x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Keep your shirt on over such trivialities

Humanity has shown 1,001 petty instances, and in our weird species it is touchy to picture, say, a guy in a Liverpool shirt tending Sir Alex Ferguson's lawn.

Sometimes the smallest, dumbest, most ephemeral anecdote can help explain the entire, wretched history of humanity.

Sometimes that anecdote comes crawling out of sport, and when it does it often crawls out of the bizarre domain of American university sport.

Here it came crawling just lately, a small, dumb, ephemeral absurdity from the state of Oklahoma involving an American football coach, a carpenter and a T-shirt.

It could be true or not, but the key is that it is plausible and that the anecdote involves the grand American ritual known as the lawsuit.

Now, a primer for the blissfully uninitiated:

Oklahoma State University occupies Stillwater amid Oklahoma. It educates people, about 21,000 on its main campus.

It also plays sports that include American football, for which 60,000 fans dress so resolutely in orange you would think you were in the Netherlands even if the orange does differ somewhat.

Many of the 60,000 realise the place also educates people. Many do not, or do not care.

The University of Oklahoma occupies Norman 105 kilometres yonder amid Oklahoma.

It educates people, about 29,000 on its main campus.

It also plays sports that include American football - and with seven national championships plays it better than most - for which 82,000 fans dress so resolutely in crimson you would think you were in Barcelona even if the red does differ somewhat.

Many of the 82,000 realise the place also educates people. Many do not, or do not care.

Now, the University of Oklahoma fans dislike the Oklahoma State University teams, if less than they dislike the University of Texas teams and sometimes the Nebraska University teams.

The Oklahoma State University fans dislike the University of Oklahoma teams, if less than they dislike starvation, disease and the policies of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, although it might be debatable.

Both Stillwater and Norman, among many American towns, count as top citizen the person valued most by US society, the American football coach.

If chosen wisely, this person can help citizens achieve one of the ultimate dreams of humankind, that of savaging and humiliating and beating the pure living starch out of the uppity, no good, obnoxious creeps just up (or down) the road.

At Oklahoma State University, the stadium is named Boone Pickens Stadium after a corporate raider whose generosity has included a $165 million (Dh606m) gift for athletics. That should tell you much.

The football coach is Mike Gundy, a former Oklahoma State player with a demonstrated capacity for hotheadedness and the kind of lavish salary the culture endorses.

He also won 11 out of 13 games last year which is, of course, the most important thing in the world other than winning 12 out of 13 or 13 out of 13.

Apparently, the story goes, he sought renovations for his non-small house last winter.

Allegedly, a carpenter specialising in trim work arrived among three workers for another day of toil on March 21.

Apparently, the carpenter wore a T-shirt with the vile red lettering spelling out "University of Oklahoma baseball".

Allegedly via the lawsuit, Gundy raged and used profanity and accused the man of insulting his wife and banished him for wearing the shirt "on OSU soil". As the carpenter has sued for lost work, Gundy has denied the allegations.

Yet while we do not know what happened, we do know the claims are conceivable.

We know because humanity has shown 1,001 such petty instances, and because in our weird species it is touchy to picture, say, a guy in a Liverpool shirt tending Sir Alex Ferguson's lawn - and because the aftermath of this Oklahoma carpenter case has featured at least three hilarious aspects.

One: the carpenter defended himself by saying he had dressed that morning in darkness, unaware of his choice of shirt, as if by any standard north of inane the shirt could have qualified as affront.

Two: he said he offered to turn the shirt inside-out, as if by any standard north of inane its front could have qualified as affront.

Three: with two unwittingly funny lines, a blogger for an Oklahoma television station embodied the school of thought that would deem the carpenter improper.

"Maybe he was trying to get under Gundy's skin and stir up some trouble," the blogger reasoned and, also: "Maybe it was an accident."

Maybe it was an accident! So here we have it, small, dumb and soon forgotten, and yet as I read about this shortly after reading Hasan Suroor's comment in The National on the overwhelmingly complex India-Pakistan talks, I did marvel at how the world manages to keep twirling when people can wring contentious tribal etiquette even from a T-shirt in Oklahoma.

cculpepper@thenational.ae


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