Monday, June 09, 2014

Calling all Cajuns: Save Matthew Stevens!

The Mississippi State beat writer who unloaded on Lafayette, La., and Cajuns in general got his.

The Columbus (Miss.) Commercial Dispatch canned Matthew Stevens. It was well-deserved.

It's one thing to say, in your opinion, that someplace stinks. It is quite another to say that, then lay it on, employing stereotype after stereotype, and then sticking a turd on top by making fun of an entire people -- Louisiana Cajuns -- and the way they speak.
"I'm not going to go as far as to say that they're not people," Stevens said during the show. "But I don't know what they are because they don't speak English - and it's not French - but I don't know what it is."
Co-host Brian Hadad responded with, "They're the missing link - if you believe in evolution - between apes and humans, there's Cajuns."
That, cher, is beyond the pale. And now Stevens knows how far beyond the pale it was. Would that Hadad of Bulldog Sports Radio suffered the same fate, being that what he said was worse. As in straight-up bigotry against an entire people, a people who in the mid-1700s were "ethnically cleansed" from Canada by its British rulers.

Both Stevens and Hadad apologized, apperently sincerely, for their toxic Internet-radio rant. That's appropriate, but neither repentance nor forgiveness obviates the need for temporal consequences for bad actions.

WHEN I POSTED on this Friday, I was (needless to say) mad as a hornet. Perhaps I ought to have counted to 4,000 before hitting the "publish" button. Well, dat's da Internets for you. And, basically, I stand by what I wrote -- I wish I had fleshed it out a little more, but I stand by what I said then.

That said, I think maybe now is the time for grace. I think maybe now is the time to make Stevens' "teachable moment" truly teachable. I think maybe it's time to make something good come out of something so publicly ugly.

Right now, I'm thinking of Rabbi Michael Weisser, who in 1991 was the cantor and spiritual head of a Reform synagogue in Lincoln, Neb. The New York Times picks up the story in an article from 2009:
One Sunday morning, a few days after they had moved into their new house, the phone rang.

The man on the other end of the line called Rabbi Weisser “Jew boy” and told him he would be sorry he had moved in. Two days later, a thick package of anti-black, anti-Semitic pamphlets arrived in the mail, including an unsigned card that read, “The KKK is watching you, scum.”

The messages, it turned out, were from Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska, who kept loaded weapons, pro-Hitler material and his Klan robe in his cramped Lincoln apartment. Then 42, Mr. Trapp was nearly blind and used a wheelchair to get around; both of his legs had been amputated because of diabetes.

In a 1992 interview with Time magazine, Mr. Trapp said he had wanted to scare Rabbi Weisser into moving out of Lincoln. “As the state leader, the Grand Dragon, I did more than my share of work because I wanted to build up the state of Nebraska into a state as hateful as North Carolina and Florida,” he said. “I spent a lot of money and went out of my way to instill fear.”

Rabbi Weisser, who suspected the person threatening him was Mr. Trapp, got his telephone number and started leaving messages on the answering machine. “I would say things like: ‘Larry, there’s a lot of love out there. You’re not getting any of it. Don’t you want some?’ And hang up,” he said. “And, ‘Larry, why do you love the Nazis so much? They’d have killed you first because you’re disabled.’ And hang up. I did it once a week.”

One day, Mr. Trapp answered. Ms. Michael, the rabbi’s wife, had told him to say something nice if he ever got Mr. Trapp on the line, and he followed her advice. “I said: ‘I heard you’re disabled. I thought you might need a ride to the grocery,’ ” Rabbi Weisser said.

Then, one night, Rabbi Weisser’s phone rang again. It was Mr. Trapp. “He said, quote-unquote — I’ll never forget it, it was like a chilling moment, in a good way — he said, ‘I want to get out of what I’m doing and I don’t know how,’ ” Rabbi Weisser said.

He and Ms. Michael drove to Mr. Trapp’s apartment that night. The three talked for hours, and a close friendship formed. The couple’s home became a kind of hospice for Mr. Trapp, who moved into one of their bedrooms as his health worsened, and Ms. Michael became Mr. Trapp’s caretaker and confidante.

Mr. Trapp eventually renounced the Klan, apologized to many of those he had threatened and converted to Judaism in Rabbi Weisser’s synagogue.
LOVE trumps hate. Every time. The man the Klan leader called a "Jew boy" and tried to run out of town saw the tortured human behind the contorted mask of hatred, then responded to the human being -- not the hate. And then a miracle happened.

It seems to me that Matthew Stevens is way ahead of where the late Larry Trapp was on that grace-filled day 23 years ago. I wonder what a little grace might accomplish in the heart of the 29-year-old sportswriter.

That's why I'm hoping some newspaper in south Louisiana needs a sportswriter. Actually, I'm hoping some daily in south Louisiana needs a University of Louisiana-Lafayette beat writer. And I'd like to see an editor at a south Louisiana paper who needs a sportswriter reach out to Stevens and offer him a job . . . and find him a nice place in a good neighborhood. (They do exist down there. Louisiana has its problems, but it's not a wasteland, after all.)

And I'm hoping that if a paper has a job, and if an editor reaches out to the Prodigal Sportswriter, that Stevens takes that outstretched hand and begins what might turn out to be the education of a lifetime. One in humanity . . . and in grace . . . and in the unexpected joys and tender mercies of a place on the map where he'd least expect to encounter them.

I'm hoping. Pray God that someone makes it so.

There might be a hell of a book in that, one to be written someday by a now-chastened, unemployed sportswriter. But first things first.

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