Culture

Cornell Football Coach Apologizes for Posting Pictures of Players Wearing Sombreros

Apparently, sombreros are always offensive.

Cornell University football coach has apologized for “cultural insensitivity” for posting a picture of two students wearing sombreros.

The picture, which the coach, Roy Istvan, posted on Tuesday, shows two students wearing the hats and the caption “EMAN & FOSTA! THE BIG SOMBRERO!”

Istvan later deleted the post and apologized in a series of tweets, according to a Cornell student publication called The Tab:

“I award the big hat to team members who represent the best teamwork and winning spirit on and off the field,” Istvan wrote.

“I am truly sorry for the cultural insensitivity and understand how our expression of pride [c]ame at the expense of others in the Cornell community.”

Why was such an apology necessary for a picture of two dudes in hats? It seems to me that that kind of apology doesn’t really match the crime. But according to a report in the Cornell Review, the school’s conservative and libertarian publication, it definitely matched the outrage.

After a picture of the tweet was posted on the Facebook page for MEChA de Cornell, a Chicanx/Chican@ student group, the comments poured in:

For example, this one from Barbara Cruz:  

There’s legit like dozens and dozens of designs of hats in this world. I feel like a crown makes more sense. A fancy top hat. Like. Why a sombrero?

Or this one, from James Gan:

The people defending this are the same people who see all Asians as math loving gamers and all blacks as thugs.

(Because somehow your view on a hat says something about your view of two entire races?)

The outrage went far beyond this particular comments section. According a screenshot posted on Facebook, a member of the Student Assembly named Matthew Indimine sent an e-mail calling it an “extremely offensive image” and demanding an apology.

Okay. Call me insensitive, but I do feel like the phrase “extremely offensive image” should be reserved for, you know, extremely offensive images. Like pornography. Or depictions of violence. But two fully clothed dudes in hats? Nope. You may, like Cruz, think that another kind of hat would have been a better choice, but if the issue you have with an image is the style of hat the people in it are wearing — and only the style of hat the people in it are wearing — then you’re probably getting a little more upset than you should be.

Thankfully, not everyone at Cornell saw this as a reason for outrage. Many other students’ Facebook comments defended the coach, including one from a Mexican Cornell football player named Gustavo Dorsett:

I am having trouble seeing how this in any way is so offensive, if I showed this picture to my family in Mexico they would certainly laugh and be excited that our team incorporates a part of the Mexican heritage in celebrating our player awards. This is being blown up by sensitive people on social media who aren’t even of relevance to the Mexican culture.

Dorsett’s point of view may seem unquestionably reasonable, but this incident is far from the first time that a sombrero has been part of a college cultural appropriation controversy. For example, a sorority at California State University got into pretty big trouble a couple of years ago for hosting a Taco Tuesday event where some attendees wore sombreros and sarapes. Earlier this year, students at Bowdoin College threw a tequila-themed birthday party — not Mexican-themed, but tequila-themed — where a few people wore sombreros, and the school saw it as such a serious issue that they provided safe spaces and counseling for any students who had been “injured and affected by the incident.”   

In the above and most other examples, the reason behind the complaints was that wearing sombreros during “Mexican” themed events (or, in the case of Bowdoin, events that might seem to be Mexican-themed) perpetuates the idea that Mexican culture is nothing more than sombreros and tequila and tacos. To me, that’s ridiculous enough, because I’m pretty sure no one is going to a frat’s theme party thinking it’s a cultural history museum. No one is leaving “fiesta night” At Alpha Delta Whatever and thinking “Wow, that’s exactly what Mexico must be like!”

#related#But this Cornell controversy is even more egregious because the entire issue is the hat itself. The picture didn’t claim to represent anything about Mexican culture or even to be Mexican-themed; it was just a picture of a couple of people wearing a couple of big hats. What’s so wrong with that? Perhaps some people would say that it’s important to know the cultural and historical implications of wearing a hat before putting it on your head, but I’d say: “You’re ridiculous, listen to yourselves.” It. Is. A. Hat. After all, the mortar board hats worn by students at graduation are believed to have evolved from birettas, hats worn by clerics in Roman Catholic church in the 1500s, but I’m pretty sure that no one is out there demanding that students get a lesson in the history of the Catholic Church before putting one of those on their heads. And they shouldn’t have to. What we should be doing is much simpler: Chilling the hell out before this gets even more insane than it has already.

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