Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The First Rule of Double Standards

One of my favorite self-reflective statements is: The first rule of double standards is that I get to have one and you don't. I like it because in one sentence, it demonstrates the problem of a double standard: some person or entity holds two conflicting standards and applies them to his, her, or their advantage. But if two different people or organizations hold a different standard, that is not a double standard. Sure, it's two standards, but it's not got the same logical inconsistencies as a single person trying to hold two conflicting standards at the same time.

I think the author of this article is frustrated. But when he says "double standard", I'm forced to disagree with him. Last year, Brett Favre played for the Green Bay Packers while Steve McNair played for the Tennessee Titans. That they have been treated differently during this off season simply means that the general managers for each respective team had different priorities. If one entity, had treated each of them differently, then the author could argue that there was a double standard. But the Green Bay Packers are not the same entity as the Tennessee Titans.

One could argue that the NFL is the unifying entity since both of them play in that league. But the NFL isn't the entity that is making the contract decisions for the Packers or the Titans. Each of them is doing that independently of each other and the NFL.

The author does argue that there is a unifying entity (the media and the fans) who are treating each player differently. And that's got a little more teeth to it. The problem is that there is no organization that is either "the media" or "the fans". Those are convenient terms that we use to describe a group of independent people who have similar characteristics. As a result, the media and the fans will almost always hold more than one standard: there's more than one of them deciding what standard to hold.

The author might want to make the point that the double standard is actually prevalent among NFL fans. If so, he'd need to find out how many people simultaneously support Favre returning to the Packers and reject McNair returning to the Titans. You can't simply say that one group of fans supporting Favre, and another group of fans rejecting McNair indicates that there's a double standard. They're different groups of people.

You could also find real double standards in the media: just find any author who has written in support of Favre and in opposition of McNair. Unfortunately, in that case, you're really only criticizing the specific authors who hold those conflicting views. It's got much better rhetorical value to say "the media holds a double standard". It makes for a much taller soap box.

There may very well be a double standard. It's possible that many NFL fans are individually holding two conflicting viewpoints with respect to McNair and Favre. Maybe there are lots of individuals in the media who are praising Favre while rejecting McNair. Maybe there's some mastermind in the league offices pushing a pro-Favre and anti-McNair agenda. But nothing in this article lends any credence to any real claims of a double standard. What the author does call a double standard isn't one. And calling it that only serves to dilute the meaning of those words. It makes them less useful when a real double standard comes along.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a lifelong fan of the Green Bay Packers. I'm glad that Favre is back. I have no opinion on whether or not Steve McNair plays for the Titans.

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