EDITORIAL: Hey, FHA: Keep your hands off our funny signs

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Jan. 27—If you drive any major highways in Minnesota, you've doubtless seen some of the Department of Transportation's humorous public service messages, perhaps including these gems:




Granted, they're not all great. Some induce a chuckle, others a groan. But the premise is solid: Use humor and/or pop culture to remind drivers to pay attention, slow down, use seatbelts and be sober.

Enter the buzzkill known as the Federal Highway Administration, which recently issued a directive that by 2026, such public-service messages must be "simple, direct, brief, legible and clear." No puns, humor or pop culture references are to be allowed, because they might confuse or distract some drivers.

MnDOT, however, seems to be shrugging off this, um, "guidance." Spokesperson Anne Meyer said the current campaign — called "Message Monday" — will continue. "We believe these messages are an important part of improving the culture of traffic safety in Minnesota," she said.

Thank you, MnDOT. We agree. And frankly, we all could use a good laugh right now. Or at least a chuckle. Perhaps a slight grin, or even, yes, a groan.

Minnesota isn't a no-fun-allowed kind of place. Heck, we name our snow plows! (Voting ends Jan. 28, so if you want to throw your support toward "Taylor Drift," "Alice Scooper" or "Beyonsleigh," do it it now.)

As far as we can tell, no crashes have occurred because someone was reading and/or puzzling over a MnDOT electronic message. And we'd bet that more than a few drivers have fastened their seat belts, let off the gas and put down their cellphones after seeing a clever reminder.

If the federal no-fun police show up in 2026 to slap MnDOT's hands — well, we'll cross that boring bridge when we come to it.

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced that former Twins great Joe Mauer will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

To date, just 268 players have earned that honor, and just 58 of those got the hall call in their first year of eligibility.

Add Mauer's name to that list, which gets shorter when you narrow it to first-ballot honorees who spent their entire career with one team. (Kirby Puckett, Derek Jeter and Tony Gwynn spring to mind). And, if you winnow that list to include only those first-ballot winners who played their entire career for their hometown team — well, then you're down to New York City's Lou Gehrig, Baltimore's Cal Ripken Jr., and St. Paul's Mauer.

Fine company indeed.

We won't bother cataloging Mauer's statistical resume. The voters clearly recognized his on-field achievements, which are undeniable.

Instead, we'll remind readers of the time when every Mauer at-bat was must-see TV. We'll point out that this hometown hero was the face of the franchise when plans for Target Field finally got the go-ahead (and $355 million in public funds).

And finally, we'll point out that unlike a lot of professional athletes, entertainers and celebrities, Joe Mauer never embarrassed his team, his city, his family or his sport. He didn't crash a sports car. He didn't get tossed out of a night club. His personal life provided no tabloid fodder — other than, perhaps, a feel-good story when the Twins' star and his wife had twin daughters.

Really, about the only persistent "knock" against Mauer is that he was too quiet, too polite, too stoic. This is America, after all, where superstars are supposed to demand the spotlight.

But this is Minnesota, and if any public figure has ever personified what it truly means to be "Minnesota Nice," it's Joe Mauer. And as of Tuesday, he's proof that sometimes, nice guys finish first.

Caitlin Clark, arguably the most famous female college athlete in the country right now, suffered an accidental takedown by an Ohio State fan who stormed the court Sunday after the Buckeyes women's basketball team upset the Hawkeyes. It was an ugly incident in front of a national TV audience, and Clark had to be helped off the court, in tears.

That same weekend, 299 female high school athletes from 47 schools recorded countless takedowns — and escapes, reversals and pins — as they competed in the third annual Pine Island Girls Classic wrestling tournament. We can't say with certainty that no tears were shed, but suffice to say that you'd be hard-pressed to find a tougher group of teen girls than this lot.

If you didn't know that girls wrestling was a thing — well, that's understandable. It's rather new.

First sanctioned by the Minnesota State High School League for the 2021-22 season, girls wrestling attracted 250 participants. Two years later, that number has more than quadrupled, and when the state wrestling tournament takes place this spring, nearly 100 female wrestlers will have earned the right to compete for medals across 12 weight classes.

Of course, we should note that wrestling overall is enjoying a resurgence, with many boys programs in southeast Minnesota boasting record-setting participation levels that are straining the limits of practice facilities. Nationwide, more than 300,000 high school boys and girls are wrestling this year — a mark that hadn't been reached since 1978.

We won't attempt to list and explain all of the reasons for this growth, but it's a very positive thing. We like that girls have another option to keep them physically active during the winter. We like that more athletes of both genders are trying something new, rather than specializing in just one sport. We like that high school gymnasiums across the state are packed with wrestlers and wrestling fans.

And we really like that the girls who wrestled in Pine Island also got to meet and listen to Emily Shilson, a four-time collegiate wrestling champion who graduated from Mounds View High School.

Granted, she's not as famous as Caitlin Clark, but as a role model, she's probably right up there with her.