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July 26, 2016 2:10 pm

Jewish Football Team Owner Smeared as Racist in New York Times Sports Column

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Art Modell, with the Super Bowl XXXV trophy. Photo: Wikia.

Art Modell, with the Super Bowl XXXV trophy. Photo: Wikia.

A sports columnist for the New York Times has used his farewell column to smear a Jewish football team owner as a racist.

William C. Rhoden, stepping down as a full-time columnist of the Times after “nearly 35 years” at the newspaper, devoted his final column to replaying a clash from 50 years ago between Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, and Jim Brown, the great running back who played for that team.

As Mr. Rhoden tells the story in his column:

When the Browns opened camp in 1966, Brown was among the missing. He was in London, filming “The Dirty Dozen.” Shooting had been delayed because of weather, but the Browns’ owner, Art Modell, didn’t care. He wanted his star running back in training camp and made his dissatisfaction public. Modell threatened to fine Brown $100 a day if he did not show up for training camp….

He was making a power play to assert his control, to put his star fullback, who was gaining fame as an actor, in his place.

Modell saw himself as a liberal and would always remind Brown that he gave more to the N.A.A.C.P. than Brown probably did.

“That plantation type of attitude, I hated that,” Brown said.

Mr. Rhoden writes that “Brown’s retirement stands out because he defied a wealthy white owner who insisted on controlling the narrative.” Even though describing Modell — a Jewish high school dropout who grew up poor and who borrowed heavily to buy a team in which all his wealth was locked up — as a “wealthy white” is itself an act of controlling the narrative, and not necessarily in a fair or accurate way.

I wrote an email to Mr. Rhoden, asking if he meant to suggest that Modell was a racist, or if the “plantation attitude” was instead a reference to what Brown himself overcame by deciding to retire from playing, rather than show up or accept the fine. Mr. Rhoden’s reply was somewhat elliptical: “I think you should go with your gut — your first impression upon reading. You’ll be fine!” I read that as a signal that the line was an attack on Modell, not on any prior complacency or submissive attitude by Brown.

If it is, it strikes me as perhaps a cheap shot. Modell died in 2012, and is not around to defend himself. His obituary in the New York Times made no mention of his having any “plantation type of attitude.” Brown is 80; at the time of Modell’s death, he was quoted as saying, “I have a lot of respect for Art. I always considered him a friend.” If they had differences over pay or over tactics in advancing civil rights, or even if Brown found Modell to be patronizing or condescending, that’s one thing. But plantation owners had black slaves that they bought, sold and whipped. That’s a different thing entirely.

If Modell were around to defend himself, he might ask, why make a racial issue out of it? Why wouldn’t any employer, of any race, justifiably be annoyed when any employee, of any race, failed to show up for work on time because the worker was overseas pursuing other paid work in a different profession? That’s not plantation-style slavery, it’s just a free-market employer-employee relationship. How’s the employer supposed to run a business if the workers don’t show up, or, if, when their presence is urgently demanded, the workers accuse the business owner of acting like a brutal slaveholder?

Mr. Rhoden writes: “Brown would become an actor, an activist and an author. So it is with me.”

On the basis of this column, at least, I wish Mr. Rhoden the best of luck going forward in his career as an actor and activist.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. 

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Fredric Price

    Dear Ira Stoll,

    In condensed form (short enough to be published), you should send this as a letter to The New York Times. It is interesting to read here but it will have more impact if it is on the editorial page.

    Best regards,

    Fredric Price

  • Peter Joffe

    When one finger points forwards, three point backwards. The New York Times is a racist war mongering news rag and it should be closed down as it serves no purpose other than giving weather forecasts. William C. Rhoden has left the NYT to spread his hatred and bigotry to a wider audience somewhere, probably in Saudi Arabia. 35 years of bad reporting to now go out in a Jihad of glory.

  • Joy D. Brower

    Thanks for pointing out yet another biased and prejudiced activist writer at the NY Slimes – what else is new? I never read that paper (it’s stressful to read so many lies and distortions in one news source!), but such activity on the part of an ESPN-influenced writer (pathetically and eternally liberal, a mental disorder) needs to be pointed out and professionally criticized! Thanks again, Ira Stoll!

  • stevenl

    Rhoden spells like ROT. A Jackass antisemitic ignorant like so many millions.

  • betty schneck

    What a pity that on the last day of your public piece you had the need to spew anti-semitic hatred. You had to show your low colors regarding religion. If the boss wants your bi-line by a certain date, you would probably have handed in your copy. You are the type of anti-semite I call a hypcrite. It’s good that the liberal Times won’t have to have your words. when you see Jesus say hello.

  • gregg solomon

    Based upon what is presented above, to me it sounds like the leader of a team, a business, a squad, a platoon, a conductor, a surgeon in the OR, maintaining discipline and order in a group activity. What a ridiculous point Rhoden tried to construe. I love, love sports but find sportswriter when they venture beyond the X’s and O’s are way out of their element.

  • Mr. Rhoden

    I never heard of you before, and obviously never read your column.
    Now that I have read this column, I realize that i am better to have not read your garbage.

    You’re an IDIOT = small minded with a chip on your shoulder.

    I say this to you with the out most respect you deserve: F U !!!!!