As a Penn State alumnus I am indifferent as to whether Joe Paterno’s statue is left standing or taken down. It is not Penn State. It is an inanimate piece of bronze. I however, do understand why people outside of Penn State, including the media, would fixate on the statue as a symbol as all that is wrong with our school and call for it’s removal. I am also personally appalled that alumni and students fighting to keep it would fixate on something so internally trivial and meaningless to the future of Penn State as an institution moving forward. No rational person should need to be reminded that a statue is nothing compared to the pain, suffering and trauma endured by Sandusky’s victims. No rational alumnus should need to be reminded that the future of Penn State has nothing to do with a statue. If it will make those rightly outraged see a glimmer of integrity in our school moving forward then its a no-brainer. It’s a ghost. It’s nothing. Let it go. Let’s all move forward with positive change, integrity and hope as a learning institution, not fighting over a piece of bronze.
Anyone who remotely follows the NBA is probably aware of the controversy surrounding the bonehead “Chink In The Armor” title used by ESPN mobile for a story about New York Knicks Chinese-American phenom point guard Jeremy Lin.
One thing I have learned in writing and speaking on the nature of hate speech in social media is that context is king. While certain words and phrases need no context to be considered hate speech, there are many that in a vacuum, have legitimate meaning but when context is added become racially charged. There is a point we intend to convey with that context. This is why I roll my eyes at those who wish to focus on the vacuum. “Chink In The Armour” was not written in a vacuum. There was a real person behind it who had something on his/her mind and went through some nature of thought process before it appeared live. To trivialize it as being ok because in a vacuum it has a legitimate meaning is to ignore the impact that the unintended meaning carries. There is no doubt in my mind that somewhere in this country, someone is using the ESPN title to justify to themselves, to others and maybe their children that such slurs are acceptable in society. This is why it is important for ESPN to come down hard on whoever was responsible.
It also brings to mind an incident last year in which I was accused of being racially insensitive in my context. It involved a friend who is Chinese.
This friend is an avid runner as I am. I would often comment on photos she posted on Facebook from various races she had run. One particular photo showed her crossing the finish line of a race looking down and to me her eyes appeared to be closed. This was something I could identify with. When I am struggling in a race or run in general I tend to look down and squint at the ground because my face muscles tighten up. With this in mind I placed the following comment on her photo:
“Why are your eyes closed.. lol”
All hell broke loose. She was not offended but others were with “what the hell do you mean by that” comments. It never occurred to me that there was a stereotype embedded in my comment until it was angrily pointed out to me. I was mortified. I explained myself and she shrugged it off with no harm done. I never forgot it. Was I racist and just didn’t see it? Why did I focus on that? In my mind it was harmless in the context I had created. It never occurred to me in leaving that comment that while context is king, it’s not the same for everyone. I am infinitely more aware of that sitting here today a year later. Words can be powerful intentional or unintentional weapons of racial hatred or simple ignorant stupidity. They are rarely spoken in a vacuum.
CBS Chicgo sports columnist and sports radio host Dan Bernstein took hatred to an extreme when stated in an opinion piece that he hoped cancer stricken former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno would die soon.
This commentary came within the context of his criticism of a public letter put together by over 340 former Penn State football players showing support for Paterno in the wake of brutal criticism for his actions or lack of them in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. With regards to specifics of his criticism, I actually agree with Bernstein on several points. Making the letter public was ill conceived, inappropriate and was not for the benefit of Paterno but for the ego of players who signed. A self centered, arrogant move.
Bernstein should have left it at that. In addition to criticizing the letter, he went on to state specifically in his column that he hoped Paterno, who is battling lung cancer would die soon. He did not stop there. He then had a “Celebration Of Paterno’s Cancer” segment on the Boers And Bernstein radio show. In the same breath, he also plugged the One Step At A Time Camp organization which provides programs for children with cancer. Dan Bernstein is on the Board Of Directors. Seem disturbingly ironic?
What’s the bottom line in all this? Dan Bernstein used a public forum to spew hatred and mock cancer victims. He owes some public forum apologies. He does NOT owe apologies to Joe Paterno or offended Penn Staters. He owes public apologies to the millions of sick and dying people he mocked. Those who are battling cancer. Those who are on the front lines looking for a cure. Those who spend their lives trying to make life easier for those afflicted.
You may not like or even despise Joe Paterno. You may believe, in a detached context that what Bernstein said was justified. This is not about Joe Paterno or Penn State. Listen to Bernsteins actual words and the hatred he worked so hard to take viral. Then consider the bigger picture of the 11,958,000 million currently afflicted with cancer. Maybe it’s someone you know or love. Maybe it’s your child like the children helped by the One Step At A Time or similar organization. See how you feel then. Maybe you will agree that a public apology is in order. Here are the links to his show. I urge you to listen.
Boers And Bernstein Hour 3 Minutes 6-8
Boers And Bernstein Hour 3 Minutes 29-31
Podcast: Play in new window
Should Penn State have declined a bowl invitation to play in the Ticket City Bowl against the Houston Cougars in Dallas on January 2? The pro opinion is pretty much the same rhetoric that has been spouted since the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. People are rightly outraged at the failure to act by those who are accountable and the specter of a institutional coverup. Many believe that the the declining of a bowl invitation is a “just punishment” to those who have failed to act and surely covered up these awful events. Some believe it will deter similar future conduct. There are those who believe it is simply the “moral” thing to do.
Let’s keep our eye on the ball. Who are we punishing and for what reason? What future conduct are we trying to deter and for what reason? Whose morality are we trying to satisfy? We all agree that the conduct Sandusky is accused of is sickening and heinous. If convicted, the legal and “moral” thing is that he live out his life behind prison walls. That’s the easy one. The failure to act by Grahm Spanier, Joe Paterno and others is troubling. Those who did not act have either been held or are in the process of being held accountable. Despite the trend towards inserting our own facts to satisfy our immediate blood lust, the bottom line is that there is still many questions unanswered of who knew what and what they did with the information. These questions will be answered as the wheels of justice slowly turn.
How does this extend to young adults who had absolutely nothing to do with the scandal? What legal, deterrent or moral high ground is established by punishing these kids by denying them one of their dreams. Are we deluding ourselves into thinking that this is something the alleged victims want? That prohibiting innocent kids from playing in a bowl game will somehow alleviate their pain to any degree? Is the goal of punishing those who had no involvement in the scandal meant to accomplish something positive or is it simply punishment for punishments sake. Generalized hatred so intense and all consuming. Hatred for hatred’s sake.
Let’s keep our eye on the ball. This is not about kids and coaches having nothing to do with any of this playing in a bowl game. Let them enjoy the moment they worked so hard for. If you think that the alleged victims would not be in agreement with this, you are deluding yourself with your own “moral’ righteous anger. No need to create innocent villains and victims out of hatred. There is enough of that in this world already.