Is It A Noose Or A Lasso

Doug Glanville got video bombed while doing a Cubs game. He didn’t know it at the time, but found it soon enough.

Ambiguity has always been a friend to racism.

On May 7, during a television broadcast of a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field, I was on camera doing in-game commentary for NBC Sports Chicago when, unbeknown to me, a fan behind me wearing a Cubs sweatshirt made an upside-down “O.K.” sign with his hand.

He’s right that ambiguity has always been a friend to racism, but the problem is that ambiguity is a friend to everything, because it’s ambiguous, and thus susceptible to many interpretations, all of which are similarly valid and invalid because that’s the nature of ambiguity.

Criminal defense lawyers tend to possess an exceptional tolerance of ambiguity, as so much of what we deal with is ambiguous, supporting whatever people want to make of a word, a gesture, when there are many equally valid alternatives. It’s just a matter of rhetoric and belief, because ambiguity means that there are no facts to provide any conclusive answer. A former ballplayer turned TV sports guy probably doesn’t have to face this too often. Glanville did here.

The meaning of this hand gesture can be ambiguous. It has long been used to simply say, “O.K.” Some people also use it to play the “circle game,” where you hold your hand below your waist and try to get others to look at it. And most recently it has been co-opted to express support for white supremacy. The man accused of committing the New Zealand mosque massacres flashed this sign during his first court appearance.

Because I am a person of color, the fan’s gesture suggested its sinister meaning.

He’s not wrong, but that doesn’t make him right, either. Rather, Glanville made a choice based not on the person who made the gesture, but upon his status. To his credit, he realizes what he’s done here.

I come to the debate about the Cubs fan’s “O.K.” gesture with a strong personal experience of how racism works in our country. I realize that this does not make the fan guilty of racism. But in the larger context, his guilt or innocence is not the whole story.

If you innocently decorate your office with a rope shaped into a noose because you like rodeo cowboys, I can still be offended. You can like rodeo cowboys; I can be upset. Both can be true. The fact that you like rodeo cowboys does not mean I am overreacting, nor does it make you a racist.

This example betrays a problem in the analysis. Somebody who likes rodeo cowboys may be problematic for other reasons, given that everything is problematic to someone, but Glanville notes that this cowboy fan “innocently decorated” his office with “a noose.”

Oh no. A rodeo fan may well decorate his office with a lasso, but there is no such thing as innocently decorating an office with a noose. Nooses are not a rodeo cowboy’s tool. Lariats, or lassos are.* They are not the same, and they are not to be confused. Glanville decision to use the word “noose” rather than “lariat” dictates the outcome, as the former bespeaks a lynching whereas the latter is thrown to catch a “dogie.” The rodeo fan may have a lasso, but Glanville sees a noose.

When something is ambiguous, and there are no further facts to nudge the decision one direction or the other, who gets to decide whether it’s guilty or innocent? Glanville chooses his experience to define the ambiguous act. The Cubs management did as well, deciding that the person who made the gesture was not okay. And both are allowed, as they aren’t constrained to abide the gesture, even if made innocently, by “technical” rules such as assuming innocence or proving guilt.

But if you’re the guy making the okay gesture, you can’t win no matter how innocently it was intended. Despite the origin of the meme, it’s now forbidden, not because the okay gesture is inherently racist but because it’s ambiguous, and that’s close enough for guilt.

*Curiously, if you google “lasso,” the first definition is “a rope with a noose at one end, used especially in North America for catching cattle or horses.” In contrast, if you google “noose,” the first definition is “a loop with a running knot, tightening as the rope or wire is pulled and typically used to hang people or trap animals.”

65 thoughts on “Is It A Noose Or A Lasso

  1. Dave

    How is a noose inherently racist? I’d hazard a guess far more white people have been hung both domestically and globally. Historically, hanging and lynchings seem to cross into all societies, Over the last few years noose appearances have been prevalent at a number of hate crime hoaxes. Is it accepted conventional wisdom that a noose equates to the Klan?

    1. SHG Post author

      Hanging were a common means of execution for many years in many societies, but that didn’t make them good things. In the meantime, lynchings happened as well, and they were far worse things. This is not the hill to die on.

    2. delurking

      It is not that fact that people were hanged. It is the fact that the Ku Klux Klan in the United States used nooses as threats against black people that makes many displays of nooses racist.

      I’d be willing to bet that historically, there were a lot more displays of swastikas, as simple decorations, by non-Nazis, than there were by Nazis. When an evil group successfully deploys your symbol as their sign, no matter how innocent your symbol was initially, there isn’t much that you can do about it.

        1. delurking

          No, and I do not fear that the evil groups that have adopted the OK gesture as their own will succeed in making it so. However, it doesn’t have to get nearly that bad before people start avoiding it. Your post is the first time I heard that the OK symbol has been adopted by white supremacists. Now that I know, I’ll avoid using it in situations where its meaning could be ambiguous. Simultaneously, I won’t judge any random people I see using the sign, because they could be like me.

            1. Matthew Scott Wideman

              Yes it is a 4chan prank and a very silly one at that. The prank being they can fool the main stream media into thinking mundane objects, jestures, and memes are racist or alt right.

              It’s actually very funny and sad at the same time.

    3. B. McLeod

      This is a good point. Decorating one’s office with a noose could be simply an expression of support for the death penalty, or even (in some cases) display of a relic, as bygone opportunists have preserved for posterity the specific nooses employed in some famous executions.

      Ambiguity is not new issue, and the tradition of our commonlaw of defamation is to choose the benign meaning when a benign meaning or malignant meaning is possible. By contrast, the hysterics of today’s Internet outrages always presume the most malignant possible meaning in order to attack others. No noose is good noose, and anything that looks like or could be remotely thought to resemble a noose (which an “OK” sign, in my opinion, does not) means you are a Shitlord.

  2. DeJon

    A fan was banned from Wrigley. It was the right call by a private business because we, as a society, have a history of racial oppression, and, we, therefore, have an interest in rooting out the safe harbor of the racial divisiveness that has lead to a resurgence in the hand signal.

    This is a bad take:
    But if you’re the guy making the okay gesture , you can’t win no matter how innocently it was intended.

    So, what exactly does it mean to “win” when flashing a hand signal that has been used by 4-Chan trolls as a audacious dare to the rest of society to stand up against what could be a racial terrorist OR just a person playing the “OK game” on national television while trying to get a cameras attention while clowning around behind two broadcasters.

    Did James Alex Fields, Jr. or Dylan Roof or their victims “win”? Because what kind of metric is “winning?”

    One can choose to critique the choice to ban the fan. That would be an unfortunate choice. Our tolerance for race-based terrorism is a much bigger threat than whatever interest someone has in allowing trolls the freedom to glibly make a person of a racial minority wonder if they have just been threatened or not.

    I wouldn’t ever do that because that’s no threat to the people I represent in court, those accused formally by the government.

    1. SHG Post author

      Be careful. A person only gets to make so many inferential leaps in a lifetime, and you don’t want to use them all up at one sitting.

      The “OK” gesture has been around a long time. I’ve used it, and I suspect I will do so again out of habit if nothing else. Perhaps I will escape accusation of being racist for doing so, or perhaps not, but if I use the gesture, it will mean nothing more than “OK.” For others, it may be part of the 4-Chan “OK game,” but what does that have to do with me? And yet, would you condemn me for it? Would it matter that there is no racist purpose or intent behind it, but just the ordinary use of a gesture that I’ve used my entire life? Would I have any chance of explaining that my use was entirely benign? Would you care?

      The question isn’t whether racism exists, or what some idiots on 4-Chan did with it, but whether any of that, or even your perception of it, has anything to do with me. “Winning” means my actions are defined by my intent. Or does some random person who has no clue what my intent is “win” by labeling my gesture racist because that’s what’s in their head?

      1. DeJon

        I did not intend to condemn anyone—not even the person willing to engage in a 4-Chan joke on national TV. But I applaud his ouster bc I come from a segment of the population with no problem damning a stupid child’s game bc internet trolls have found bona fide ppl will argue that this gesture *could* be a harmless , despite the context that no one really believes was a time when an white, American male would flash the OK sign.

        The racists love that lame nonsense. That changes the calculus in this teapot tempest. And I’ve always been uncomfortable in the convos with a bunch of white guys who want to define for me the current the state of race relations.

        I have no issue with the Cubs move to ban him. I love your blog, and would never condemn anything you say because I would Expect to receive my ass returned in a rhetorical box.

        I’m simply a lifelong Cubs fan, and I am thankful for this move from the franchise ownership (who are deeply problematic)

        1. B. McLeod

          This sort of gross stupidity only results in outrage fatigue. As dubious complaints of racist symbolism are increasingly directed at innocuous conduct, the public will increasingly ignore all complaints of racist symbolism, assuming they are all just the latest cry of “Wolf!!”

    2. Bryan Burroughs

      Guess I need to go over to my Hindu friend’s house and rip down the swastika from over his front door. I wouldn’t want to allow anyone to wonder if they had been threatened or not

  3. wilbur

    As a lifelong Cub fan I heard about this and followed it on a couple of websites. There were a lot of references to “the circle game”, of which I had never heard. Apparently it’s like “flinch” where you get to sock somebody else in the arm for no good reason.

    The Cubs decided it was appropriate to ban the knucklehead fan from Wrigley Field forever.

    The whole episode seems pretty ridiculous.

  4. Mike

    Well at least the Cubs didn’t over react to something ambiguous…

    ““It gave me shivers to watch that, to see that take place at Wrigley Field,” Epstein went on to say, per reporting from Bleacher Report. “Appropriately, we’ve made clear how egregious about unacceptable that behavior is, and there’s no place for that in society, in baseball and Wrigley Field. The person responsible for that gesture will never be welcomed back at Wrigley Field.”’

    Oh, well, nevermind.

    I also noticed that NBC Chicago and MSNBC are blurring out the supposed offending hand gesture, just to take away the guesswork of wondering if adults are still in charge there.

      1. Howl

        I wasn’t sure what to make of what you wrote. Then came the “Holy crap! Now I see it.” moment. Please know that it wasn’t intentional. I am not that observant or clever.

        1. Guitardave

          Wowl…Howl!!…i didn’t see it either…drummers and their symbols. ( rim-shot )
          Its how the muse works…she gives when asked, but she’s got a syncro-mystic mind that throws in deeply clever little inside jokes that you don’t notice till after you display whatever your work of art is. It almost always gives me an Erkil moment…”Did i do that?” The answer to which is, no…SHE did it! (you just did the legwork)
          Of course you could just say its all a by-product of the subconscious mind, but where’s the joy in that? I prefer the idea of a beautiful, witty, divinely inspired Goddess who happens to like me, and gives me cool stuff to share my friends…

          PS: Sorry for the off topic blah, Scott…i thought it was still Tuesday…

          1. Elpey P.

            I will never look at a guitarist’s pick hand the same way again. Who knew it was such an instrument of white supremacy.

            1. Guitardave

              well I’ll be damned
              thanks for the Epiphany, EP!

  5. mer

    Interesting on the dictionary definition of a noose:
    A loop with a running knot.

    Arborists will tie a running bowline around a limb so it can be lowered in a controlled manner to the ground.
    Is it a noose? According to the dictionary, yep.

    The knot used to tie a traditional lasso (honda knot), well that distinctly makes the dictionary definition of noose “a loop with a running knot”.

    Now a traditional “Hangmans Noose” is made with neither a nunning bowline nor a honda knot, which gives it a distinctive appearance.

    So while a lasso is technically a dictionary definition of a noose, anyone not looking to be outraged recognizes that it is not a stereotypical hangman’s noose.

    A Knot does not a noose make.

      1. REvers

        You just haven’t been around enough cowboys, especially rodeo cowboys. The loop at the end of a lariat has always been called a noose.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’ve learned, but that doesn’t change the fact that the rope used by a rodeo cowboy is still a lariat or lasso, even if there is a noose (but not the scary lynching type) on the end.

    1. ShootingHipster

      I wanted to comment on this as soon as I read the title of the post. Any running knot is a noose. Whether it be an end line knot or a mid line knot, such as the Alpine butterfly (my personal favourite), simply pass a bight of rope from the standing end through the loop and you have a running knot. But don’t use a running bowline for lowering a branch. A clove hitch backed up with two half hitches is better. Only use the running bowline if it can be pre-tensioned to the anchor before cutting the branch. And if you do, disguise that noose with a rag in case anyone is watching too closely. Or maybe not, that might make it more ambiguous. Best stick with the clove hitch.
      Scott, if you ever have rope questions, I’m your dope on rope.

  6. Laches

    There was an editorial in USA Today authored by Nancy Armour titled “Height of Privilege” (no link, house rules) which well captures the state of affairs in 2019: facts don’t matter, only feelz do. From the piece:

    “The people who defended the fan can be no more certain of his motives than those who believe he was flashing a white power symbol.

    What we do know is how it made Glanville feel.

    “They have displayed sensitivity as to how the implications of this would affect me as a person of color,” the former Cubs outfielder said in a statement, referring to the team and his current employer, the NBC Sports affiliate in Chicago.

    That should be the decider. ”

    —Never ceases to amaze me how the Nancy Armours of the world never pause to consider the problems with these untenable standards. Or that one day, the impossible to follow standards will apply to them.

    1. SHG Post author

      There are three choices available when deciding what to make of an ambiguous gesture:

      1. Deem it guilty.
      2. Deem it innocent.
      3. Deem it ambiguous, meaning unproven either way.

      Glanville is entitled to be sensitive to it, and to choose to deem it guilty. The question is whether anyone else is constrained to defer to Glanville’s sensitivity.

      1. Guitardave

        Its a classic case of Q.E.S. – Quantum Entangled Sensitivity. When the outcome of your feelings is observer dependent.

  7. Hunting Guy

    The meaning of words and symbols change and we’re old farts that don’t keep up with the times.

    So the OK sign is a racist sign now?

    Screw ‘em. I’m still pissed at the current definitions of gay, decimate, guilty and innocent.

  8. Anthony Kehoe

    I hope these snowflakes never go scuba diving. They’ll be seeing racist people all around them since the “OK” symbol is the most basic (and first) one you learn in your first 5 minutes. Get this, it means you’re OK, since it’s not possible to talk underwater with a hose in your mouth.

  9. Curtis

    Taking offense is a sport these days. On Facebook, a friend of mine posted a picture of her son’s soccer team celebrating winning the state championship and some of the kids used the V for Victory sign. A SJW no-longer-friend made some absurd, snide comment about the “White Supremacist” symbol. My friend quickly switched photos to one without the symbol. The SJW could not let it go and said that was worse because my friend was ignoring the racism.

    We live in an ultra progressive college town and the team had black, Hispanic, Asian and white kids. No one other than the SJW had any idea about alternative meanings for the V symbol. The SJW knew damn well that it was not a racist sign and yet she needed to wreck a nice celebration. I really wanted to tell her to F*** off but I did not because all I wanted to do was celebrate with the kids.

    1. SHG Post author

      For people who seek offense, they always manage to find it. It’s a shame they tried to spoil a nice celebration.

  10. DeJon

    In response to those referencing Glanville’s sensitivity, I gotta confess he is one of my favorite humans. He’s thoughtful, incisive, and has been a teacher of mine since soon after he was drafted in 1991. So with all due respect, this position is available only to the most lacking in perspective.

    What do I mean? Well, I request three hundred years of your time to systemically destroy people that look like the people who hold so little perspective in their arguments.

    If I’m granted my 300 years to terrorize yer kind, perhaps I’d have enough fodder to make an argument sharp enough to pierce even this manifest level of neutron density.

    1. wilbur

      He is one of the few ex-ballplayers who actually expresses himself very well, whether working a game or back at MLB Central. And just as importantly, he has something worthwhile to say.

      If not (yet) one of my favorite humans, he is better than most.

    2. Howl

      300 years? There are many who can make claim to nearly 4,000 years. They’re not asking for the opportunity to terrorize any kind for any length of time, and some of them have actually experienced more terror than you.
      Check your privilege.

    3. Miles

      First, what makes you think we’re white? Second, race shaming may work with the woke kids, but it’s not a game you want to play with CDLs, kid. I’ve saved way too many black lives to be told to sit down and shut up.

    4. SHG Post author

      I pondered whether it was a good idea to post this comment, as it never persuades anyone and just pisses people off.

      1. DeJon

        SHG, I appreciate your protective hand. I might need it. Not here… yet. And I’m probably more prone to get booted than upset. But not looking for either.

        Just sharing a perspective I’ve earned. I can take responses off air.


      1. DeJon

        If you’re super into Hip Hop you might’ve seen Tyler The Creator’s new art installation posted in his IG.

        Hint: There’s an “OK” sign.

        Point is what is the point of all the cited examples of the 👌 in pop culture. It’s immaterial to the problem of ambiguity currently being leveraged by the alt-right neo-racist murders.

        You gonna argue they don’t exist?

  11. Pedantic Grammar Police

    Another example of stupid people being inflamed by the media. The “OK sign is racist” meme started on 4-chan in February 2017 as part of “Operation O-KKK” in which they decided to see if they could convince everyone of something idiotic that they made up.

    ““we must flood Twitter and other social media websites with spam, claiming that the OK hand sign is a symbol of white supremacy.””

    They were successful. Was the media fooled, or did they just see another opportunity to get people to hate each other?

    1. SHG Post author

      Where it started and where it is now may be two different things. Goofy as its genesis may be, if its perceived as a white supremacy symbol, then that’s what it is.

      1. Pedantic Grammar Police

        Nonsense. Just because idiots think something doesn’t make it true.

        By that logic, hate speech would be subject to the mythical “hate speech exception” to the 1st amendment.

        1. SHG Post author

          A symbol means whatever people believe it means. That’s the nature of symbols. The Constitution, on the other hand, does not mean whatever people believe it means. It means what nine very specific people believe it means. That’s the nature of the Constitution.

          1. Pedantic Grammar Police

            What will happen when judges start to get Persky’d for ruling according to the law in hate speech cases?

  12. Allen

    If you’re hanging a man the type of rope you choose or the knot used to make the loop will be the least of his concerns. I get that the OK sign might be construed in different ways. Maybe we should try a little due process. Round up half a dozen season ticket holders, give the man an advocate, let both sides make their arguments, and let the season ticket holders decide what’s to be done. Who knows, it might just work.

    1. wilbur

      As I understand it, the Cubs organization attempted to find the guy, so that they could hear what he had to say about it. He never responded to them, so that was that.

      I’d never heard of 4chan until today, so I went to their site to look it over. We’re supposed to take anything that comes out of there seriously?

      1. DeJon

        I wish we could ignore this Medras for everything from murdering incels to alt-righties, to darkweb meet and greets. [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules. DeJon.]

  13. Joe O.

    This is knot, okay.

    “Sorry knot sorry: Actually, we’re very sorry. The email version of Friday’s Capitol Letter incorrectly quoted Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s comments to a group of Boy Scouts at the Ohio Statehouse. Our reporter thought he heard LaRose tell the scouts they could impress their friends with their ‘not dying’ abilities, which our reporter believed was a quip about how scouts are taught wilderness survival skills, including how to build a campfire. He actually said ‘knot tying.’ Clearly, someone here never signed up for Boy Scouts. We regret the error.”

  14. Ayoy

    Great move by The Cubs. Will save some of the fans at least three hours on the weekend, plus hundreds of dollars in ticket and merchandising costs. Where’s the downside exactly?

    1. SHG Post author

      Other than the potential for random fans being barred from the stadium for life over an ambiguous gesture, no downside at all.

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