Here in Wisconsin things appear pretty quiet and calm news-wise, judging from the front page headline of the state’s largest newspaper (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) which for the last two days has featured above the fold or front and center website reports on the state’s most prominent public figure– a quarterback. Other apparently less important injurious issues exist, which I’ll get to shortly.
Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been injured, a fractured collarbone, and a Journal Sentinel reporter was dispatched to consult the medical experts to determine when Rodgers will return to the field. Fortunately, Rodgers did not suffer a concussion, as have a growing number of football players. Since the Packers are a publicly owned team, one could argue, I suppose, that the physical state of the teams’ star player is a matter of wide public concern in Wisconsin. According to the team, 364,122 people now own shares of Packer stock, including some in Canada, which actually makes Rodgers’ collarbone break an international incident. But since Packer stockholders receive no monetary return on their investment, the fate of the Packers, win or lose, does not affect stockholder bank accounts. So isn’t all the public panic and journalistic pandemonium a wee bit–how shall I say it?–overwrought? Rodgers’ injury is not serious; he will be alright in a few weeks. He has all the health care coverage he could need, and a salary well above the minimum wage. The increasingly brutal injury-fest that is football will continue, on and, in Miami, off the field.
As for genuine injustice, we turn, as we do so often lately, to the Capitol Building in Madison where yesterday the state Senate narrowly passed a bill to give high schools across the state the right to better defend themselves against accusations of racism toward Native Americans. As Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) put it, “They [the schools] are presumed guilty and there is no way they can prove they’re innocent.” (If you presume that a racial stereotype is racist, or that turning an entire race of people into a mascot is racist, you are being presumptuous, according to every Senate Republican but one.) The old law, written by state Democrats, placed the burden of proof on the schools to show why their Native American-themed team names and mascots are not inherently racist. The new Republican bill places the burden back where it has historically been– on the offended person, usually a minority, making the complaint. Gov. Walker is not sure, it seems, whether he will sign the bill, already approved by the Assembly. But given that Walker is a big supporter of the iron ore open-pit mine set to be built in the Penokee Hills upstream from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe reservation, we should not hold out much hope that Walker will take the complaints of Native Americans to heart. Unless, that is, we’re talking about the Menominee wanting to build a casino, much to the chagrin of the Potawatomi.
The Wisconsin Senate also agreed on Tuesday to unanimously award restitution to an African-American Wisconsin man who spent 23 years in prison for crimes– rape and murder– he did not commit, a serious moral injury if ever there was one. Thanks to the work of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, Robert Lee Stinson will received his freedom and $136,000 from the state on top of $25,000 he will get from the Claims Board, according to the Journal Sentinel. It is hard to put a value on one’s innocence being publicly restored, but is $161,000 restitution enough for wrongly spending 23 years of one’s life in jail? That works out to about $7000 per year for mistaken incarceration thanks to what The Innocence Project calls “the improper and unvalidated expert testimony of a bite-mark analyst whose conclusions were uncontested at trial.”
$7000 annually is less than half of a minimum wage yearly salary, or the merest, minutest fraction of Aaron Rodgers’ five-year $22 million or so salary per year ($130 million over seven years) for playing football. Of course, $130 million is nothing compared to precisely how much restitution the United States owes Native Americans for all the pain and suffering they’ve endured over the centuries. At least the Packers don’t have a racist name, though the team was originally sponsored by the Indian Packing Company and, according to Wikipedia, was first called the Green Bay Indians and informally nicknamed the “Indian Packers” back in 1919.