Archive for Saturday, February 16, 2008

Commentary: Tolerance often in eye of beholder

February 16, 2008


Did you hear about the uproar in Japan over the American baseball player?

He went to a rodeo with Nolan Ryan when he went home to Texas during the offseason. Video was posted on YouTube, and the cow chips flew.

Fans stopped buying his jersey. The Tokyo chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lost its mind. People who'd never heard of the Atlanta Falcons started calling him the bovine version of Michael Vick.

You haven't heard this story because it hasn't happened. But a similar tale is unfolding in America, and it makes you wonder where the great modern virtue of tolerance has gone.

The pariah in this case is Pedro Martinez. The Mets' pitcher was on YouTube last week with his idol, Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.

They were at a cockfight in Santo Domingo two years ago, yukking it up as "soltadores." That's cockfighting lingo for throwing the ceremonial first bird into the ring.

It was not a pretty sight, unless you like to see animals fight to the death. Most Americans don't. But cockfighting is as accepted in the Dominican Republic as rodeo is in the United States.

I'm not comparing cockfighting to rodeo. I'm just wondering where our sensitivity has gone.

In a society that embraces inclusion, aren't cultural differences supposed to be celebrated? You'd rather be accused of being a skinhead than being "intolerant."

That doesn't mean cockfighting should be taught in elementary schools. I think anyone associated with cockfighting should be tossed into the fryer at KFC.

But in the Dominican Republic, going to a cockfight is like going bowling. No, it's more respectable than that. Government officials, celebrities, social climbers - almost everybody goes. Every town of any size has a cockfighting ring, ranging from dirt fields to indoor arenas.

We may not comprehend how people can enjoy watching birds shred each other with razors, but you can see why Martinez didn't think he was doing anything wrong. In the Dominican Republic, he wasn't.

He should have been more sensitive to how this would play in America. Some Mets fans are disgusted and will stay that way as they order a grilled chicken sandwich on Opening Day.

PETA wants Bud Selig to require all players and team personnel to take its animal sensitivity training course. "It seems that education on the importance of treating animals humanely is in order for Major League Baseball," the letter said.

Yes, one guy going to a Caribbean cockfight means 450 players and hundreds of staffers are probably kicking dogs and drowning cats. Just because something is popular doesn't make it right. But it's a little presumptuous to dismiss an entire culture as backward and barbaric based on our worldview.

Let's just hope video of Sergio Garcia attending a bullfight back home in Spain doesn't make YouTube. Of course, a lot depends on whose belief set is getting gored.

We can be very tolerant when it's politically correct. Among the many examples, a Minnesota college was happy to install basins for Muslim students to wash their feet before daily prayers, but it banned Christmas displays because they promoted religion.

There's a reason cockfighting is illegal in America. We find it deplorable and can't comprehend how anyone could feel otherwise.

We don't have to condone the cultural differences. But we should at least recognize they are part of the debate. Isn't that what tolerant people do?


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