Friday, August 12, 2005

MH - What's In a Name?

Plenty, according to members of the "black community," outraged that University of Minnesota officials misspelled the name of former Gopher All-America quarterback Sandy Stephens.
"It's incomprehensible for them to misspell the name of a prominent athlete like Sandy Stephens," said former Gophers basketball player Al Nuness, who is the school's representative to the Big Ten advisory committee on diversity. "This guy was the first black major college quarterback. He led them to the Rose Bowl two years in a row, a national title, his number is retired and he has an endowed scholarship in his name. And we misspell his name? That's inexcusable."

Hmm, Nuness - the school's representative to the Big Ten advisory committee on diversity? I wonder if he knows Charlotte Westerhaus, the NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Former football player Dr. John Williams has this to say:
"Somebody dropped the ball. Certainly it should have been caught. One side of the fence will say that's to be expected because there seems to be a strained relationship between the university and the black athletes. They may look at it in one light whereas it really could be just an honest error. But it's something that shouldn't have happened."

Yes, it is an outrage, but I suspect it has very little, if anything, to do with Stephens being black. It probably has a lot more to do with the general ignorance of today's culture toward events of the past. Even in sports, where the past is revered perhaps more than anywhere else, we see stories of young athletes with absolutely no idea of the identity of some of the greats of their sport. Moreover we see, in the increasing chasm between "old school" and "new school" sports addicts, a reflection of the divide that permeates our entire culture, between those who value tradition and experience on the one hand, and the "Who Moved My Cheese" school that wants to cast away anything that's old or fails to come up to their standards of modern or contemporary thought, all in the name of "change" and "progress."

So someone didn't know that Sandy's last name was spelled "Stephens" and not "Stevens." Perhaps he was thinking of Darrin and Samantha's last name in Betwitched. More likely, whoever was responsible for this had never even heard of Sandy Stephens. (For the record, I have; and since he led the Gophers to their last Rose Bowl appearance, it's appalling than anyone who considers themselves a Gophers fan hasn't heard of him.)

One of the few useful pieces of advice that Corporate American newspeak has is one, however poorly phrased, that urges us to "assume good intentions." As Williams says, this could have been an honest mistake. But rather than do that, some people have rushed to judgement and immediately seen this as a case of racial injustice.

It's understandable that some tension may exist between blacks and the Gophers program over things that have happened in the past; it's laughable to suggest that this mistake is the result of some agenda, even a subconscious one. This is a prime example of "identity politics," what happens when people start to see themselves as part of a defined subgroup (racial, ethnic, or sexual) rather than members of society as a whole; and it's something we're seeing all the time now, thanks to agitators (Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, for example) who like to stir up trouble, and court decisions that make sweeping pronouncements about entire groups rather than looking at them as individual cases.

It doesn't say in the article who was responsible for the printing or proofreading of the tickets that misspelled Stephens' name. It could have been someone at the U, it could have been a group to which they farmed the work. But if these outraged members of the black community really want to get worked up over this, they should consider themselves first and foremost members of the Gopher sports fraternity - then, maybe they'd get more upset over the team's poor play in the last few decades, and the ignorance and sloppy work by those responsible for the typo. God knows we have enough challenges to deal with in life without having to imagine more of them.

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