When I was first coming up in the journalism business, I worked as the sports editor of a small twice-weekly paper in Washington state.
We did a lot of work at that paper that I'm still proud of today -- printing the first gay wedding announcement in the rural county where we published, doing award-winning investigative work about crooked politicians, digging deep into the role of the military industrial complex in the local economy -- controversial stuff.
Amid all this impactful journalism, though, an item I thought was pretty middle-of-the-road got me what is to this day the only open death threat I have ever received.
A nearby high school's mascot was the "Redskins." However you feel about the issue of Indian mascots generally, c'mon -- that's a racial epithet. It shouldn't be a sports team's signifier.
That's how I feel. But I didn't write it. Instead, I wrote what I thought was a very balanced opinion piece about how we, like the Portland Oregonian, wouldn't be using that term in our paper. We'd instead use terms like "The Port Townsend team." The column was calm. It was reasonable. It was -- I'll be frank -- a little wimpy, I thought.
That week, I received a manila envelope in the mail. It contained wildly scrawled threats, and artistic renderings of me being dismembered. The sender had found a picture of me, and cut the head out, and done a drawing where my blood and innards were draining from my neck.
This was and remains bizarre to me. Of all the work we'd done -- staking out houses, publishing classified documents, defending at times very unpopular stands on the issues of the day -- this is what gets me some kook with a penchant for blood-red watercolor?
People get attached to these mascots, irrationally so. It's a strange world where a guy gets so worked up about high school sports that this is the result. But then again, it's a strange world where a guy that dresses up like Hitler can hold a school hostage for $100 million just so the mascot remains the "Fighting Sioux".
I also want to include one last tidbit from the MPR report linked therein:
[University Spokesperson Peter Johnson] says ironically, some of the racist graffiti was scrawled on buildings while the university was hosting a conference on diversity.
That's probably not irony. That's probably scheduling.
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