Monday, May 02, 2005

The Problem of Zero Tolerance and Racist Remarks

Oklahoma Sooners baseball coach Larry Cochell has resigned in response to racially charged remarks he made off-camera in an ESPN interview.

Speaking about African-American player Joe Dunigan III, Cochell “praised” the player by saying, “He has no n***** in him.”

That is indeed offensive. But is it enough to force a man to resign? Should what we say be weighed greater or even equal to what we do? As ABC News reports, the player’s father has already forgiven the coach. Joe Dunigan Jr said:

Those words are powerful and derisive. They were inappropriate and offensive. But he is a man who has done so many good things in his life. He has treated us like family. We have broken bread with him. I know he is a Christian man. We all say things that we don't mean, and I hope people down there don't color him as a racist because he made a mistake.

We do not know enough to speculate on whether Cochell’s comment was indicative of a pattern of honest-to-god racism, or whether it was just an incredibly stupid thing to say. But in our debates on racism and prejudice in general, we often focus too much on what is said and too little on what is done.

Would it have been more appropriate for Cochell to say “He has no ghetto in him.” The meaning is really the same and just as short-sighted as what he really said, but “ghetto” is not as loaded of a word and Cochell could very well still be at his job.

Certainly there’s no need to tolerate true racists, particularly in leadership positions But one insensitive statement does not a racist make. There are, unfortunately, a lot of degrees of racism. And many people, probably most, hold some racist ideas. But our society’s zero-tolerance for racist statements has not come close to ending true racism. Punishing speech does little to change opinion. What we should be doing is actually talking about these issues. Why would a seemingly good man have such seemingly prejudiced ideas? We should care more about the answer to that question than we care about punishing a man for his words.

It’s a very tricky subject, but a little more tolerance for intolerant language might actually help us move toward racial understanding.


At 3:19 PM, Blogger Rob Jackson said...


As the father of a black son, I completely agree with you. Although I believe we should have zero tolerence for speech, I also believe we have to become more enlightened about our punishment. You know what effect firing the coach has? The "problem" goes away. OU doesn't have to deal with it. Do you think by firing the coach, that OU is rid of the problem? Can you remove students that make similar comments? Give me a break, right! Instead, OU should have requested that coach Cochell lead a diversity initiative on campus to get people talking.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Stanley said...

This man was lucky that he was allowed to resign. I think it is entirely appropriate that he be removed from his position. Is he a racist? I don’t know and I don’t care. Such an asinine comment may not qualify him as a racist, but it does qualify him as an idiot.

In our modern world, to allow this man to continue working at that school would be suicide. The school would be inundated with fake black leaders, and protesters who, dare I say, would posses the characteristics Cochell said were lacking in Dunigan.

No one cares if some young brother is subjected to racism, they only care about their own agendas. I hope, for the sake of what little integrity my black leaders still possess, that they allow this issue to die with the carreer of Cochell.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger RW said...

You both have made excellent points regarding the unfortunate incident that happened with the OU coach. The truth is, unless we, as American citizens make up our minds about which words are declared taboo in the English dictionary, and make using them unacceptable across the board for all races, (Including Blacks and Hispanics, etc., who frequently use them in the music/entertainment world), then we should not/cannot call the coach a racist unless the same applies to all Ethnic groups who think they have a legal/moral right to do the same. By the way, I am of Negro and Native American descent and I take offense to the "N" word from anyone, Blacks included. We speak of equal rights and I say, "If people want to be treated equal by others, then they should show the same level of respect for themselves."
As far as the OU coach's current predicament, let's face it, he represents management. And regardless of how many careless people there are in our society, who had a flagrant disregard for using bad language, the coach is a leader of men and women in the public eye and his role is to uphold the best of what all of us are supposed to be, "Good Citizens with a high level of moral integrity". Like the legendary comedian, Flip Wilson used to say, "Loose Lips Sink Ships". As much as I feel the coach was merely trying to show himself as being a modern-day tough guy with a hipster style, he did in fact make a critical error. Perhaps it would have been better for him to take part with community involvement within the inner-city for underprivileged youth instead of his resigning as head coach of the prestigious university. After all, most people appear to be guilty in the public eye when they are quick to retreat from controversy instead of facing it head on.

Signed, RW, San Antonio, Texas

At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad that they fired him!!!!
This kind of mentality is ridiculous.
If he was an african american he would have been shown and discussed all over the various media channels and on the sports talk shows...

If they are white it's poor judgement...If he is black he is a monster.

At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad that they fired him!!!!
This kind of mentality is ridiculous.
If he was an african american he would have been shown and discussed all over the various media channels and on the sports talk shows...

If they are white it's poor judgement...If he is black he is a monster.

At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no question that Cochell should have been fired/forced to resign. You can glean an number of things from his comments, one being that he is comfortable using the word.

He used that phrase around a complete stranger, a reporter nonetheless. If he is that comfortable using that word around strangers, what does he say when he is around friends and family? The other major factors is that he used that word not once, but twice, and with two DIFFERENT reporters!!!

This was no slip. His comments are indicative of a pattern of behavior a provides a good idea of his attitudes towards African Americans in general. Cochell need some serious sensitivity training and and healthy dose of multicultural education.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger Chip Constant said...

I agree with rob jackson, if Cochell had to lead a diversity initiative, or give speeches, or interact with African Americans on a level other than as a baseball coach at Oklahoma I think you would see some change. Blue state people are not insensitive, they are just inexperienced in racial diversity, as this guy obviously was. Stupid comment, but the remedy only treated the symptom, not the disease.

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Punishing speech does little to change opinion.

Maybe, maybe not. Yet, not punishing racist speech clearly runs its own risks. At the very least, lack of punishment implies that the speech is acceptable.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

Three thoughts...

1. I find it interesting how some people felt the need to vocalize their race or their relation to race (including my husband, Rob). Does the fact that we are parents of a black child lend any extra credence to our thoughts on race?

2. The language coach Cochell used was absolutely wrong and should not be tolerated. However, zero tolerance policies resulting in dismissal in general do little to address the underlying problems associated with the action in question. Thoughtful consequences that mediate behavior have a much stronger impact. Just like when I was 12 and broke a window out of anger. My punishment was to buy the materials to fix the window and actually fix it myself (of course under the wathcfull eye of my father).

3. Who is RW? Rob and I live in San Antonio too!


At 12:26 PM, Blogger Truthseen said...

Coach Larry should not have been fired. Give that man his job back!!

As an African-American male in this country, the political correctness has gone too far. We hear black rappers and black people in general using the word "nigger" or "nigga" meaning the the same thing without any reservation. Why don't these PC idiots suggest a boycott against every recoding company that puts out a recording with "nigger" or "nigga" in it. Or how these bastards diss African-Amedrican women as HOs and Bitches. They are full of shit!! Damnnit, we are all americans and it is time to stop frontin' that we can call each other nigger but white's can't. I never thought I would defend a white person using this word "nigger" but in 2005, if it is good for the goose, it's good for the gander. This statement is comming from a African-American male who is proud to be an African-American male and not a nigger. Long live Dr. Cosdby. HE'S THE ONLY MAKING SENSE AROUND HERE. And to African-Americans, y'all keep listening to the likes of "down with the cause" Michael Eric Dyson and we'll always have a PC police making big money as long as we remain "niggers". For the life of me , I do not understand why we we refer to ourselves as "niggers". Dumb asses! That's all, dumb asses!

Nuff said


At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are so pro nigger as far as nfl coaches , it makes my WHITE ASS sick of ESPN . Why dont you you take one home to your WHITE WIFE.Excuse me she already has Twenty In her bed every day.Are African Americans , American or african. Make up your black ass mind!If you are african , then take you ebonics and your black ass back to africa.If you be AMERICAN then shut the hell up and play the same game as the rest of us..Only Niggers Play like Niggers!


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