(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/09/kj.jpg)The Huffington Post just raised some eyebrows in the journalism world last week by hiring an unusual political commentator to cover national security issues: ex-football player Donté Stallworth.
Stallworth, 33, played for the New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, and Washington Redskins before being waived by the latter team a year ago (asked in an interview where he stood on the Redskins name controversy, Stallworth stalled for 330 words only to end up saying “I don’t know”). In 2009 he was charged with DUI manslaughter for striking a pedestrian with his Bentley Continental; he plea-bargained to a 30-day sentence, probation, and community service, and settled with the victim’s family out of court.
As for his transition from pro athlete to political pundit for the HuffPost, Stallworth, who describes himself on Twitter as a “Leonardo da Vinci wanna-be that reveres Frederick Douglass Love books, sports, history & politics Advocate for peace, truth & equality 10 year NFL vet,” became a political junkie after 9⁄11. In an interview with Mother Jones magazine, Stallworth said he set out to understand “why these people are terrorizing us, and who are they?”
He disagreed with Bush’s assessment that “they hate us because of our freedoms.” Stallworth didn’t elaborate in the interview on why he thinks the jihadists do hate us; he only stated that his attitude toward foreign policy sprang out of researching “9/11, the Patriot Act, the FISA/warrantless wiretapping, Gitmo, kidnapping, extrajudicial killings, all that… What other countries,” he wondered, “have the capability to do this? And what kind of precedent are we setting with other countries when they have the capabilities that we have?”
As he dug into all this, Stallworth developed a reputation as a 9⁄11 Truther. “I don’t know how to say this nicely,” a friend joked, “but everything’s a conspiracy to him,” as evidenced in assertions like this on Twitter, where Stallworth spends a lot of time issuing forth 140-character sports and political commentary to his 152,000 followers:
NO WAY 9⁄11 was carried out by ‘dying’ Bin Laden, 19 men who couldn’t fly a damn kite. STILL have NO EVIDENCE Osama was connected, like Iraq.
Gggrrrrrrrrrrrrr @ ppl who actually believe a plane hit the pentagon on 9⁄11… hole woulda been ASTRONOMICALLY bigger, God bless lost lives.
Asked about this, _HuffPost_’s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim defended Stallworth:
“That doesn’t represent how he thinks today. You know, that was five years ago, and people say dumb things, but that shouldn’t define him.”
It needn’t define him, but it certainly should be taken into account if he’s expounding upon national security issues for a hugely popular website.
Politico points out that Stallworth apparently held forth on trutherism as recently as late last year, but recently he tried to quell that controversy by claiming that, like Obama on gay marriage, he has evolved:
“I no longer feel the way I did in that tweet 5 years ago… After a lot of reading and researching on it, my views changed… and that’s ok… Credit goes to James Bamford, whose great book disabused me of that stuff and showed what a disastrous intelligence failure 9⁄11 was.”
(He is probably referring to Bamford’s Bush-bashing A Pretext for War: 9⁄11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies.) Just a couple of days ago, he tweeted,
“For the record & for the last time, I’m not a ‘9/11 truther.’ I believe the intel community failed us, as stated by respected media agencies.”
[His political awakening actually mirrors my own, which began with 9⁄11 and my subsequent research into the Islamic threat. But unlike Stallworth and probably everyone else at HuffPost, I recognized who the real enemy is and why, and that led to my transformation to conservative and my rejection of the party that always seeks to blame America first.]
Speaking of patriotism, Stallworth claims in the Mother Jones interview that he loves our country and its history so much that his friends always point out a U.S. flag to him whenever they see one. But “a lot of people are blinded by their love for this country,” he said (while many are blinded by their progressive hostility toward it, I might add). “My biggest thing is I want people to understand that when there are hostilities between nations there’s always two sides.” This reeks suspiciously of the kind of moral equivalence that progressives love; sure there are two sides, but that doesn’t mean they are equally valid and defensible. “So I think that we do have a great country,” he ended, “but there’s a lot of things that we’re not so great at. Unfortunately, education is one of them.”
And hiring qualified national security pundits seems to be another. How did Stallworth even show up on _HuffPost_’s radar to begin with? Grim said that the athlete’s “LGBT work brought him to our attention and impressed us.” Stallworth has been a passionate supporter, for example, of St. Louis Rams draftee Michael Sam, the NFL’s first openly gay player (who was recently cut from the team).
What else ultimately sold HuffPost on Stallworth? Grim said he “has a quick mind, an insatiable curiosity and a passion for politics — the necessary qualities of a great journalist.” He left out another necessary quality: an Old School commitment to reporting the truth as opposed to the new journalist activism.
I have no problem with former athletes reinventing themselves. Athletes, particularly football players, whose career lifespans tend to run very short, have pretty much no choice but to create new careers for themselves. I also reject the dumb jock stereotype. But with Donté Stallworth, Huffington Post seems to have opted for a controversial, popular personality – passionate though he may be about politics – over journalists trained in the critical arena of national security, who might actually have lent the site some experience and credibility.
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