Combating “Linsanity”—The Ethics Variety.

Look out ! It’s a trap!

In today’s Washington Post letters section, Fred Shwaeary writes:

“In the April 28 Sports article “Harper called up to majors,” Adam Kilgore wrote, “General Manager Mike Rizzo made his bones in player development, and he crafted a careful scheme for [outfielder Bryce] Harper’s ascension.” “Made his bones”? Not the old mob reference again! This is a phrase that should never be used when writing about those of Italian descent — or anyone else, for that matter.”

Thanks, Fred! Now Mike knows he ought to be grievously offended,  Kilgore knows that he was derisively suggesting that Italian Americans are all Mafia types the rest of us know Kilgore is a bigot, and the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League can demand that 1) the Post ban the term, which I have been using now and then for years and never associated it with Italians at all, from its writers’ lexicon; 2) Kilgore issue an abject apology to save his job and 3) Kilgore be symbolically suspended for a slur he neither intended nor that anybody else other than Shwaeary, and perhaps Fredo Corleone, took as an insult.

Maybe Fred would have complained anyway, but it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a sign that the Jeremy Lin Trap hasn’t entered the culture as a new weapon of political correctness fanatics. I would define the trap as when a common phrase or descriptor without offensive characteristics is used innocently and appropriately in reference to an individual who could legitimately take offense at it and the individual reacts as if the same phrase or descriptor was obviously and intentionally used to denigrate his race, religion, or nationality. Example: an African-American CIA operative is asked by his wife how he likes being a “spook,” and he files for divorce. Or a real example: ESPN’s Max Bretos asks an NBA analyst if he can find “a chink in the armor” of Knicks momentary sensation Jeremy Lins’ game, and is suspended.

The objective of the Lin Trap, it seems to me, is to make sure one’s chips in the race/nationality/religion/sexual orientation/gender game are always front and center, and to makes sure nobody in America ever, ever starts thinking about fellow citizens as just, you know, people. It also has the neat side advantage of giving people like Fred a chance to show that they are more sensitive and virtuous, and if they are really lucky, allow them to have the special thrill that goes with mau-mauing a company into firing someone.

The only way to disable the Lin Traps that lie in wait for us all is to refuse to spring them…to presume that any descriptor or phrase that can be fairly used to describe anyone, or even insult someone, was not intended as a slur unless a bigoted intent is undeniable. This is what a good judge, California Judge Barry Good, did a week ago  when he refused to sanction  discrimination lawyer Stephen Jaffe after he called a Hispanic defense team assistant a “guard Chihuahua” during a courtroom lunch break.

Jaffe swore he wasn’t aware of the assistant’s ethnicity, that he was joking about the assistant’s defense of courtroom property, and that his use of the term Chihuahua was “wholly devoid of any intentional racial content, slur, innuendo or suggestion.”

In other words, Jaffe was making fun of the little guy’s height, not his nationality. Well that’s OK then.

No, it’s not exactly OK, but even in court, where decorum and civility are mandatory, we try not to strangle free expression, colorful terms, or even the occasional below-the-belt insult. I think Judge Good, not Fred Shwaeary, has the right idea.


Spark: Fred Shwaery

Source: ABA Journal

Graphic: Scandical

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

1 Comment

Filed under U.S. Society

One response to “Combating “Linsanity”—The Ethics Variety.

  1. Joshua

    I doubt the chihuahua comment is just about size. Chihuahuas are also prone to be yappers. Yip, yip, yip, yip. Good way to describe someone who talks big and doesn’t have anything to back it up.

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