Every now and then a news item pops up that is so ridiculous that you figure it’s just got to be fake news, somebody’s idea of a joke. You check the calendar to make sure it’s not April Fools’ Day. And when you realize it isn’t, you come to understand that in our hypersensitive culture, a news story can be factual, accurate and preposterous all at the same time.
Which brings us to the TV play-by-play man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team in the National Basketball Association. The announcer, Brian Davis, was calling a game in which the team’s star player, Russell Westbrook, was having another spectacular game. He had just made a pass setting up a basket – one of a stunning 19 assists he made in the game -- when Davis put an exclamation point on the Westbrook pass, saying Westbrook was playing "out of his cotton-pickin' mind."
Davis is white and Westbrook is black, in case you haven’t figured that out. And in case you have absolutely no knowledge of history, slaves once upon a time picked cotton in the South.
So reparations for the ugly past had to be paid, more than 150 years after slavery ended. How? By taking what passes for the moral high ground. The Thunder suspended Davis for one game. No fooling.
Never mind that cotton pickin’ is a term used in the South by a lot of old white guys andold black guys as a genteel replacement for a harsher words, like damn – and worse.
“It’s cotton pickin’ hot today,” sounds more refined to the southern ear than, “It’s damn hot today” or the even coarser, “It sure is f’ing hot today.”
The term has ugly racial connotations mainly for those who look in all sorts of places for supposed ugly racial connotations.
None of this matters, of course. The comment touched off a heated reaction on social media, where the sanctimonious play judge and jury. And when the verdict was returned, Davis was found guilty.
A team executive, Dan Mahoney, the Thunder’s vice president of broadcasting and corporate communications, said the Thunder considered the comment “offensive and inappropriate” and announced the suspension.
But it gets worse. Davis, the play-by-play man, said while he meant no harm, he deserved what he got. “While unintentional, I understand and acknowledge the gravity of the situation,” he said. “I offer my sincere apology and realize that, while I committed a lapse in judgment, such mistakes come with consequences. This is an appropriate consequence for my actions.”
The only word that comes to mind is pathetic.
Like most journalists I try to write about things that are important. So I hesitated to write about something so inane. But after a while I came to believe that this is important – as an indication of how silly we’ve become on serious matters like race.
If using the term cotton pickin’ is “offensive and insensitive” then what should we call words that really are offensive and insensitive? Doesn’t making a mountain out of this molehill – if it’s even that – trivialize serious questions about race in America?
If there’s any good news coming out of this it’s that we’ve made so much progress on racial matters in this country since the days of Jim Crow, that matters like this come off to reasonable people, regardless of their race I suspect, as nonsense.
In the bad old days, Martin Luther King wouldn’t have wasted two seconds of his precious time on this. We shouldn’t either – except to point out how cotton pickin’ ridiculous our PC culture has become.