Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Friday, 2020.08.07
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Dan Issel’s Tongue

Dateline: Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Dan Issel, coach of the Denver Nuggets, a professional basketball team, had the following exchange with a fan, as reported by local ABC affiliate Channel 7 News:

Fan: “You suck *******!”

Issel: “Hey go buy another beer. Go drink another beer, you ****** Mexican piece of ****.”

Because of the remark, Issel was suspended for four games without pay and apologized, stating “I take full responsibility for my actions and I’m sorry for the embarrassment it’s caused my team, my family.” The local Hispanic community sought Issel’s direct apology and demanded he be fired, in spite of the fact the fan had accepted Issel’s apology.

This public display has me thinking about the thing from a variety of angles.

Sometimes, it is useful to think of a person’s behavior in terms of something else. A useful analogy for behaviors resembling “anger” is a pot of water on a stove. All you may know about what’s happening in that pot is what you observer on the surface of the water. That’s all you can see. The surface of the water is like the person’s behavior. You know nothing of the stove, nothing of what heat, if any, is being applied to the pot of water. If a person can control their anger, that water may get warm, perhaps hot, but never boil. Such a person would have control over how much heat gets applied to the pot of water. As we say, they can control “their boiling point” over some sort of issue.

Using this, we can say that when the surface does boil, we know there is heat. Something had Issel burning. My guess, it was the outcome of the game. Puny excuse for saying what he did. However, we lack his context and are not acclimated to being paid millions a year to coach a game. Give me that salary, and I’m likely to suffer all sorts of verbal abuse with glee for a few hours. “Cha-Ching, baby. Thank you for your attendance at tonight’s game.” However, after years of this, with enough cash in the bank to make me want for nothing, I might grow tired of such outburst and send out a bubble of steam myself. Once acclimated to wealth, it seems people end up being just people again.

I’ve also observed that angry people often attach some pretty deep emotional sludge to what ever they blurt out. The appearance of this sludge is without the benefit of the filters provided by a reflective mind. It’s just the goop. Often, it’s unrelated to the bit of heat that actually set the pot boiling. It’s just stuff that’s down there, caught among the rolling bubbles and carried to the surface where it escapes. Oops. Too bad context often magnifies the sludge. As Issel discovered, once out, it stays out. Best these people can hope for is enough time to pass for the surprised audience to forget. Unfortunately for Issel, the audience was big and the opportunity for scoring after-game points was bigger.

Then I think, would the Hispanic community be as upset if he had said “Go drink another beer, you ****** Hispanic piece of ****.”? Or perhaps “Go drink another beer, you ****** Latino piece of ****.”? Is it because he didn’t use the politically correct term while referring to the fan’s ethnic origin? Where’s the rub here, really? Is the Hispanic community (or perhaps I should say a select set of individuals who claim, authentically or not, to speak for the Hispanic community) motivated by the potential for a political score because Issel is a prominent public figure? The deeper issue is how Issel’s comments degraded a human being who happened to be of Spanish origin.

Is Issel a racist? Can’t tell, as yet. Surprise, surprise, we now know he’s capable of poor judgment. Human, after all. (Perhaps Jon Nordmark, President and CEO of eBags, got it right when he said “Too much money makes people stupid.”) However, it’s quite a leap from one sloppy comment to a racist lifestyle. What ever the case, I don’t know his mind or his soul. Nobody does. Anybody claiming to is grand-standing. Only Dan Issel knows Dan Issel. All we can do, in fairness, is remember what he has done and watch how he responds in light of this exchange with a fan as a show of who he really is.

Personally, I feel it’s an appalling way to refer to any human being. Ethnic origin and audience size be damned.

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