John Rocker, Chick-fil-A, Paula Deen, and Me

What is the common thread in the title to this post? It should be easy to guess. Those mentioned in the title have all been impacted in one way or another by their biases.

Here’s a quick refresher.

John Rocker is a famous baseball player. Not so famous for his pitching abilities as he is for being an intolerant, racist, bigoted guy whose 1999 interview with Sports Illustrated brought him to national attention. In spite of tremendous pressure from Baseball’s leadership, he continued to set himself apart from just about everyone who wasn’t him. His performance on the mound never met the promise of his young career. I do wonder if his beliefs may have been tolerated differently had he been an excellent pitcher on a winning team.

Last year you may remember that the management of Chick-fil-A, and in particular the COO Dan Cathy, distinguished itself in it’s financial support of political organizations that oppose LGBT rights. While many protested, the organization has a right, of course, to distribute its money as it sees fit. And those aligned to the company’s beliefs counter-protested by ordering even more food. There are no shareholders to answer to, and before long people realized that they were not going to shame the restaurant owners into changing their deep-rooted beliefs.

There’s not much I can say about Paula Deen that hasn’t been written already. While there are still some chapters to write, it is unclear where that story is headed.

All three of the key players, and this blog’s humble writer, were born without prejudice. Somewhere along the way we were taught what to fear. To fear animals that bare their teeth and growl. Hot stoves and red coals. Watch out for cars when crossing the street. And let’s not forget the critical lesson of youth – be wary of people who are different from you.

Neither Rocker nor Cathy are likely willing to let go of their biases. Rocker continues to stand by his views and has continued to build on them. The Cathy family values are associated with their religious beliefs, which is one of the strongest defenses against change.

Paula appears to understand, but hasn’t figured out what behavior changes she may need to display before others believe she has changed. During the punishment phase of her (media) trial, we saw one sponsor after another reinforce the opinions regarding her guilt. But, to my mind, they were displaying their cowardice. Somewhere there was an opportunity there that one of them could have stood by her and helped her learn new ways.

I like to think that I have unlearned a lot of my early biases,the unnecessary and incorrect ones anyway. They were taught to me by people who meant well, but did not understand how much of what they were passing on was not accurate. My parents, the nuns, priests and teachers I had as a child. My friends.

Like Paula, I would have to admit that I used slurs of one kind or another at some point in my life. I would also admit that I still have blind spots. But I am a work in progress. I have great co-workers who would not hesitate to tell me if my ignorance was showing. And some have, at times.

There isn’t an HR person I know who’s perfected their acceptance of all things human. Yet we are expected to help everyone in our organizations be perfect in this regard. And this is exactly why I have come to appreciate my HR colleagues everywhere. They are continually striving to improve everyone’s understanding in the potential of every employee.

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