Rocky Mountain Bigot?
12/21/2001 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder
NBA Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel, after another tough loss at the buzzer, walked off the court toward the locker room. A fan, however, taunted the white coach, calling out, "Issel sucks."
Issel angrily fired back, "Hey, go buy another beer. Go drink another beer, you f---ing Mexican piece of s---." (The fan denied being drunk, but admitted to drinking a "few beers.") Unfortunately for Issel, a tape captured the exchange, and the fit hit the shan.
The team suspended Issel for four games without pay, costing the coach approximately $112,000. He tearfully apologized to the fan, fans in general, the team and the city of Denver for what he called his "un-Christian-like conduct."
End of story, right? After all, only months earlier, boxer Oscar De La Hoya, after defeating in court his former boxing promoter, Bob Arum, declared that he had beaten "one of the biggest Jews to come out of Harvard." De La Hoya, like Issel, promptly apologized, "I made certain remarks regarding Bob Arum that I sincerely regret. I did not mean to insult Bob Arum and his family or any ethnic or religious group in any way. I humbly apologize to anyone the remarks may have offended." End of story.
California's Hispanic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, a few months ago, addressed a group of black trade unionists. Incredibly, inexplicably, Bustamante referred to blacks as "niggers"! One black participant said, "I was appalled he would even say it as a slip." "You don't make a slip like that unless it is something you say normally," said one of the attendees of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists' annual awards dinner. Arguably, Bustamante's "slip" was worse than Issel's. At least Issel lashed out in anger, while Bustamante's racial epithet just sort of eased out of his mouth. But Bustamante, like De La Hoya, promptly apologized, "I know it came out of my mouth, but it is not how I was taught. It is not how I teach my children." No outcry.
But not so with the Dan Issel affair. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce refused to accept his apology and threatened a boycott of the Nugget's games if the team didn't fire Issel. "He stopped and looked up and he saw that he was looking at a Mexican," said chamber member Veronica Barela. "Then he referred to him in a derogatory way. In my opinion that came from his heart."
Other Hispanic leaders said the apology fell short. "This is not only the Mexican community," said Zee Ferrufino, the South American owner of a local radio station. "The community is one community: the Mexican community, the Mexican-Americans, the Central Americans, the Cubans, everybody. He insulted the entire Hispanic community." The Washington-based League of United Latin American Citizens called for Issel's resignation. They also demanded that his forfeited salary go to Hispanic groups in Denver, a city nearly one-third Hispanic.
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce obviously feels punishing Issel for his "racial insensitivity" is more important than addressing the real issue of excessive drinking within the Hispanic community. In 1999, out of the total population of whites, only 1 percent were arrested for DUI. Out of the black population, 1 percent were arrested. But out of the Hispanic population, 4 percent were arrested for DUI. According to MADD, 19 percent of Hispanic men are arrested for DUI at least once in their lifetime. According to a nationwide survey, 23 percent of Mexican-American men are "frequent heavy drinkers" (five or more drinks in one sitting at least once a week) compared to 15 percent of black men and 12 percent of white men.
Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon also faces fire. His crime? In a heated exchange with a black state senator, Cannon called the legislator "an idiot." Uh-oh, white sheriff, black lawmaker. A local group of black clergymen demanded his apology. But Cannon bravely refused, stating, "There are black men who are idiots, and there are white men who are idiots."
But Issel enjoys no benefit of the doubt. Forget about Issel's 25 years with the team, as player, coach, and in management. Never mind Issel's absence of past accusations of racism. No, he gets the John Rocker zero-tolerance-for-white-bigotry standard. "This man will have to live with this for the rest of his life," said Colorado State Senator Rob Hernandez. "We should have a zero tolerance. The Hispanic community is deeply hurt."
But good news awaited Mr. Issel. At Denver's next game, also at home, reporters showed up en masse expecting activists, protesters, signs, marches and bullhorns. But reporters outnumbered protesters, as only a handful of people showed up to complain. As one wag put it, "What if they gave a protest and nobody showed up?" Apparently, the "activists" underestimated the ability of regular people to sort out the important from the trivial.
Well done, Denver.