Not too long ago, a group of athletes got in trouble for some locker room humor that got out of the room. It was a black coach nick-naming a group of his white athletes. I chalked the incident up to an inside family joke offending the sensibilities of those outside the family. After all, sometimes diversity shocks people. Let me word this delicately: When you leave what you know, the people you’re familiar with and are suddenly plunged into a more diverse atmosphere than you are used to, sometimes jokes can be used embrace the differences. They can make you feel embraced. Humor, though sometimes inappropriate, cuts through to a common core and can sometimes point out uncomfortable truths and diffuse tension.

It’s about context.

Jokes you make within family that sound horrendous when someone outside the family hears them, much less, repeats them. We can speak one way with our “boys”, one way with our family, and another way in public/on the record. Still, we have to always be mindful: some language and images need a “handle with care” label attached to them.

Which brings me to Don Imus. We’re nearly a week into this growing imbroglio. Many times, I’m likely to give a pass to a slip of the tongue. Who among us hasn’t ever said something stupid that we (immediately) regret? When that person’s entire m.o. revolves around being controversial in order to get attention, especially in an effort to be funny, I’m that much less likely to be shocked.

However, humor can be a dual-edged pitard: I’m sure Michael Richards thought he was being funny.

Frankly, I haven’t listened to his show because his act never interested me. The main reason I am at all familiar with him is because he so often makes the news due to something he has said. After so many offenses, he rather struck me as an equal opportunity offender. None of which excuses his referring to the women of the Rutgers basketball team as “That’s some nappy-headed hos there, I’m gonna tell you that now.” With brutal efficiency, he’s managed to be both racist and sexist in his efforts to cling to the dream that he is somehow still relevant.

Still, the curious slow boil of the situation has been fascinating to watch. Now that Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are on the case (and NOW just chimed in, a week late), all of the usual suspects have chimed in which guarantee me taking this seriously.

Let’s face it, this is business as usual for all parties involved. Imus has been suspended, his wrist appropriately slapped, and is going on his apology tour (which I’m sure will be sincere, not a desperate bid to keep his job and/or sponsors happy). After that, therapy won’t matter. The number of his black friends won’t matter. Firing him won’t matter. Not to me. The debate over the appropriateness of some language is the take home lesson.

Seeming double standards aren’t fair (“how come THEY get to say that but I don’t?”), but they are the reality of the world we live in, the grown up world where adults understand context. You don’t always get to say what you want, when you want to say it. Well, you can, but be prepared to face the consequences of your words. My brother may call me an idiot, but you better not in front of him. There are some words and phrases “off limits” to certain folks in certain contexts, situations resolved by the offended parties speaking up and reprimands given. The danger of pushing people’s buttons is that sometimes they push back.