Penn State alum sends letter to football player

#26
I said this at the time, but this is just another example of why if I were Nike after the Sandusky mess came to light I would have never shipped another plain blue jersey to Penn State again.

The visual identity of that program is inextricably tied up with a poisonous culture. With the idea that things don't have to change. At that football program maybe more so than just about anywhere else, things need to change.
Come on. There are probably Illinois fans that think the same way. We also have plenty of Chief supporters (not the same, but also some believe racist). To say Penn State should still be painted under the Sandusky tragedy is unfair. You really think nothing has changed? The guy who wrote the letter was at best stupid, maybe worse. Penn State, I am sure, will disassociate from him and everybody will move on.
 
#27
Come on. There are probably Illinois fans that think the same way.
Oh it's human psychology. Put Joe Paterno in Champaign in 1966 and everything would have unfolded exactly the same. But that's not the point. The point is that Penn State's nostalgia and fetishization of its own past represents a whitewashing of an unspeakable, monstrous human tragedy. And as we all know, the aesthetics of the program are tightly bound up with that. Joe and Joe-ism live on through those plain uniforms, and it's crazy to me that Nike are willing to be complicit in that.

Penn State fans don't have to apologize for the fact that they won football games under Joe Paterno and became a powerhouse. But having seen the awful cost of that era, they ought to be willing to make a break from it and look toward the future rather than the past, and while it's not surprising or unique to them that a lot of their fans are unwilling to do that, it is contemptible and worthy of criticism, IMO.

I'm about to go on a limb here and probably going to get bashed incessantly about this. But that's OK, because I think it's an important conversation to have. Apologies in advance for the rant/preach-like nature of this.

I don't know what the writer's motives were in writing this letter. Some of you seem to have more confidence than I do, so it might be an issue with me. What I do know, however, is the world view I've formed with my life experience. With regards to this situation, that world view comes down to a simple notion - there's a difference....a big difference....between being a racist and being racially insensitive (and I would broaden that out to be being a culturist (is that a word?) and culturally insensitive (happy to discuss how this world view of mine was formed if anyone's interested, but won't get into details now). A key component of that difference is how one - as a receiver or viewer of either a racist and/or racially insensitive situation - reacts to that situation.
  • Racist = admonish
  • Racially Insensitive = Educate. Don't admonish
  • In both cases - hold the person accountable
Again, I don't know where the writer of this letter falls ultimately. That's because, in my opinion, there's enough doubt in how it's written to say it could be either (again, some of you seem to disagree with me on this). However, it seems in our cultural, political, and overall societal climate today, there's less room for a middle ground anymore (dare I say without inadvertently making it sound insensitive/racist because I'm not referring to only racism in this context - everything seems to be black and white. There's no grey area). Racially insensitive comments often fall in that grey area. As @Hoppy2105 alluded to, there may just be misunderstanding of the notion of what the cultural relevance of what the writer is referring to and not overt racism.

So what do we do when things potentially fall into that grey area? This is where the crux of my argument falls. Without having a good deal of confidence that this is a racist and not a racially insensitive situation, in my opinion, we're better of as a society of giving people the benefit of the doubt. That means not admonishing the person, not labeling them racist or even implying what they said as racist. Instead, educate the person. Assume the person just didn't understand the implication and show them what that implication is. IMO, we, as a society that wants to eradicate racism completely, our chances of achieving that goal are much higher by presuming some level of innocence in grey areas because if you label the person guilty of actual racism, and you respond with the resulting admonishment, that will turn off that person and all those that may fall into his realm watching this occur from ever actually being educated. This, in turn, will further this divide that already seems to be growing. Nonetheless, in either case, you do hold the person accountable, you just do so in a different way.

Rant complete.
I agree that there is concept creep when we put really virulent Jim Crow-style animus and well-meaning but clumsy faux pa's under the same word.

Having said that, what I think you express really directly and clearly here is how much of this is grounded in how jarring and how hurtful it is for someone to be accused of racism. People very understandably don't like that, it makes them feel rejected and unwelcome.

And yet I go back to reading this letter through Jonathan Sutherland's eyes. It raises the question: who gets to feel welcome? Who gets to dictate the terms on which the culture exists? Who gets to be themselves, and who has to change and adapt themselves in order to fit in?

I'm not sure there are really answers to those questions. But I think it helps to see that that tension is there.
 
#28
st petersburg, fl
And yet I go back to reading this letter through Jonathan Sutherland's eyes. It raises the question: who gets to feel welcome? Who gets to dictate the terms on which the culture exists? Who gets to be themselves, and who has to change and adapt themselves in order to fit in?

I'm not sure there are really answers to those questions. But I think it helps to see that that tension is there.
The overly simplified answer to those questions is nobody gets to "dictate" any of that. In a relatively free society in which we all live (in the US at least), culture defines and evolves on its own and those within it collectively change and adapt to that evolution. The hope/expectation is that it is all on top a of a strong base of morality and ethics on which that culture is built. I firmly believe that we're by no means even close to a perfect society and race relations as a key imperfection.

But how do we get to that better place? In this case, my opinion is to get to that place through dialogue and education, and looking at Sutherland's response, he seems to be on that path as well (although I probably would've worded it a bit differently, the sentiments are similar). If it were more overt racism, I think admonishment is more appropriate.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for a "wag your finger at the person, tell them how it really is, and move on like nothing happened". There needs to be accountability, and over time, that accountability needs to be more acute for the society as a whole as expectations of being aware of more cultural nuances should rise. however, If that writer comes back and says "I understand the cultural/racial significance of this hairstyle and think any player that wears it should not be allowed to play football," or something along those lines, now there needs to be admonishment. But using that as the starting point, I think, is counterproductive to the overall goal.
 
#29
The hope/expectation is that it is all on top a of a strong base of morality and ethics on which that culture is built.
Whose morality? Whose ethics?

Is it Jonathan Sutherland's obligation to just grin and bear it when fans stereotype him as something other than the scholar and leader that he is? Or is it the fans obligation to keep it to themselves when they see their beloved institutions incorporating cultural signifiers that are alien to them? We can all agree that America's great promise is an ethic of live-and-let-live tolerance. But who gets tolerated in an edge case?

No one is going to jail, no one is being excommunicated from society, but someone has to sit with some discomfort, someone doesn't get to have things their way. There's a fundamental tension there, it can't be both.
 
#30
st petersburg, fl
Whose morality? Whose ethics?

Is it Jonathan Sutherland's obligation to just grin and bear it when fans stereotype him as something other than the scholar and leader that he is? Or is it the fans obligation to keep it to themselves when they see their beloved institutions incorporating cultural signifiers that are alien to them? We can all agree that America's great promise is an ethic of live-and-let-live tolerance. But who gets tolerated in an edge case?

No one is going to jail, no one is being excommunicated from society, but someone has to sit with some discomfort, someone doesn't get to have things their way. There's a fundamental tension there, it can't be both.
Of course there's tension here. We wouldn't be having this conversation if there wasn't.

But you're making underlying assumptions that I'm not willing to make, and that was the point of my post. You're assuming that "fans" (let's be clear here, this is one fan's perspective, and you're making an assumption that its representative of a more general population) are seeing "their beloved institution incorporating cultural signifiers that are alien to them". It may very well be that this fan does not appreciate that this notion is as much a cultural signifier as it is. That it's beyond the aesthetic look of the game and has a deeper meaning. A meaning that's much beyond the game itself. If that is the case, then educating the fan to this fact may solve the tension all together. We don't have evidence at this point that it wouldn't.

But, in the case that it doesn't resolve the tension, then, yes, it's a somewhat more complicated question, but it is then that cultural norms would dictate the outcome. As you said, an ethic of live-and-let-live tolerance is the ideal, in which case Sutherland would be in the right given it is something that has nothing to do with the game itself. That is where admonishment becomes a more appropriate approach.