Posts tagged ‘controversy’

May 30, 2017

#130) How not to offend people #2: Terry Frei

“I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day Weekend,” tweeted sports writer Terry Frei. Hopefully Mr. Frei will ease his discomfort by purchasing some quality shoes that will feel good on his feet while he is standing in the unemployment line.

After the backlash hit, the former Denver Post sports writer tried to walk it back in a manner that made Al Campanis’s 1987 Nightline appearance look articulate. (The Post didn’t buy it). I leave it to better bloggers than myself to debate whether Frei’s words are simply those of a mouthy malcontent or are a dire warning about throngs of racists who now feel emboldened by the current political climate to say whatever is on their mind. I can’t say either whether Frei is innocently operating on a vintage 1956 set of social mores (like Amy Schumer’s grandma in her “Generations” sketch or the “Women in the Workplace” bit from “Family Guy”) or, like someone who overdoes it on Taco Tuesday and then finds themselves stuck in a public place with no restroom in sight, just had to let it loose right then and there, consequences be damned. I really can’t say. When the waffle iron at the Holiday Inn breakfast bar has a sign saying that the griddle must be opened before the batter is to be poured in, it’s hard to make assumptions about peoples’ intelligence.

What I do know is that Frei took the bar for offending people to a new low. Sometimes there can be an upside to offending people. You might get a laugh; your brazenness might be appreciated; you might become the president. But Frei got nothing out of his racist tweet other than not having to worry about showing up to work with a Memorial Day hangover.  His predecessor in this series, Sergio Garcia, made a joke – albeit a wholly unoriginal one – at the expense of a rather self-serious target, Tiger Woods. (Who knows, perhaps there are a few people in the deep south who still soil themselves laughing over black people/fried chicken jokes). Frei could have at least have riffed on the stereotype about Asians being bad drivers and drawn a few cheap laughs on his way out the door. Or perhaps he could have drawn inspiration from Lisa Lampanelli, who built a career on over-the-top racial/ist humor: “Hey, Asian guy! That black guy’s not laughing. Throw a star at him.”

Being a lover of Holocaust humor (what’s the difference between a Jew and a boy scout?) when I see the name Frei, I immediately think of “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will make you free”) – the phrase that was often seen at the gates to the concentration camps and sometimes shows up in Auschwitz selfies. Well, let’s just say that sportswriter Terry of Denver is now frei of his arbeit.

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November 10, 2016

#120) What do we tell the children: why Harry Edwards matters

Like many I’m still grappling with my feelings about the presidential election; in my case disappointment that Gary Johnson didn’t reach the threshold of votes necessary to secure federal funding for the Libertarian party (despite having more than three times as many votes as last time) and a sense that America, while justifiably weary of the status quo, has committed to a massive roll of the dice. Also like many, I’ve been staring at my social media feed (note to self: disabling the Facebook app on your cell phone doesn’t have any net effect when you can’t stop looking at the damn thing in your browser) and simultaneously absorbing the interesting insights folks have about our unique situation and the shit show. (I believe there’s a place for both in life.) Several common themes pop up: screen shots of the crashed Canadian immigration website; pictures of Katniss; memes with clever variations on the theme “Orange is the new black” and articles addressing the question, “What do we tell the children?”

Well, if there’s one thing that parents love, it’s getting advice from people without kids, so here goes. What do we tell the children? We tell them about Dr. Harry Edwards. Nearly 30 years ago Edwards made a move that had minimal impact outside of its immediate context but nevertheless provides an example of a way to move forward in these contentious times.

In April of 1987, to mark the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color barrier, Los Angeles Dodgers vice president Al Campanis, a former teammate of Robinson, was interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline. Koppel asked Campanis why there were still so few minorities in upper level positions across baseball. Campanis, then age 70, who by various accounts had recently suffered a stroke and was exhausted from traveling said, “I don’t believe it’s prejudice. I truly believe that they may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager.” A surprised Koppel tried to give Campanis a chance to walk it back, to which Campanis rambled about his former black teammates who were “[O]utstanding athletes, very God-gifted, and they’re wonderful people, and that’s all that I can tell you about them.”

Within 48 hours, Campanis was gone by firing or resignation; sources vary. By the summer, he was back. Campanis’s replacement was African-American sociology professor Harry Edwards, who re-hired Campanis. “We are going to have to deal with the Campanises in baseball and it’s good to have one in-house who knows how they think,” he said. Another Edwards comment has been echoed in analyses of Trump’s campaign. “[Campanis] represents millions of Americans in terms of the views he articulated. We can’t just consign him to the trash can without consigning millions of our fellow citizens to the trash can as well.”

What do Edwards and Campanis have to do with what we tell the children? Depending on the age of the children in question, the message may be articulated differently – never argue with a fool because bystanders might not be able to tell the difference; play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox, even the one who defecates in it – but it still boils down to basically the same thing. Many people will do and say things that will cause you to scratch your head, but avoiding them or pretending they don’t exist is like trying to hide your lousy report card (not that I would know anything about that.) Living in a society where everyone agrees all the time is at best boring, at worst dangerous.

Will Edwards’s reaching across enemy lines be a model? Like everything else with the pending Trump presidency, we’ll just have to wait and see, but at least it’s an idea for one of many things that we can tell the children.