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Associated Press File Photo / A man walks through the employee parking lot at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

"An unwelcome prank," ABC titled its online report.

"It was deception ... Why should anyone trust you again?" a USA Today reporter wrote on Twitter.

"It's an odd thing to be joking about," a New York advertising firm executive said.

OK, let's all just take a deep breath now and relax.

Volkswagen, whose manufacturing plant is here in Chattanooga, attempted a bit of humor earlier this week by putting out the word it was changing its name to "Voltswagen" to stress its commitment to move more heavily into electric cars.

Company representatives told members of the news media the rumor was true. Other media sources reported it as true. Speculation ranged from the thought the German automaker was trying to boost its image from its 2015 emissions scandal to the possibility it wanted to jolt its standing in the stock market.

It was, in fact, an April Fools Day spoof.

The fact that some members of the media seem incensed, insulted and humiliated, rather than willing to credit the company for coming up with a clever idea, is all you need to know about how much the country has lost its collective sense of humor.

We don't joke with each other anymore because any story — no matter how clean — in which the subject is anything but a straight white man is liable to be reported to Human Resources, get you fired or cause your work to be canceled in some way.

We don't dare share anything funny on social media or through email lest it be found offensive in 2026, 2031 or 2040.

We don't poke fun at each other good-naturedly because the other person might be waiting for just such an opening to file a lawsuit.

"A person without a sense of humor," 19th-century clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher said, "is like a wagon without springs. It's jolted by every pebble on the road."

The "Voltswagen" joke took us back more than three decades to 1985, when a similar April Fools Day ruse had the sports world talking. And when the Sports Illustrated story was revealed to be a hoax, people marveled at the complexity it took to concoct it, the secrecy that kept it from getting out and the overall humor at such an elaborate scheme.

No one went around sulking that "we've been had" and saying what a hateful thing it was to do.

For those who don't go back that far, we're talking about "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch."

Then, as yesterday, on April 1, the Major League Baseball season was about ready to open. And in the pre-internet days, Sports Illustrated was the premier place where sports fans went for good sports journalism.

In the magazine's April 1 edition, author George Plimpton detailed the story of an unknown New York Mets prospect named Hayden "Sidd" Finch. The kicker was he could throw a baseball 168 miles an hour — few pitchers at the time touched 100 mph — but he hadn't fully committed to playing baseball. The reasons were his very serious commitment to Buddhism and his uncanny ability to play the French horn.

Plimpton had developed a whole backstory about the young man, including his orphan childhood largely spent abroad, his brief stint at Harvard University and his discovery the previous summer by a minor league manager.

The manager said Finch had approached him, told him he'd never played baseball but assured him, "I have learned the art of the pitch."

After seeing how fast he threw a baseball, the Mets invited him to spring training but had to agree to stipulations such as that he be under no contract yet, that he be allowed to keep to himself, that he show the Mets his prowess in private and that his story be kept secret.

Plimpton spun the story — with the help of the Mets, who were in on the secret — so that it all seemed plausible to Sports Illustrated readers.

We recall the talk at the time about the phenom at the then-Chattanooga Free Press sports department and then up and down the stands during a high school baseball tournament in Middle Valley.

"Did you hear about ...?" "They say he can throw ..." "Sidd Finch may be the best ..."

When it was revealed to be a hoax, people laughed. They smiled. They told each other they never believed it. The honest among them admitted they did. Nobody dredged up conspiracy theories. Nobody got angry.

Volkswagen never had such an elaborate tale. The company was just having a little fun — around actual April Fools Day — with its new push toward electric vehicles.

No devious schemes were hatched. Nobody got hurt. Let's lighten up.

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