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Red Card for a Sports Blogger
La Canfora didn't hear a peep -- and neither did I -- for two weeks, and then about 30 came in a bunch, many with "Vinny's Nickname Contest" in the subject line. Most complained that the contest was derogatory to Italians.
John Salamone, the national executive director of the National Italian American Foundation, wrote to say he received "numerous complaints. . . . Nickname suggestions such as Vinny the Chin, Vinny the Bull, Underboss, and others reinforce a negative and harmful stereotype of Italian Americans." Salamone said events kept him from writing promptly but he later sent his note to an e-mail list of foundation supporters.
Cerrato said, "I was disappointed. To me, anytime you're dealing with a person's name and nationality and heritage, it's not playful. To mock a nationality is uncalled for."
The reaction bothered both La Canfora and his blog editor, Jon DeNunzio, sports editor at washingtonpost.com -- both of whom are of Italian heritage. Both said they wouldn't make fun of their own.
La Canfora said, "Never once did I mock anything or anyone or mention nationality, nor would I ever. I am an Italian American, and I'm very sensitive to any such issue. It was a play on words, and I can't imagine the word 'vendetta' being offensive or connoting anything particular to any nationality. Cerrato is the top football person of a prominent team and very much a public figure, and thus will be commented upon, much in the same way people on the blog used jokes about 'Gibbsisms' -- or certain phrases former Coach Joe Gibbs used."
Salamone said later in an interview, "I don't think it was malicious. But the unintended consequences opened the door to stereotypes that clearly were clear Mafia references."
The Post should be sensitive to ethnic groups and stereotypes, but this one didn't rise to the level of defamation.
Deborah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.