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I’m Forgiving Matthew Stevens…and Here’s Why – From the Bird’s Nest

photo by Marion Post Wolcott/Getty Images

I moved to South Louisiana a long time ago.  I’ve been here more than twice as long as I lived in my native Connecticut.

I’ve grown to love this place and the people who have made it what it is.

But it wasn’t always that way.

When I first moved here, I hated it.  H-A-T-E-D it.  And, I couldn’t wait to get out.

I moved in August.  The heat and humidity were brutal.

My second day in Louisiana, I ate sauce piquant.  After the second bite, I had to put a towel around my neck to catch the sweat.  I‘ll spare you the details of the intestinal effect.  Boudin?  What are you trying to do, kill me?  Cracklins?  You people fry PIG FAT?????

And, the people here didn’t even know how to say crayfish properly.  They called them crawfish.  How silly.  I knew they were crayfish.  After all, I dissected them in biology class in high school.

I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying.  (Most of the people I interacted with were from Eunice, Mamou or Ville Platte, cher.)

Folks, there’s a reason why they use subtitles on “Swamp People.”

But it didn’t take long before I found out how special Cajun people were.  Although I wasn’t quick to accept, they were quick to offer.  And, when I hesitated, they insisted.

I’m glad they did.

I awoke Thursday morning, and, as I usually do, I grabbed my iPad.  I checked my email, checked Facebook and my Twitter.

What I saw on Twitter did not make me very happy.  And, I knew it was going to be an interesting day to say the least.

Matthew Stevens covers Mississippi State for the Columbus Post-Dispatch.  He also hosts an internet sports show on Bulldog Sports Radio (not affiliated with the University in Starkville.)

We pride ourselves here in Acadiana in showing those who visit with us a good time.  We succeed nearly all the time.

But there are times where the experience for a visitor isn’t what we would like.  And, that was the case with Matthew Stevens.

Stevens didn’t like Lafayette.  Says he couldn’t understand the locals when they spoke.  Got stopped by the cops…for what he said was no reason.  By his own admission, stayed in an area of town we usually advise visitors to avoid.  Stevens talked about the experience on his show.

And then, proceeded to put both feet in his mouth and chew for more than six minutes.

By the time he was finished chewing, he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

The comments made by him and his co-host were, at best, caustic and, at worst, racist.

Although my heritage isn’t Cajun, I was personally offended.  As were many.

I gave Stevens a follow on Twitter.  He did the same.  And, I contacted him and asked if he would be a guest on “Bird’s Eye View” that afternoon at 3.  Frankly, I was a bit surprised when he agreed.  He and I did not meet when he was in Lafayette for the NCAA Regional last weekend.  He could have said no.  He had no idea how I was going to approach him, other than I said I would be fair to him and give him a chance to tell his story.

He didn’t have to agree to that.  But he did.

At the time we set the interview, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it.  But I had two paths I could take.  I decided if he was defiant I would, pardon the expression, light his ass up.  If he was contrite, I would handle it differently.

By the time 3:00 came, I knew Stevens was going to be apologetic.  He had been issuing “mea culpas” on his Twitter for several hours.  Evidently, he had gotten a bit of response from South Louisiana and realized that what, at the time, he thought might be entertainment was anything but.

I began the interview with the same question Jay Leno asked Hugh Grant years before:

“WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING???”

His response….”I wasn’t.”

He then went on to apologize.  To the people of South Louisiana.  To his employers at the newspaper.  To his mom and dad.  To anyone who was offended.  Said his parents didn’t raise him like that.

In my quest to be fair, I pointed out the most caustic comments did not come out of his mouth, but rather that of his co-host.

He interrupted.  Said that didn’t matter.  Said it was HIS show and HE was 100% responsible. 

It would have been much easier to throw his co-host under the bus.  After all, Stevens wasn’t the one who suggested Cajuns were the missing link…or that they weren’t people.

But he took responsibility for it.  And, that told me a lot about Matthew Stevens.

As we neared the end of our interview, I did something that may have caught Stevens and the audience by surprise:

I asked him to return to Lafayette.  I wanted to take him on the tour of the entire city.  To see the middle, upper-middle and high class neighborhoods.  I wanted to take him out to eat (though he said he loved the food), show him some Lafayette nightlife and take him to a football game, where he could experience tailgating with Cajun people, who might be able to give him a lesson in how to understand Cajun.  I told him our company would pay for it.  And, asked him to chronicle THAT experience on his show.

He agreed.  We can’t make it happen on a Saturday, but there’s always that Tuesday night ESPN game against Arkansas State.

There have been many on social media (including some in our local radio community) who have suggested Stevens wasn’t sincere in his apology.  I don’t know the man well enough to make that judgment. Neither do they.

But I do know this.

In my early experience in South Louisiana, I was a lot like Matthew Stevens.  And, if it hadn’t been for many who went out of their way to show me the love of Cajun people, I never would have stayed.  I’ve raised four children here.  I’m in the process of raising two more.  I’ve had countless opportunities to leave.  But I’ve stayed.

And, I’ve stayed because I’ve become Cajun.  Not by birth (although I am ½ French, thanks to the Brunets and the Paquins).  But by choice.

And it’s all because some gave me a second chance to love it here.

I’m just paying it forward.  I’m giving Matthew Stevens another chance..because we are Cajuns and that’s what we do.

Matthew Stevens and I will eat boudin and cracklins.  We’ll have a beer.  I’ll introduce him to people who talk funny.  I’ll even get him to do the roosta dance.

I might even feed him some crayfish.

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