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Standard Deviations: Pro sports in Houston may need sensitivity training

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Oct 31, 2017

"... and a little child shall lead them." -- Isaiah 11:6

* * *

Houston, we have a problem.

Is it me, or did the fourth-largest city in America suddenly become the epicenter of stupid? To wit: Much ado has been made about the recent ill-advised antics of two representatives of Houston's professional sports teams.

We begin with Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who offended a large segment of the country's Asian population last Friday when he made a particularly insensitive racial gesture during Game 3 of the World Series.

After hitting a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, Gurriel was caught on camera in the dugout using his fingers to stretch out the corners of his eyes. He also apparently said "chinito" -- a Spanish word that translates as "little Chinese boy."

Darvish is Japanese.

Major League Baseball was faced with the unenviable task of how to respond to such unacceptable behavior. In the end, although he'll be allowed to finish out the World Series, Gurriel has been suspended without pay for the first five games of the 2018 season. His lost wages will be donated to "charities supporting diversity efforts." And he'll be required to undergo sensitivity training in the off-season.

Now, I couldn't even begin to know what the proper penalty for Gurriel's moment of stupidity should be, but MLB's sentence seems a fair, measured response.

Not to be outdone by its baseball franchise, the city's football team produced its own "What were they thinking?" moment. In complaining about NFL players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair butchered a well-known idiom, saying: "We can't have inmates running the prison."

It was a colossally poor choice of words, particularly in light of the current strained relationship between the millionaires and billionaires of the NFL. Players were outraged, with many claiming the remark had racial overtones. Yes, the 79-year-old McNair somehow managed to further exacerbate a situation that, frankly, many of us didn't believe could get much worse.

I kept thinking all of this arguing would eventually bring us together -- you know, that it would somehow be a manifestation of that whole "what-doesn't-kill-us-makes-us-stronger" school of thought. But I'm starting to believe otherwise, thanks to a cosmic sign I received over the weekend.

My wife and I were souvenir shopping in Jackson, Wyoming, when we came across a T-shirt emblazoned with "Jackson Hole" and the outline of a grizzly bear standing on its hind legs. The outdoorsy wisdom on the shirt read: "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Except bears. Bears will kill you."

Staring at that T-shirt, it suddenly hit me. What if the "us-vs-them" mentality we've nurtured in this country is just a big old grizzly bear -- one that can't possibly serve to make us stronger as a nation, but will simply eviscerate us and devour our lifeless corpse?

Fortunately, the Yuli Gurriel-Yu Darvish incident might provide us with a usable blueprint for finding our way through this gauntlet. In a statement released by the Astros organization, Gurriel certainly said all the right things: "During last night's game, I made an offensive gesture that was indefensible. I sincerely apologize to everyone that I offended with my actions. I deeply regret it."

Gurriel went on to add specific apologies to Darvish, to the Dodgers and Astros organizations, to Major League Baseball, and to all of its fans. Of course, only time -- and his actions going forward -- will tell if Gurriel is truly sincere.

But of equal importance was Darvish's response. The man who was personally wronged said all the right things, too.

In a tweet following the game, Darvish wrote of Gurriel: "No one is perfect. That includes both you and I. What he (did) today isn't right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something for this, this is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let's stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I'm counting on everyone's big love."

Imagine that: Learning, rather than accusing. Educating, rather than simply punishing. Focusing on the positive, rather than the anger. I've never owned a professional sports franchise jersey, but I'm tempted to buy a Dodgers No. 21 for that quote alone.

In fact, Darvish's tweet may one day rival Rodney King's famous can't-we-get-along plea for understanding between races. Darvish is counting on everyone's big love -- a commodity that seems to be in short supply these days. But that's exactly what it's going to take to bridge the divide.

Maybe the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was right. Maybe a little child shall indeed lead us.

Or, more specifically, a "little Chinese boy."

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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