Will the sentries of sanctimony please lighten up?

Posted at 11:28 AM, May 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-21 15:05:35-04

By lunchtime Monday, the week’s meae culpae were trickling in on schedule.

These are the boilerplate apologies from celebrities, politicians and organizations that have inadvertently offended some faction of our increasingly sensitive and humorless species by using a forbidden word, an insensitive phrase or an unfortunate metaphor. You know what I mean.

Under Armour, the sportswear company, committed the first offense and outrage that crossed my Thought Control Scanner this week. The transgression was a “Band of Ballers” T-shirt that played on the famous Iwo Jima image of Marines raising a flag by showing basketball players raising a hoop. 

I thought it was cool. Wrong. It was declared to be an act of desecration and Under Armour had to eat synthetic-fiber crow.

“Under Armour has the utmost respect and admiration for the men and women on active duty and veterans who have served our country,” the statement said. “As such, we deeply regret and apologize that a t-shirt that was not reflective of our values in honoring and supporting our country's heroes went on sale.”

That heartfelt corporate apology (oxymoron duly noted) will certainly be followed by some contribution to a Wounded Warrior fund (a phrase that offends many, by the way), 40 lashes and a chastised grunt in the marketing department.

It was unclear exactly who was offended except for some cranks on Twitter, a distorted global megaphone for both offending and being offended.

Next victim: Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California and a contender for a Senate seat. Sanchez was at a party event Saturday and told a story about how sometimes Indian Americans get confused with Native Americans. 

She made the fatal mistake of adding a little Native American “war cry” noise to what she thought was a funny little shtick (a word of Yiddish extraction that I am allowed to use by senior management).  She was promptly called out for illegal use of guttural noises in public.

The fact she is Native American on her mother’s side doesn’t get her off the hook. Language laws were broken and the law is the law.

“So in this crazy and exciting rush of meetings yesterday, I said something offensive, and for that I sincerely apologize,” Sanchez said.

“And yes, sooner or later, we make mistakes,” she added. “Because you know what? We’re all humans.”  

Well that’s not good enough, congresswoman. We want robots, not humans. And it’s not “humans,” by the way; the proper term is “hupeople.”

“The question now is whether Loretta Sanchez survives this serious misstep,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic something-or-other said. A serious misstep? Seriously?

The supply of examples of unnecessary boilerplate apologizes is vast.

Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis apologized for calling Johnny Manziel of the rival Cleveland Browns a “midget.”

“I’m aware that my comment on local radio last night was offensive to people of short stature and to their families and friends,” Lewis said in a short statement. “It was thoughtless on my part to use the word I did, and not excusable, and I greatly regret it. I since have read about this issue on the Little People of America website.”  

Fine, but now the rest do not know whether to use “people of short stature” or “little people.”

It would be nice to report that the Thought Control censors -- the prissiness police, the sentries of sanctimony -- have cried wolf so many times that no one pays attention any more. But that isn’t so.

The British actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, was on the “Tavis Smiley” show a few weeks ago and forcefully criticized the lack of diversity among British actors. He said, “I think as far as colored actors go it gets really difficult in the U.K.”

Smiley didn’t call him out for uttering a forbidden word – “colored” – but the apology trolls did and tabloids ran with it.

“I'm devastated to have caused offense by using this outmoded terminology,” the “Sherlock” star said in a statement.  “I offer my sincere apologies. I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done.”

No one could possibly watch the offending snippet and see even a wisp of ill will.

But we don’t even bother to ask anymore if gotcha gaffes and offensive locutions are intentional and malicious or just innocent mess-ups and unfortunate blurts. There is no presumption of an absence of malice. It seems only the comedians and rappers are exempt, while performing.

Ironically, the Internet and social media have become global platforms for hate talk, personal slander, racism and tribalism, emboldened by the intoxicating poison of anonymity. It is proving to be uncontrollable and ubiquitous. 

So in some ways, it’s understandable that some virtue vigilantes force apologies when they can get them, even when there is no real crime. 

We’d all be better off stabling the high horses and joining the posse when it truly matters.

[Also by Dick Meyer: Cheating on Wall Street persists]

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