Jeff Ward: On Youth Sports Coaches, Whitney Houston and Racism
If you use the N-word in a Facebook post, you deserve some criticism.
This doesn’t happen very often. Three of my favorite subjects in the same column? You’d think coaching youth sports, racism, and Whitney Houston wouldn’t be quite so closely connected, but as quantum physicists like to say, anything that can happen in Patchland probably will.
As most of you already have guessed, we’re talking about the Oak Lawn youth baseball coach who was forced to resign over some awful terminology used in a Facebook post. Frustrated by the plethora of press coverage on Whitney Houston’s passing, he wrote, “I’m so sick of reading about this dumb stupid N-word Whitney Houston.”
Of course this only proves my theory that all social media is an abomination and should be banned. Whenever a candidate comes to me on how to use Facebook, Twitter or a blog, I always shout “NO!” because it only triples your chances of saying something really stupid.
And that concept is no different for youth sports coaches, who are also held to that invisible higher standard. As a coach, I have to make sure I’m never alone with any of the kids, I always have an assistant within earshot, and though I generally swear like a sailor, I don’t do it with young ears in the vicinity.
It’s hard to believe I have to say this, but no one should use racial slurs, period, and it's about as bad it gets when the slur is used with parents to make a point.
I too, am tired of all the wailing, keening and gnashing of teeth surrounding Ms. Houston’s passing. When she realized that fame and fortune won’t make you happy, despite some fine folks' best efforts, she chose to descend into the kind of downward spiral that has inevitable consequences.
In fact, the only thing that “shocks” me is that she didn’t die 20 years earlier. I’m equally amazed that Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen are still with us, but the thing is, I don't think anyone would consider calling either one of them a “honky” to make that point.
But what really fascinated me was the brilliant piece by freelance Sun-Times reporter Bob Rakow in which our intrepid baseball coach desperately tried to prove, despite the evidence to the contrary, he isn’t a racist.
Rakow was smart enough to just let him talk.
“I didn’t even realize I put it in until after I sent it,” the coach said.
Comedian Michael Richards isn’t racist, he’s an idiot. When he taunted a minority heckler with a slur-laced tirade, it was a conscious effort to inflict the most psychological damage possible. On the other hand, nonchalantly dropping the N-word on Facebook definitely makes you a bigot, because it reveals the kind of language streaming through your internal dialog.
And it’s exactly this kind of unconscious “some of my best friends are black” racism that feeds the Tea Party and so many conservatives who so reflexively attack our president. Racism isn’t as much intentionally hurling the N-word (though that might be a pretty clear signal) as it is summarily dismissing someone simply because they’re not like you.
After all, isn’t bigotry nothing more than assigning undeserved attributes and undue anger to someone who’s done nothing to deserve it?
I’m not saying you can’t attack the president’s record—I do it all the time—but some of these attacks are so bizarre, there’s no other explanation. He wasn’t born here. He’s a Muslim. He’s a socialist. He appeases terrorists. He’s on a mission to destroy this country. And so on.
And just like our self-professed colorblind coach, they do it without a second thought and then shriek, “I’m not a bigot!” when you actually call ‘em on it.
The last time we discussed this, some of you argued that the Tea Party couldn’t be racist because so many of its members supported Herman Cain. And some of you actually convinced me you were right.
But it was only those Tea Partiers who, after watching the Cane Train’s self-inflicted derailment, realized he might not be the best man for the job. C’mon! “'Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan," quoting the Pokemon Movie and his poor recollection of the many women who filed sexual harassment complaints against him—those were some pretty clear hints.
As for the rest of the Tea Party folks, the only reason some liked Herman Cain was that he was so amusing. He was an unintentional parody of a presidential candidate.
Ah! But when faced with an educated, eloquent, smart and suave black man who can sing a killer version of the Rev. Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, that stark reality rankles some folks who just aren’t ready for it, so they lash out in ways that don’t necessarily include the N-word.
Racism is what you do and say without thinking about it. It’s immediately dismissing someone because they’re black. It’s referring to a black president as everything but the antichrist because his mere existence doesn’t fit your world view. And yes! It’s casually referring to Whitney Houston with the N-word on Facebook.
As I continued reading Brakow’s report, I found myself screaming, “don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it, please don’t say it … ” And then he did.
Our infamous Oak Lawn coach’s last stab at rehabilitating his image went something like this; “I regret using that adjective. Does that make me a racist? Are you kidding me? It was the farthest thing from my mind. I have some amazing friends who are black.”