The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Budd McLaughlin

May 2, 2012

USM band again paints South in negative light (3-21-12)

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I would consider myself to be a pretty tolerant person, but I’m not a big fan of racists.

The only people I dislike more than racists are ignorant racists. Allow me to explain.

During an NCAA basketball tournament game between the University of Southern Mississippi and Kansas State, members of USM’s pep band decided to distract a K-State player on the foul line using stupid, hateful and idiotic means.

The shooter on the line was point guard Angel Rodriguez. Members of USM’s pep band decided to “pepper” Rodriguez with taunts like, “Where’s your green card?”

I guess the band members thought that just because he has a name like Rodriguez, he must be one of those danged illegal aliens. And while I’m a steadfast supporter of free speech, here’s where those poor, intelligence-challenged band members went astray:

• If, and I do mean IF, Rodriguez was an illegal alien, odds are slim-to-none he would be playing in the NCAA tournament.

• Rodriguez is of Hispanic decent, sure. However, these hapless morons from USM didn’t consider that he could be Puerto Rican, which he is. The fact that Rodriguez is a native of Puerto Rico makes him … all together now … a U.S. citizen.

It was announced Tuesday that the band members were removed and would receive sensitivity training. The president of USM has also apologized to Rodriguez.

Maybe, in addition to the band members’ slaps on the wrists, they’ll also receive a comprehensive history lesson on Puerto Rico.

This story didn’t get a ton of play in the South, likely because Southerners hate it when the “liberal media” makes us look dumb and/or er … uneducated. Sadly, Southern states’ drive to eradicate the plague that is illegal immigrants has given us numerous, numerous chances to have the liberal media make us look dumb.

We’re not exactly helping ourselves out.

Alabama’s illegal immigration debate was expected to receive big play during this legislative session, but lawmakers have successfully kept it hush-hush, so far. I agree that it remains an important issue, but so is trying to find ways to ensure the state doesn’t go belly-up, financially speaking.

There are, of course, always two sides to a debate, but there seems to be four or more sides to the illegal immigration problem. On the surface, there are some pros about HB56, but many Alabamians have used and abused the spirit of the law and have taken us back, philosophically speaking, to the era of Bull Connor and water hoses in Birmingham.

And cases like what happened between the USM band and Angel Rodriguez aren’t making things any better. There are hundreds of other options those kids could have employed to distract Rodriguez without being insulting.

Consider the tactics of 19-year-old Jack Blankenship, for instance. The University of Alabama student takes a giant cut-out poster of his face to home games to distract shooters on the line.

It’s a creepy looking face, so I’d have to think he probably has some success. Plus, it’s an original idea and doesn’t demean or demoralize anyone’s sense of self.

Off the top of my head, I thought of a few ideas that could have worked just as well:

• Insults to his height, though that might have offended the vertically challenged;

• Jokes about corn and wheat, since he plays for Kansas;

• Insulting his shooting ability; or

• The always-popular “your mother” jokes. That would certainly distract me, as those jokes tend to be considered fightin’ words.

The point is, those USM pep band members could have done or said just about anything to Rodriguez that wouldn’t have been as racially insulting or just plain stupid.

Southerners already get a bad rap for being racists and/or racially insensitive. We don’t need some band geeks from USM further perpetuating that stigma.

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