Racial slurs for fun and profit

December 18, 2001 7:54 AM
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ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE last week after Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel lost his temper and screamed an unkind epithet at a fan who had been heckling him. Now, a screaming match with a fan is bad enough, but what made it career-threatening for Issel was his use of the term “Mexican” tied to an expletive. Specifically, he yelled, “Go drink another beer, you Mexican ”¦,” adding an expletive at the end of his sentence. The next day, Issel apologized to his team, the community and the fan. For his transgressions, Issel was suspended without pay for four games, which cost him $112,000. Issel also made a heartfelt apology to the Hispanic community. You would think that should have been enough contrition. Not so. Over the next few days, several activists began demanding that the Nuggets organization make huge contributions to their favorite organizations. Some even suggested the Nuggets should “correct the situation” by firing the coach, and/or hiring Hispanic or other minorities to upper management positions within the organization. There’s even a possibility that the fan, along with others within earshot of the incident, could file a lawsuit seeking damages for the “embarrassment, humiliation, degradation, emotional distress and loss of self-esteem” caused by Issel’s untimely utterance. Now, I’m not condoning Issel’s actions. Any time you blow your stack and scream an epithet at anyone ”” whether it’s a fan, co-worker, spouse or IRS agent ”” you’ve done wrong. But have the opportunists gone too far in their demands of retribution? It would seem that they have. How many among us have lost our temper and screamed something at someone, only to regret it later? And how many times have we been on the receiving end of a so-called disparaging remark, and simply shrugged it off as part of the kaleidoscope of everyday life? I, for one, have a history of being ridiculed in such a manner. One of the quirks of having a mixed background is that people never really known how to slur you. Growing up in the Hawaiian Islands, for instance, I recall being called a “houle” (pronounced “how-lee”) by my Polynesian playmates. The term is an unflattering expression for Caucasian. Some folks might even translate houle to mean “honkey,” but I never took it as something to wet my diapers over. At the same time, my Caucasian playmates would tease and taunt me as a “kanaka,” a slang expression for a Hawaiian. But did you see me running off, hurling coconuts at the heads of my detractors? Not on your life! After our family moved to California, I discovered there were many more names to which I could turn the other cheek: fat boy, melon butt, poop head ”” and dozens more that disparaged everything from my genealogy to my neck size. Knowing what I know now, you could probably add “moron” to that list. The reason? I’ve probably lost a small fortune by not responding with lawsuits that sought “compensatory and punitive” damages. You see, if the activists and their attorneys have their way, anyone who utters anything that might be construed as insulting or demeaning could be open to court action, if not public condemnation. Where does this leave us? Anyone who was around during the 1930s, when the game of Monopoly was invented, will recall that the American Dream back then was to inherit a fortune, usually from some distant relative. Today, it seems the new American Dream is to provoke a public figure, or least someone with deep pockets, into calling you a bad name. When I was a kid, the punishment for such a sin was a mouthful of soap. Times have changed.