki pants. (My favorite part? The time Harbaugh, a third-grader determined to become an NFL quarterback, defeated his own genetics by the sheer power of his own iron will and drinking as much milk as his stomach would allow, allowing him to grow into his 6-foot-3 frame, three inches taller than brother John and anyone else in the Harbaugh clan.)
In what is becoming a near-daily occurrence, Harbaugh opened his mouth and started printing headlines. This time around it was his take on football’s place in American culture. “It’s not a fun sport, but what you come to love is the struggle of it. I love football. Love it. Love it,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men, in males. I want to do it for as long as I’m good at it, and I love Michigan.”
As per custom on Real Sports, Bryant Gumbel discussed the interview with Kremer, and the host was struck by Harbaugh’s football-as-last-stand comment. “Andrea, I want to make sure I get this right. Football, the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in males? Not exactly a quote for the Age of Enlightenment.”
That quote, and Gumbel’s reaction, jumped the rails from the sports page to the political realm, as Rush Limbaugh chimed in with his take on Harbaugh’s take.
“I think this is profound and it’s interesting. I’m glad Jim Harbaugh said what he said, and I’m glad that Gumbel reacted to it the way he did,” Limbaugh said (via Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com). “I think this kind of illumination is good. In other words, Gumbel epitomizes the modern day cultural left. He simply epitomizes it, and to him, any notion of toughness in men, and a last bastion of hope, and football being representative and an example of toughness in America, is somehow unacceptable! Would John Wayne be put in jail today? Would John Wayne be ridiculed and mocked? Would they say of John Wayne that he was a poor role model and a bad influence for young American men who are simply trying to feel their way along on campus? That’s a bad choice of words. Men who are simply trying to find their way along on campus. If any of you had a doubt that modern day liberalism features among many of its other qualities and objectives, an all-out assault on manliness, you have evidence of the contrary right here. It clearly is.
I’ve got to be honest here, I’m not sure how that relates. But wait, there’s more.
“Now, you might translate that and think and say that Harbaugh thinks the country’s male population is being wussified, that the male population is being tamed, the male population is being neutered. Here comes Harbaugh saying, ‘Yeah, well, we got one last hope: Football. Football is the last bastion of hope for toughness.’ So Harbaugh believes in toughness in men, he believes in toughness in America, he believes in toughness in American men. You damn well want it in your Special Forces, gang. You want it with the Navy SEALs. You want it all over the United States military.
“You want manliness, you want toughness, you want bravery, you want courage. Yet that’s controversial today, in the Age of Enlightenment, as spewed there by Bryant Gumbel. Because in the Age of Enlightenment, football doesn’t have any attributes like this anymore. No, no, no! Football kills. Football leads to permanent brain damage and football leads to suicide. Football leads to crime. Football leads to a crime rate among people that play in the NFL that is less than the gen pop, the general population. The numbers have been run. It’s just that people who play football are stars and, as such, what they do occurs with greater media scrutiny. So when one of them happens to engage in some sort of questionable behavior, it happens to (in a lot of it people’s minds) speak for the whole sport and everybody that plays it.”
It’s not the first time something Harbaugh said turned into a political statement. Two weeks ago, in fact, Harbaugh vowed to show the Clint Eastwood/Bradley Cooper film “American Sniper” after an earlier planned showing was cancelled amidst complaints led by Muslim and Arab students.
Michigan Football will watch “American Sniper”! Proud of Chris Kyle & Proud to be an American & if that offends anybody then so be it!
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) April 9, 2015
The university later reversed its reversal and showed the film as planned.