By DERON SNYDER
First, a concession.
Yes, we live in an age of instant offense, where seemingly minor infractions of appropriate behavior can make some folks apoplectic. Yes, an entire subset appears eager to embrace victimhood at the slightest breach. And, yes, an increasing number of people seem to suffer from acute cases of hypersensitivity.
But consider this while stewing about so-called political correctness.
Maybe the marketplace of feelings is simply undergoing a correction after centuries of winks and nods at inappropriate practices. Maybe this is karmic payback for millions of victimizers who suffered zero consequences for their reprehensible actions. Considering the gross lack of sensitivity that’s been ingrained in our social fabric since, like forever, perhaps an extreme swing in the opposite direction was only natural.
Houston found itself in the center of a culture war last week, with the revelation of a conversation that took place behind closed doors. Another incident occurred on the World Series stage, for all the world to see.
Neither had anything to do with sports, per se. But as often is the case, our fun-and-games serve as a microcosm of real life.
I can’t tell you how many time, as a child, I heard the saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The adage is admirable in its intent, an effort to immunize children against their peers’ harsh and cruel comments.
But it’s a blatant lie. Language can and does hurt, whether aimed at children or adults. Take, for instance, likening your employees to convicts and their workplace as jail.
“We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” Texans owners Bob McNair said during an Oct. 18 meeting, referring to player demonstrations during the national anthem.
Just curious: Does McNair consider J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing to be incarcerated, too?
You might understand why the comment, reported Friday by ESPN, sparked anger in the locker room. Left tackle Duane Brown told reporters he was “sickened” by the owner’s words, deeming them “ignorant” and “embarrassing.
“We put our bodies and minds on the line every time we step on the field,” Brown said Friday. “To use an analogy of inmates in a prison, I would say that’s disrespectful.”
There’s really no other way to look at it, even if you accept McNair’s explanation that his “figure of speech was never intended to be taken literally.”
Um, maybe he was absent from school that day, but speaking figuratively automatically means you’re not being literal. However, that doesn’t mean it’s painless. I imagine McNair is offended if he’s likened to a slave owner exhibiting a plantation mentality.
The vast majority of Texans players kneeled during the national anthem Sunday before facing the Seattle Seahawks, showing how far off course the protests have strayed. It marked the first time Texans players have knelt (and the first time a crowd cheered the action). The original issues that Colin Kaepernick desired to highlight – police brutality and social justice – have faded as players and owners clash over freedom of expression.
When McNair’s comment surfaced Friday, a couple of Texans players were so angry they skipped practice.
Later that evening, about eight miles away, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel made a racially insensitive gesture and mouthed a racial insult at Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish during Game 3. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Gurriel without pay for five games at the beginning of next season. The punishment might’ve been worse if Darvish hadn’t offered one of the most gracious responses imaginable.
(This isn’t meant to judge different reactions. Marginalized folks are encouraged to forgive and forget – instantly and repeatedly – as offenses overlap and morph into one another. Anger, like grief, is best managed through a process.)
“No one is perfect,” tweeted the pitcher of Japanese-Iranian descent, noting that Gurriel was wrong. “But I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. “Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
Teachable moments abound, presenting multitudinous opportunities for growth and progress. But we’ll remain stuck unless folks like McNair and Gurriel, inside and outside of sports, absorb the lessons.
A major takeaway is understanding why certain words and actions are offensive. Another is to acknowledge that wrongdoers should apologize, period, not just “to anyone who was offended.”
Sports are unique in their ability to bring disparate groups together. Once we’ve assembled, it’s inevitable that society’s pressing issues occasionally will come up and be played out in front of us or in the stands. When they do, remember this:
Most of the time, it’s not about being politically correct.
It’s about being plain ol’ correct.