Overprotecting Our Kids

“I’m here a week now . . . waiting for a mission . . . getting softer.  Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker.  And every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.”

            —Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now

 

When I was at Rice, my upperclassmen friends—particularly those with older siblings who had attended before them—would often talk about the “pussification of Rice.”  I want to talk about the pussification of America.

The community center in Oxford, Massachusetts is now running no-scoring-everybody-wins youth basketball leagues.  Now, while the article I link focuses on the 6 to 8 year old league, notice that the no-scoring leagues at the center include all the way up to age 12.  This is a growing trend around the country.  Ostensibly, the idea is to focus on fun, keeping everyone included and engaged, and to emphasize teaching game skills over winning.  In themselves these are laudable goals, and I kind of understand it in the context of things like my daughter’s 4-5 year old soccer league at the local YMCA.

But really?  Twelve-year-olds can’t keep score?

Underlying all of this, of course, is this idea that we have to shield kids from the emotional trauma of losing.  After all, having winners and losers favors one set of players over another, and results in unequal outcomes, and we can’t have that.  But it goes on.

The school board in Windham, New Hampshire has just voted 4-1 to ban dodgeball (and other “human target” games) from the district’s schools.  Apparently some parents were complaining that bullies were targeting their kids during games. 

Don’t worry about that mean old Jimmy, Son.  We’ll talk to the school board and if they don’t ban dodgeball, we’ll file a lawsuit.  That’ll teach ‘em.

Jeez.  Rather than standing up to the alleged bullies, choosing not to play, or simply asking gym teachers to better monitor the games, we have to elevate this to the freaking school board and ban the age old PE staple altogether.  All because little Johnny got his feelings hurt.  What’s next?  You know, in baseball we sometimes try to tag a runner—the practice used to be called “soaking,” where you basically had to pound the runner with the ball itself—to get an out.  In kickball we actually throw the ball at runners.  In football we try to knock the ballcarrier down.  Tag is, well, tag.  Ever seen the wall of players guarding their testicles in front of an indirect kick in soccer?   All “human targets.”  Are we going to ban those? 

And we’re not confining our loving protection of these tender sensitivities to sports.  Consider what we’re now seeing in academia.

I’ve previously reported on the growing trend of schools eliminating the concept of an F.  More and more, schools are adopting policies setting a mandatory minimum grade of 70, regardless of the student’s actual performance.  Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor said that “If the choice is between letting kids fail and giving them another opportunity to succeed, I’m going to err on the side of opportunity.”  In Texas we actually had to enact a statute to prevent some school districts from setting minimum grade threshholds, and had to defend it in court. 

But it gets worse.  Not only are we increasingly shielding kids from adverse consequences resulting from poor classroom performance, some schools are now taking measures to shield those poor performers from the stigma and disappointment caused by the achievements of their classmates.  In Ipswich, Massachusetts, the local middle school has canceled “Honors Night,” a long-standing tradition in which high academic achievers are honored with a dinner, awards, and speakers.  Although the school has denied the charge, claiming that it just moved the function from a separate awards night to including it in a larger daytime awards assembly, the explanatory letter Principal David Fabrizio sent to parents is telling:

“The honors night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade point average.”

In other words, to avoid hurting the feelings of those who don’t achieve as well, we’re going to take away (or diminish) a celebration for those who do.

Over and over I see this Spockian mentality that we must at all cost buffer kids’ fragile egos from every manner of negativity.  No one ever loses.  No one ever gets hit.  No one ever gets picked on.  No one ever fails.  But rather than nurturing them, this is doing kids a tremendous disservice if not outright abusing them, because the real world isn’t that way.

There’s an old saying among gym rats (football players, boxers, Marines, etc.): pain is weakness leaving the body.  The only way to get stronger is to condition yourself to absorb the punishment, and the only way to do that is . . . by absorbing the punishment.  The real world is full of adversity.  But if we shield our kids from every conceivable emotional bump and bruise, we deny them the opportunity to develop the necessary conditioning to deal with it.  Instead they reach adulthood with a distorted worldview that can neither acknowledge nor cope with obstacles and unequal outcomes, because their whole life experience has taught them that these things do not exist.

How are they supposed to compete in the marketplace if they have never known a world with winners and losers?

How are they supposed to be able to handle a-holes and bullies if Mommy and Daddy have always taken up the fight for them?

How are they supposed to regroup and try again after a setback if they’ve never known a world with failure?

Am I suggesting that we need to be putting six-year-olds through two-a-days and sending them to personal trainers?  Certainly not.  But we have to stop coating our kids in bubblewrap.  Give them the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from the consequences.  Let them experience facing—and overcoming—adversity and failure.  Push them to stand up for themselves.  Only in this way can they develop the hardness and strength of spirit—the toughness—necessary to survive on their own. 

As it stands, however, we’re raising generation upon generation addicted to Meow Mix.

**********

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This marks the 200th installment of Chasing Jefferson.  When we started this adventure nearly two years ago, I had a list of 21 topics, and thought we’d be lucky to stretch that list out 6 months.  Thanks to all of you who have stuck with me, sent me encouragement, and passed on links to friends.

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You Can’t Fix Stupid

Dunning:        You do know there’s a “surcharge” for any arms deliveries to countries that are embargoed by the United Nations?

Matheson:      For every problem, Monsieur, there is a solution.

            —Richard Dreyfus as Alexander Dunning, and Morgan Freeman as Joe Matheson in RED

Last week my local Sugar Land Sun ran an interesting op-ed piece by Roy Kent dealing with the intersection of sports and government.  Apparently the scourge of head injuries in football has gotten the attention of Texas legislators, and Representative Eddie Lucio (D-Harlingen) has filed a bill to limit high school and middle school programs to one full contact practice per week.  I’m guessing Representative Lucio wouldn’t have made it as one of Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys.”  While I appreciate the sentiment of wanting to protect kids, Representative Lucio’s proposal raises several concerns.

As an initial point, it seems that, like so many things that spur legislative cries for urgent action, the football head injury issue isn’t the catastrophic epidemic you might think from Lucio’s bill.  A study by the American Football Coaches’ Committee on Football Injuries, NCAA, and National Federation of State High School Associations indicates that the rate of fatalities directly related to participation in football (invariably associated with head/neck injuries) was 0.18 per 100,000 participants at the high school level in 2011 (roughly the same incident rate as being struck by lightning in the U.S.).  And that rate has dropped steadily since the mid-1960s.  I understand that Representative Lucio is concerned with the cumulative impact of repeated concussions and the like, but using fatalities as a kind of proxy statistic the data suggests that the “problem” isn’t as widespread as he might lead you to believe.

Moreover, the sense of urgency may be misplaced.  Consider that automobile crashes are consistently the leading cause of death for 13-19 year olds.  In 2010 there were approximately 3115 such fatalities, a rate of about 10 per 100,000, or some fifty times that of football.  Why, if we’re going to look at urgent action to protect kids, are we focusing on football instead of cars?

Lucio’s proposal also has practical problems.  How on earth are you going to enforce a limitation on full contact practices?  Just defining what constitutes “full contact” is problematic; policing it is worse.  This is Texas, home of Friday Night Lights, where football is unquestionably king.  High school programs here are already notorious for skirting limitations on the number and duration of practices, either through “voluntary” supplemental workouts, if not just outright ignoring them.  We scarcely have the resources to monitor and address the very real problems of truancy and dropouts.  Adding to the oversight burden only makes that worse.

In fact, you could make a case that Representative Lucio’s proposal would actually be counter-productive.  One of the contributing factors to head injuries in football is blocking and tackling technique, which cannot be adequately taught and practiced outside of a full-speed, full-contact environment.  Further, the ability to withstand contact in games without injury—what the players call being in “football shape”—only comes with regular contact in practice.  Coaches have every incentive to minimize injuries in practice, and they manage their practice routines with that in mind.  But they also have an incentive and a responsibility to ensure that their players are physically prepared to participate, and that requires contact.

The fact of the matter is that football is a rough collision sport.  Injuries will happen.  Now, I’m no doctor or physicist, but it seems pretty obvious that the main variables affecting the occurrence of head and other injuries are the speed of the collisions and the mass (size) of the bodies colliding.  You want to reduce injuries?  Slow the players down by returning to leather helmets or at least taking away their face masks; a player is going to be much less enthusiastic about launching himself head-first at maximum speed when he’s no longer so protected that his head is effectively a weapon.  And shrink the players themselves.  It’s not that long ago that Chicago Bears offensive lineman William Perry was nicknamed the “Refrigerator” because of the relative novelty of an NFL player weighing 300 pounds; today, my alma mater Allen High School won the Texas AAAAA Division I state championship with a roster that featured one 300 pounder and seven others weighing in at over 270, and that’s not uncommon.  Pare the players down by instituting maximum weights by position; say, 240 pounds for linemen, 190 for backs and linebackers, and 175 for everyone else.

But here’s the thing.  You can do all of that through rule-making by the sport’s governing body.  It doesn’t require legislation, and this is really the rub of the matter.  Lucio’s proposal is yet another example of a chronic pathology in Congress and statehouses: legislators who feel compelled to legislate something, anything, in order to justify their existence.  But rather than doing the dirty work of making difficult and responsible choices on issues that matter—because those things carry political risk—they instead search for feel-good issues that pose little risk and solve little in the real world, but create the impression that they are taking action like a true leader.  The result is nonsense that accomplishes nothing but increasing government intrusion in the interest of protecting us from ourselves:

  • forced posting of calorie information on restaurant menus;
  • banning of large sodas;
  • regulation of school lunch contents even when packed from home (yet curiously virtually no nutritional regulation over the diets of those on food stamps, so apparently we are more concerned about what food you spend your own money on than on what food other people spend your money on);
  • mandatory “dead man” switches on lawnmowers;
  • child-proof (read: adult-proof) caps on medicines, vitamins, and even mouthwash;
  • mandatory warnings on cigarettes, alcohol, etc.

Instead of passing a damn budget, Congress spends its time threatening to investigate college football’s bowl/ranking system.  Or boxing scoring.  Or steroids in baseball.

You cannot legislate common sense, and this was Kent’s central point in his Sun op-ed.  Yes, there are problems out there; some are very real and urgent, and others not so much.  And the world has its dangers and risks, whether they be to life and limb, to financial security, or to happiness and mental health.  Those risks can never be eliminated—and many cannot even be mitigated—by passing yet another law or regulation.  We could make a lot of progress by actually focusing on the bigger-ticket items, and leaving the minutia of day-to-day living and managing its risks to those of us who actually do that living and have to deal with those risks.  That, friends, is what “liberty” is.

The answer isn’t always legislation.

The Agony Of Defeat

“First, don’t f@*% with me.  I’m a desperate man!  And second, I want some fresh coffee.  And third, I want a recount!  And no matter how it turns out, I want my old job back!”
            —Mark Carlton as defeated Old Detroit Mayor Ron Miller in Robocop
Unemployment is at 8.2% and expected to climb.  Real unemployment is at a near-Great-Depression-level 14.5% and climbing.  The Eurozone is on the brink of collapse, and there’s no telling to what extent they’ll drag us down with them.  The Russians are arming the Assad regime in Syria, and providing materiel for Iran’s oh-so-innocent nascent nuclear program.  The New York Times readily and repeatedly obtains—and prints—classified intelligence information, but the United States Congress can’t get anything out of the Department of Justice beyond name, rank, and serial number. 
So what’s at the top of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) legislative agenda?
Boxing.
That’s right, the United States Senate hasn’t passed a single budget proposal in three years on his watch, has taken no action on a dozen or more jobs bills that have passed the House, and Harry Reid’s concern is federal regulation of professional boxing.
I’m not even making that up.
I confess I haven’t followed boxing at all since Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear off back in 1997.  For those of you like me who were still wondering why the sun rose an hour late last Sunday morning, I now have the answer: apparently Manny Pacquiao lost a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley for the WBO Welterweight title on Saturday night.  According to many observers, Pacquiao should have been awarded the decision; it’s all a great travesty, and there are multiple investigations sure to result in those responsible being sacked.  It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that this is a problem inherent in any “sport” in which winners and losers are decided based on a judging panel’s subjective assessment of the largely aesthetic quality of an athlete’s performance (see gymnastics, figure skating, ice dancing, diving, synchronized swimming, pretty much any “X-Games” event, and the BCS football championship).
Based on complaints by others who saw the Pacquiao/Bradley fight, Reid—who didn’t see the fight himself, but who was an amateur boxer and rumor has it stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night—is renewing calls for a federal commission to regulate the sport nationally.  Yes, the solution is always some kind of government intervention.  In this case, Reid wants to set up a National Boxing Commission—I prefer “Commission for the Regulation and Administration of Pugilism”—to establish health and safety regulations, license boxers and officials, and also regulate the business side.  Presumably the notion is that if only there had been government oversight of these things, the Pacquiao/Bradley result would have been different.  I also suppose it’s just a coincidence that Manny Pacquiao has been a political supporter of Reid’s (although I’ve got to think that the Vegas boys who run the casinos that host these fights can’t be happy with their senator inviting federal noses to peek into their operations).
Doesn’t the Senate have anything better to do with its time?
The irony here is that the fight took place in Las Vegas—in Reid’s own home state—where the Nevada Athletic Commission already has health and safety regulations for boxing, licenses participants and officials, and regulates the business.  In other words, government is already doing what Reid wants government to do.  So apparently Reid’s position is that the federal government will do it better.  Oh, now I see.  And you know Reid’s right on this, because his co-sponsor on past efforts to pass this kind of legislation is none other than John McCain (R-AZ), and anything McCain supports has to be good.
Riiiiight.
This might be different if someone crossed state lines for a bout—thus implicating interstate commerce—and got hurt because of inadequate safety measures, although it is worth noting that the major private boxing authorities—the WBC and IBF at the time—handled reforms themselves after Duk Koo Kim was killed in a bout with Ray Mancini in 1982.  But that’s not the issue with Pacquiao/Bradley.  The sole concern in this instance is that some people don’t agree with the outcome of the contest, and feel that someone other than the one who won should have won.  If that is the impetus for regulation, what Reid is really advocating is that the United States federal government literally step in and sort out the winners and losers.
Of a game.  
 
A rough and sometimes brutal combat-oriented game, but a game nonetheless.
This idea that government needs to intervene to correct the results of sporting events is, in a word, stupid.  To begin with, I can’t find anything in the Constitution that even comes close to suggesting that Congress has any authority to act in this fashion.  Nowhere in the Federalist Papers did Madison, Jay, or Hamilton discuss federal regulation of sports.  The Preamble doesn’t say “We the People, in order to assure right and just outcomes of athletic contests . . .”  There is no constitutional right to a correct decision in a boxing match—or any other sporting contest—or even to a fair fight for that matter.
More importantly, where does it end?  If Congress is going to regulate the judging of boxing matches, will it next be setting up commissions to ensure the results of gymnastics competitions?  Is there going to be a federal panel reviewing ball/strike calls at Fenway?  Are we going to have mandatory instant replay review of every questionable pass completion in the NFL?
Oh, wait.  I forgot we already have that.
And why stop at professional sports, or even organized athletics?  Maybe there should be an agency in the District to oversee Little LeagueAlex, who is Danny Almonte?or a federal bureaucrat to certify the winner when my six-year-old and her friends play Chutes and Ladders.  Hell, maybe we should even consider bringing in U.N. observers, just to make sure it’s all on the up-and-up.
I love sports, but we’ve got to get ahold of ourselves.  At the end of the day sports are just games, and human errors and unlucky breaks are a part of them.  Unlike capital punishment, it’s not really thatimportant in the grand scheme that we move heaven and earth to get it 100% right whether the ball was in or out. 
In golf it’s called “the rub of the green”: sometimes good shots bounce into bad places.  The USSR gets three cracks with time expired to beat the U.S. to win Olympic basketball gold in 1972.  Mike Renfro is incorrectly ruled out of bounds, costing the Oilers a game-tying touchdown in the 1979 AFC championship game against the Steelers.  Colorado scores on fifth down to beat Missouri in 1990.  Jeffrey Maier reaches from the seats into the field of play to steal a home run for the Yankees’ Derek Jeter in the 1996 ALCS vs. the Orioles.  Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch tags out Boston’s Jose Offerman from several arms’ lengths away in the 1999 ALCS.  That’s just the way it goes, and life seems to go on, even in Red Sox Nation.
Reagan taught us back in 1960 that “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So, governments’ programs, once launched, never disappear.”  It is the very nature of government agencies to metastasize, both in size and in jurisdictional reach.  Once we start involving government in regulating the officiating and results of sports, it’s only a matter of time before it moves beyond simply ensuring that the player who should win in fact does win, to ensuring overall “fairness.”  In the interest of creating an “even playing field,” regulators will begin skewing the rules—or selectively applying them—so that better players don’t have an advantage over inferior players.  Maybe bad golfers will get a federally-mandated bigger hole, or slower track runners will get a head start enforced by administrative rule.  From there, they will seek to eliminate advantages created by one player having grown up in an environment more conducive to developing playing skill, and from there move to force-fitting the win/loss results to some pre-determined distribution reflective of the demographic cross-section of society regardless of skill level, performance, or effort.
This pathological impulse to resort to government regulation as the panacea for every perceived societal deficiency has got to stop.  More importantly, the pervasive interest of government at all levels in controlling the minutiae of our lives has got to stop.  Sports.  The size of the Coke you get at a restaurant.  Your popcorn at the movie theater.  A glass of milk.  Where is the end to what the Statists want to control?
Jefferson wrote that “the policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.” 
He would not recognize this country today.

Political Correctness Amok

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief.  The issue here isn’t whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests—we did.  But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, twisted individuals.  For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system?  And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general?  I put it to you, Greg:  Isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society?  Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”
—Tim Matheson as Eric “Otter” Stratton in Animal House
When will this insanity stop?
In a story that’s gotten sparse national attention, students at new Corner Canyon High School in Draper, Utah selected “Cougars” as their school mascot and team nickname.  The school board, however, has overridden their decision, citing complaints from some parents, and is imposing the nickname “Chargers” instead.  The primary complaint?
The term “cougar” might offend middle-aged women who like to date younger men.
Yes, when someone tells us they’re rooting for the Cougars, don’t we all immediately assume they’re hoping Demi Moore shows up?  I’m frankly disturbed that it even occurred to anybody, much less that it put such a burr under their saddle that they complained about it.  Is this how thin our overly-P.C. sensitive skin has become?
Let me put this in perspective.  Twelve colleges call their teams the Cougars.  Here in Texas, where high school football is king, I count 26 schools whose teams take the field under the banner of Cougars.  In other words, it’s a pretty common mascot.  These P.C. nazis in Utah make it sound like the kids wanted to call their team the “N*ggers,” which of course is patently offensive, and would never be acceptable; but the N-word has no other meaning or connotation.  In other parts of the world, rape victims are convicted of adultery and stoned to death.  Yet here in the land of the free and—ironic drumroll, please—the home of the brave, we worry about things like whether the choice of a nickname that everybody understands refers to a big cat is somehow going to offend someone.  
 
At least we have our priorities in order.
And I don’t buy the Board’s secondary excuse that other Utah schools also use “Cougars,” and the name plus the school’s colors of blue, silver, and white are too close to those of BYU.  High schools mimicking major college programs’ nicknames and color schemes is nothing new or controversial.  Here in Texas we have 12 high schools duplicating the University of Texas’ “Longhorns,” with four of them also using Texas’ colors of orange and white.  The board is simply trying to cover their obvious cowardly cow-towing to stupid P.C. pressure. 
This crusade against team names and mascots that might hurt someone’s feelings has been around a long time.  In 2005 the NCAA finally succumbed to the P.C. blitzkrieg and cited 18 member institutions for having “hostile or abusive” mascots, all but ordering the schools to drop them.  The NCAA may actually have had a point in cases like the Southeastern Oklahoma State Savages, where the nickname itself has an inherently derogatory connotation (not unlike the N-word).  But in other instances such as the Florida State Seminoles (eventually granted an exemption) and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux the nicknames were nothing more than respectful references to groups of people with direct and obvious connections to their states’ history, similar to the Oklahoma Sooners, the West Virginia Mountaineers, or the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.  Alas, common sense gives way to knee-jerk overcorrection, and we take a sledgehammer to a gnat.   
So American Indian references (regardless of taste or historical context) are taboo as choices for school team nicknames, and now they’re coming after predatory animals.  What’s next?  If we’re going to indulge in this level of silliness, let’s carry it to its logical conclusion.  Here are some other nicknames/mascots—yes, all the examples below are real—that are also going to have to go the way of the do-do bird, lest we bruise someone’s tender sensibilities:
  •          Fighting Irish, Fighting Scots, Ragin’ Cajuns suggest that people of Irish or Scottish descent or descended from French-Canadian immigrants to Louisiana have bad tempers. 
  •           Flying Dutchmen suggests that people from Holland take drugs.
  •           Pirates, Buccaneers, Raiders, Marauders, Vandals promote crime.
  •           Matadors promotes animal cruelty and offends PETA.
  •           Camels promotes smoking.
  •           Orediggers might offend younger women who like to date older wealthy men.
  •         Sharks might offend local men who like to date tourist women­­—fins to the left—and certain urban bankers.
  •           Rainbow Warriors might offend men who like to date other men.
  •           Red Foxes might offend attractive women, and fans of Sanford & Son.
  •           Mules might offend stubborn old people.
  •           Blue Hens, Badgers might offend nagging housewives.
  •           Quakers, Friars, Deacons, Saints, Bishops might offend atheists.
  •           Crusaders might offend Muslims.
  •           Red Devils, Blue Devils, Sun Devils might offend Satan-worshippers.
  •           Huskies might offend big-boned people.
  •           Patriots might offend people in other countries.
  •           Coons (no joke—Frisco HS, Frisco, Texas) might offend rednecks or blacks.
  •           Thoroughbreds discriminates against people of mixed heritage.
  •           Spartans makes light of poor people.
  •           Cavaliers makes light of casual or indifferent people.
  •           Ramblin’ Wreck makes light of people with crappy cars.
  •           Steers might upset men who have lost their testicles to cancer or injury.
  •           Longhorns, Bulls, Stags, Bucks, Rams, Goats, Ducks, Bison, Buffaloes might upset vegans.
  •           Cornhuskers, Aggies might upset those with gluten allergies.
  •           Black Knights might upset people with flesh wounds.
  •         Crimson, Cardinal, Orange, Mean Green, Maroons, Big Green, Big Red might upset people who are color-blind.
  •           Volunteers might upset Bill Clinton.
  •           Lions, Tigers, Bears might upset Wizard of Oz aficionados.
  •           Gamecocks, Beavers might upset prudes.
  •           Trojans—do I really have to explain?
As you can see, this zeal to avoid offending people quickly devolves into the absurd, and it doesn’t leave much left from which to choose.  But we could go further.  Given that team nicknames and even school colors really only serve to distinguish one group of people from another, shouldn’t they ALL be done away with as inherently discriminatory/divisive?  While we’re at it, there are any number of school fight songs that include demeaning or even violent references to rival institutions—why, some might even call them “hate speech”—that have no place in our genteel modern society.  In fact, now that I think about it, sporting contests by their very nature stigmatize the loser, so shouldn’t we stop the games altogether and encourage students instead to engage peacefully with their colleagues at other schools in friendly sing-alongs and maybe some group interpretive dance?
Somewhere, this silliness has to stop.  It’s like we’ve put ourselves into a giant version of Twister where you not only have to stay on the dots, but you can’t touch another player or they’ll bruise beyond recognition.  We’re eventually going to become so soft that the Iranians aren’t going to need a nuclear weapon to whip us; Ahmedinejad is simply going to call us the pussies that we’ve become, and we’ll drown in our own tears crying over our hurt feelings. 
Life is a contact sport, folks.  At some point we all have to grow a little bit of callous, and as Dennis Miller ranted on this very subject in 1994, do everyone else the courtesy of not treating them like they’re a Faberge egg.  Language is an imperfect tool.  There’s always going to be a way to twist words into something someone somewhere could find a little offensive if they really try.  We have to have the common sense to distinguish between words with a primary meaning that is overtly and deliberately hurtful on the one hand, and those that in their common usage have an obvious and universally understood meaning that has absolutely nothing to do with whatever special interest group might twist them to find them offensive. 
A cougar is a cougar.  A big freaking cat.  Get over it.