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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016

Words from distant past don't tell all

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sen. George Allen of Virginia is running for re-election to his Senate seat. His name is also mentioned prominently as a potential presidential candidate. The worst sin against Sen. Allen, of course, is that he's a fairly conservative Republican. And that, to some, means all sorts of ugly things.

So now, two people who went to college with George Allen in the early 1970s have told the media that Allen, on at least one occasion, used the n-word while playing football. Four other college classmates or football team members have come to his defense saying they never heard the word come from his mouth.

OK, let's be honest here for just a moment. For starters, even if the word was indeed said - and I have no clue - it was over 30 years ago in the heat of battle during a football game. That does not justify use of the term but it does help to explain the circumstances.

Second dose of honesty. George Allen is in the middle of a heated political campaign and these allegations - bogus or real - would only surface as a negative assault on his character. Without the campaign, these people would have never come out of the woodwork.

Final dose of honesty. I am guilty of using the n-word in the past as is virtually every human in this country. And minorities are equally as guilty of using equally hurtful words to describe others in society. Most of us have heard or told insensitive racial jokes. That does not make us bigots or prejudiced or racists. It makes us insensitive and callous. It may even shed the light of stupidity in our direction. But a dropped comment - regardless of its tone - 30 years ago should not be fodder for political campaigns.

Take President Bill Clinton. He acknowledges using inappropriate terms on several occasions in his distant past. And he acknowledged they were wrong.

The greatest generation has been known to use inappropriate - politically incorrect - terms for people of Asian descent. That does not make them bigots. It simply reflects the times in which they were raised and grew into adulthood.

Blacks openly use the n-word in reference to one another. That is acceptable apparently and I am not one to judge their motives or their intents.

But it is a sad state of affairs when a comment (that may not have even been made) plays a role in a political campaign 30 years later. Do we not have more pressing issues that impact the lives of people today? Can we not stick to health care and welfare reform and defense spending?

If George Allen used the n-word 30 years ago it should be understood for the times and the circumstances. That doesn't make it right. But it also does not mark the character of a man.

Look at your own life and words you have spoken in the past. Is it fair that we be judged by one comment out of a lifetime of achievement or activity?

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen