The NFL, never an organization to face hard truths, is struggling along with football fans to process the sudden retirement of 29-year-old Andrew Luck, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. Luck walked away from the game due to a series of punishing injuries — I winced just reading the words “lacerated kidney” — but some real tough guys had to sound off on social media about how soft he is. Among those badasses was Doug Gottlieb, host of the Doug Gottlieb Show, one of those sports talk radio programs that seem designed to escalate road rage. Seeking maximum negative attention, he turned his criticism into a swipe at all millennials:
What happened next was truly special. Troy Aikman, former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys (and now technically a colleague of Gottlieb’s in his job as an NFL commentator on FOX), teed up the awful tweet and whacked it into outer orbit. His reply gained close to half a million likes.
I’m sure Aikman had a couple good points in there, but honestly, I think most of us were stopped cold by the beauty of his first remark: “That’s total bullshit Doug.” No comma, no equivocation and the name wielded like a blunt, heavy shovel. Why is it so funny? Why is it so perfect that Doug is named “Doug,” and that Troy made a point of reminding us of it?
On top of everything, it’s not as if Aikman is especially beloved himself. Hating the Cowboys, and especially the Cowboys of his era, is a beloved American pastime; NFL viewers have blasted his announcing; and he contends that being gay is “a lifestyle people choose.” On any given day, I’m sure his mentions are full of folks calling him an asshole. But when he rips into Doug…
The sheer contempt in name-checking Doug made the complaint universally applicable. It’s not just that thousands agreed with Aikman — it’s that a millionaire Hall-of-Famer logged on to a crappy website to get as mad as the listeners who call into shows like Gottlieb’s. At a certain point, we all hit our limit, and we have to fight back against Doug’s total bullshit. Strangely enough, I suspect the comment wouldn’t have had the same force if the target had a different though similar name. “That’s total bullshit Greg” is funny; it just doesn’t sound as good. It has to be Doug, because Doug fits. Doug makes the sentence sing. Just look again, for a long moment, at those four letters, that single syllable — Doug — and bask in the ridiculousness.
The specificity recalled a meme archetype that likely originated in Black Twitter before entering mainstream (over)usage: “Karen,” a catchall name for the kind of entitled, obnoxious white woman who always demands to speak to the manager. According to Reddit’s r/FuckYouKaren community, a Karen is also at high risk for anti-vaxxer beliefs and “taking the kids” in a breakup.
The “Doug” character may well repackage Karen’s arrogance and weaponized privilege in a male counterpart. It’s easy, moreover, to imagine that every Karen yelling at a waitress in Olive Garden is married to a Doug, some underachieving office drone whose only pleasures are the fantasy league and, of course, spouting off about pro athletes they don’t like on the internet. (Naturally, their son is “Kyle,” a Monster Energy-addicted gamer who takes out his considerable aggression on drywall.) Doug resembles a Reply Guy who doesn’t need anyone to reply to — he simply disgorges his bad takes the same way he’d barf up a half-dozen Jäger bombs, hoping that one will be stupid enough to get people asking, “Wait, who’s this dickwipe?” And when he does stir up the backlash he craves, he protests that he was only being provocative or sarcastic.
As such, Doug is a major problem for the digital public square, a guy who, in corporate Twitter parlance, detracts from the conversation. He may not harass specific users like your basic troll, but he’s… around, jumping on trending topics and hashtags, trying to fire off edgy, contrarian posts, generally gumming up the works. Even in the often toxic and reactionary world of professional football, there’s not an enormous appetite for talking heads mocking a star who’s done sacrificing his body for the game; those entertained by such antics can get their fix from O.J. Simpson. Nevertheless, Doug persists, confident that annoying and offending people is the path to glory, though thin-skinned enough that he’ll block anyone who hits a sore spot. (In Gottlieb’s case, that’d be his credit card fraud while a basketball player at Norte Dame.)
Eventually, whether online or off — and I’m sure you know plenty of Dougs who don’t require a smartphone to distribute their smug, uninformed opinions — a Doug must meet the same fate as a Karen who learns that she’s not getting a refund at Target. Someone will refuse to roll with his act, describing it as the “total bullshit” it most assuredly is. With the right timing and optics, that humiliation can occur on the scale of Troy Aikman shoving Doug Gottlieb’s head in a metaphorical toilet as the entire internet cheers him on. Still, he doesn’t quit being a Doug at that point. Only Doug can discover the error of Doug’s ways.
So grow the fuck up, Doug.