- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

You might be a redneck sports fan if:
Your bowling team has a mascot.
There's a roll of duct tape in your golf bag.
Your mama is banned from the front row at wrestling matches.
But, if you live in the New Jersey school district of Warren Hills, you might be suspended from school if you wore a shirt that bore the aforementioned jokes.
That was exactly what happened to graduating senior Tom Sypniewski Jr., a fan of Southern comedian Jeff Foxworthy. He was kicked out of classes for three days in March for wearing Mr. Foxworthy's "Top 10 Reasons You Might Be a Redneck Sports Fan" T-shirt.
The school district, which maintains a dress code and harassment policy, upheld the decision of the vice principal at Warren Hills Regional High School in Washington, N.J., who suspended Mr. Sypniewski, saying the word "redneck" had a racist connotation and was slang for a violent, bigoted person.
Mr. Sypniewski, 18, a solid student who has since received his diploma, was outraged over his punishment and yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against his former high school, claiming administrators had defamed him and violated his rights to free speech. His two younger brothers attend the same school and he wants their rights to be protected as they matriculate, attorneys said.
"I think this is an example of what we see happening more and more in this country with zero tolerance policies where administrators overreact and see a threat where there is none," said Curt Levey, spokesperson for the Center for Individual Rights in Washington, which is representing Mr. Sypniewski and his family in the case.
"They would have you believe this shirt would exacerbate racial tension and that is so not true. Nobody even objected to this shirt. The kid had worn it to school several times before."
Mr. Foxworthy, who is aware of the lawsuit, apparently is not laughing either, as a word that brought him fame will no doubt soon inspire debate well into Yankee territory.
"He was actually sort of outraged by the whole thing," said Mr. Levey, who has spoken with the Georgia entertainer about the case. "I expected him to be funny, but he was not about this. He just said 'I can't think that people believe my shirts have any racial overtones.'"
In responding to Mr. Sypniewski's appeal of their suspension, the Warren Hills Regional Board of Education upheld the principal's decision, noting that less than 5 percent of the school's 1,200 students are black.
"Over the past two school years, there has been an unfortunate series of incidents in which a small but verbal and visible minority of the white population has engaged in a course of conduct of harassment and verbal abuse of students who are of African-American origin," the board said in a statement.
"In a simpler time and age, use of the word redneck would not necessarily be offensive when utilized in a school setting," the board said. "But where, as here, there is a history and background of racial intimidation and problems, this conduct will not be permitted."
Harry L. Watson, a professor of Southern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, calls the issues in the case "an example of the politics of ethnic sensitivity."
Originally, "redneck" was used to describe white laborers who wore hats to protect their heads and shirts to protect their bodies from the sun, but whose necks invariably got sunburned.
"A redneck is a white person from the South that has to do manual outdoor labor for a living," Mr. Watson said. The word came to be considered "a real insult," he said.
"It's also fair to say that redneck, particularly in the '60s, got the connotation of being racist," he said. "Sometimes someone would say, 'Oh, so-and-so is a redneck,' when what they meant to say 'So-and-so is a racist.'"
In his standup comedy routine, Mr. Foxworthy has helped take the sting out of the word, making "redneck" a sort of an "in-group" joke, Mr. Watson said.

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