Mark Twain Verses the NFL

by David Glenn Cox

“Shakespeare is dead, Chaucer is dead, and I’m not feeling too good myself!” ~ Mark Twain


such statements Mark Twain was proclaiming that his ego knew no bounds.

Yet to know this greatest man of American letters is to know that he

was at the same time forever self-deprecating. “I remember when I was

young man studying for the gallows.”

Twain spent his career

lampooning sacred American cows and defending the weak and powerless.

His scathing attacks on organized religion, contrasted with his ardent

defense of Satan, made Twain, in his day, a controversial figure.


have no special regard for Satan, but I can at least claim that I have

no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way,

on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue bibles

against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never

hear his side. We have none but evidence for the prosecution and yet we

have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is

un-English. It is un-American; it is French.”

Twain was never

shy. Despite his protestations of dislike for interviews and

photographers, he missed very few of either. “Yes, you are right — I

am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go

thrashing around in political questions.”

If Twain had been a

part of an investment group to buy an NFL franchise, would the NFL have

decided in his favor? Most definitely not! Twain was the Rush Limbaugh

of his day; he was an entertainer, a sawdust philosopher and pundit.

But Twain never backed down from the words which he spoke. He never

mealy mouthed or claimed that he was a persecuted victim, even when

indeed he was. That was part of Twain’s moral greatness; he made his

outrageous statements to make us look at ourselves. Framed and couched

in innocence, they were ambushes with the intent of a murderous attack

upon our beliefs.

“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and

convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without

examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the

questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other

non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass


The primary difference between Limbaugh and Twain is

that Twain always included himself when he criticized America’s

failures. Limbaugh holds himself above the fray like a ghost or cherub

watching the events from up on high. He sees himself as value’s judge

and jury. “I shall not often meddle with politics, because we have a

political Editor who is already excellent and only needs to serve a

term or two in the penitentiary to be perfect.”

Both men used

their pulpits to amass fortunes, but Rush is only an actor. You get the

impression that he doesn’t really believe half of what he says but says

these things for attention and shock value. If you read enough Twain

you see a man who through his writings is pursuing a psychoanalytic

evaluation of his own personality, and that of his country. He loved

humankind but lost patience with our failings. He loved America and

described its rich multi-faceted society. In his masterpiece “The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Twain paints the ceiling of the

Sistine Chapel in American prose.

Every word is intentional and

placed where the master directs it will do the most good. It is a book

about freedom and the failure of American reconstruction. The only free

men in the entire book are the runaway slave Jim and the poor white

trash boy Huck. The book was not received well; librarians pulled it

from their shelves for “rough grammar.” Even today the argument goes on

about Twain’s use and over use of the “N” word. The character of Jim is

the first African American ever written about as a full human being.

Jim is the hero; he cares for Huck like he was his own child.


battles his conscience, fighting the societal-imposed stereotypes and

Huck casts them all down and declares, “All right then, I’ll go to

hell!” Huck chooses his friend over society and Twain is saying that it

is America that can go to hell! Huck says, “I got to thinking that he

was most free and who was to blame for it.” In nineteenth-century

America that makes Limbaugh’s comments about Halfrican American and

Donovan McNabb seem mere piffle. Twain disguised his contempt for

America’s failures in the body of a little boy, for if a grown man said

such things he might have been pulled limb from limb.


repeated use of the “N” word was purposeful and intentional; it was a

term used by the ignorant characters in the book. It was Twain using a

literary device to say, “Now you look here America, you look at

yourself and look hard. Look who is calling the innocent and oppressed

such vile names, slave holders, religious bigots, bankers, judges,

policemen and the ignorant among the general public.” Twain was trying

to make us look at ourselves and some don’t see themselves yet, over a

hundred years later.

“I have always preached…If the humor came

of its own accord and uninvited, I have allowed it a place in my

sermon, but I was not writing the sermon for the sake of humor. I

should have written the sermon just the same whether any humor applied

for admission or not.”

There are many similarities between

Limbaugh and Twain, but there are also a great many differences that

disqualify Limbaugh from even being compared in the same light to

Twain. Twain rebuked us and lampooned us, poked fun at our follies and

called us fools when we were fools because he was seeking to bring out

our better nature. To laugh at us and we all laugh together and maybe

learn to be better.

Limbaugh just wants us to agree with him.

Twain would be disallowed an NFL franchise because of what he said

about America and Americans. Limbaugh was disallowed for what he says

about America, as well, but for the opposite reason.

“But the

truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an

unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get

hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t

anger me.”

“To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character, one must judge it by the standards of his time, not ours.”

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.