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The St. Louis Rams & the 'soft bigotry of low expectations'

The Rams are making progress toward building a winner. Some people think they're already there.

Dilip Vishwanat

It's been more than decade since some political wonk coined the term "soft bigotry of low expectations" and wrote it into a speech about education policy. Like most catchphrases it took on a second life beyond its original meaning: it happens to be a great way label the overselling of underperformance.

Over the last week or so, the Post-Dispatch and Rams beat writer Jim Thomas have been touting the Rams offensive performance this season, the fine work that helped the team finish with a 7-9 record instead of 5-11.

Here was Thomas on Thursday morning in an article recapping the national story of Rams OC Brian Schottenheimer interviewing for the Vanderbilt head coaching job:

Schottenheimer's offense was far more effective in 2013 than the team's 30th ranking in total offense would indicate.

And here was Thomas on Wednesday, after the news broke:

Schottenheimer's offense was far more effective in 2013 than the team's 30th ranking in total offense would indicate.

(Hey wait, isn't that the exact same sentence? It sure is. Thomas posted a slightly longer version of his Wednesday story on Thursday. To be fair, he might not have had the time, as he said "Unlike some 'modern' writers, I actually attend practices, attend games _ home and away _ interview players, coaches, etc.. _ make phone calls. That takes time.")

And here's Thomas in Tuesday's chat:

The Rams scored more points this season than at any time since 2006. They had one of the league's most productive ground games over the final 12 games of the season. Schotty's not going anywhere.

Stop soft peddling the Rams' under-achievements. It's an epidemic at the Post-Dispatch lately.

Thomas has been covering the Rams well before "modern" writers took to Twitter or "modern" analytics changed the way we think about the game, so he's seen some wide swings in performance. Think about the jump from Rich Brooks to the GSOT and again from the Spagnuolo years to this one. Of all people, he should know what a good offense looks like.

But let's not kid ourselves about the 30th ranked offense being something to celebrate. It got them seven wins. Seven. And it continued a decade-long streak of not making the playoffs and more than 10 years of not posting a winning record.

(The Rams ranked 30th in total offensive yards, by the way. Their total of 348 points ranked 21st in the NFL. Context.)

It's one thing to point out progress, but it's another thing to sell it as an end itself. (Hell, it's fair to ask if they really did make progress from 2012 to 2013).

Fans want winning football here (and everywhere). They aren't getting it, and haven't had it for more than a decade. When you add to that the fact that football coverage in St. Louis is mostly limited to a local newspaper and the team's corporate partner radio station popping champagne over the 30th ranked offense, are you really surprised that the TV ratings sunk and attendance is abysmal?

The people most responsible for setting the perception, locally and nationally, for this team are essentially telling you not to bother because this is as good as it gets.

They're lowering expectations instead of holding the team accountable for building on its progress. They're feeding the perception of the Rams as a D-student that finally reached his ceiling and got his first C. The soft bigotry of low expectations, NFL style.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't hand out gold stars or As for effort.