Paul Shirley on Haiti: “I won’t give them a cent”

Free speech is a double-edged sword

Paul Shirley: Haiti hater? (Photo:

One of the great things about living in America is that we have the right to free speech. Everyone – including athletes – can blog about their political opinions without having to fear a masked hit squad coming to their door in the middle of the night. Such is one of the hallmarks of living in a free country. However, free speech can backfire on the speaker, particularly in the popular media. That’s the bed former NBA benchwarmer and freelance music critic Paul Shirley has made. His Haiti opinion has gotten him kicked off ESPN and will no doubt color how the public perceives him for some time.

Where’s the human compassion for the 200,000-plus departed?

In their blog coverage of the Paul Shirley Haiti comments, The Nation suggests that as a cultural critic, Paul Shirley could use some time behind the woodshed. On his blog, Shirley writes, “I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street… If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.” So he’s saying a cash advance of relief would be… a bad thing.

As if that wasn’t enough, Paul Shirley calls Haiti out some more

“Dear Haitians – First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded. As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?

Sincerely, The Rest of the World”

The Nation has a field day with this

They point out that not only is Shirley’s knowledge of Haitian history lacking – a history that included a U.S. occupation that “left behind a 98 percent illiteracy rate, a broken economy, and a U.S.-trained military schooled in the art of repression.” The Nation challenges Paul Shirley to work in a sweatshop, to “try to live on a dollar a day or care for someone H.I.V. positive who has no access to medicine.” Then Nation writer Dave Zirin caps it with an epic blast:

Dear Paul Shirley, I only wish your father had taken your own advice and worn a condom. Go to hell.

Sincerely, Dave Zirin

Give money or give time?

It’s a difficult question, particularly for those among us who cannot travel to Haiti to help the relief effort. Most will settle for a cash advance to help the cause. Yet others like Paul Shirley are skeptical that monetary aid will be well spent. One reader on the SBNation blog had this to say. Perhaps Paul Shirely should pay attention:

“It is unfortunate that every relief dollar can’t go directly into saving Haitian lives, but if you indeed have thought this through then I encourage you to leverage your thoughts into action rather than justify your inaction – maybe think about how you could actually help Haiti in the long term once the celebrity concerts are done and the short-term giving has dried up. Or get in touch with an NPO down there to see what they are doing and how you could help besides giving money. There are so many better responses than just to say ‘I won’t be giving to this cause.'”

Are Paul Shirley’s Haiti comments a warning, a stumble, or both?

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