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Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Rice Paddy Ruckus 

In an earlier edition of The Shea Hot Corner, I mentioned that Peter Gammons broke down the NL East last week, predicting that the Mets would finish dead last. However, that prediction is not what offended one person. In the article, Gammons stated "Just because they are headed in the right direction in terms of going back to pitching and defense in that rice paddy known as Shea Stadium doesn't mean there aren't questions." This prompted NYFS's Ed Tsunoda to demand an apology from Gammons because he thought the reference was either a) an intentionally racist remark, or b) "out of ignorant insensitivity."

Tsunoda is exhibiting political correctness run amok. Referring to a sports playing field as a rice paddy when that field is either wet or has a reputation for being wet is common parlance in our sports culture, is not intended to offend, and shouldn't offend anyone because it's a simple analogy (Tsunoda even concedes that Shea had a reputation for flooding). Here are just a few examples:

>>"After two days of heavy rain, the Orange Bowl field resembled a rice paddy because it had not been protected by a tarpaulin." Dave Anderson of The New York Times, January 14, 2001.

>>"Whether the alterations ordered by Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson and designed by Tom Fazio protected the course so well that they changed it is impossible to know until The Masters can be played on something other than a rice paddy surrounded by azaleas." Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com

>>"A first-half penalty from Mark van Bommel gave PSV the $2 million prize against French champions Olympique Lyon in a match that looked as if it was being played in a rice paddy." Reuters, on Sportsillustrated.com

Are all these writers being racist? No, of course not. Referring to a wet or soggy playing field as a rice paddy is in common parlance in our sporting culture. The phrase did not take hold due to some ignorant assumption but is simply an accurate way to describe what a wet and soggy field looks like. The definition of rice paddy is "an irrigated or flooded field where rice is grown." Saying a wet field looks like a rice paddy is the same as saying a dry field looks like a desert. No, both analogies aren't 100% accurate, but they are meant simply to highlight and exaggerate the characteristics of the field.

Tsunoda seems to think that simply because the Mets have an Asian player on their team that this somehow magically transforms an innocuous statement into something evil. Under this skewed logic, so long as the target of a racist statement is not present then it's okay to use the statement. But the last I checked, saying the "N word" is just as disgusting out of the presence of an African American as it is in their presence.

I admit that Tsunoda may have a point in that it is possible that an Asian person not familiar with American sports culture might not be familiar with the accepted, innocent usage of this term rice paddy to describe a wet field. That person might hear the term used, realize that the Mets have an Asian person playing for them, and conclude that Gammons either intended to or somehow negligently insulted Asian people. However, none of us should be held to that high a standard. There is no way Gammons could or should be able to foresee that using a generally accepted sports term might somehow, in some attenuated way, offend someone somewhere. If Tsunoda is going to hold Gammons to that high standard, he better be aware that if he held himself to the same standard, he too would be exactly what he unjustly accuses Gammons of. In appointing himself Political Correctness Czar, Tsunoda states, "Just because Asian-Americans as a whole aren't particularly public or verbal in expressing their outrage, shouldn't mean that insensitive slurs should be allowed to happen uncontested." I spoke with several Asian Americans about this and each of them told me they had absolutely no problem whatsoever with Gammons referring to Shea as a rice paddy, but they all had a problem with Tsunoda stereotyping an entire race as submissive and in need of HIS protection.

I enjoy reading Tsunoda website and I think he does a great job covering the Mets. However, he should stick to what he knows best.
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