Baseball, Apple Pie, and Racism

By | May 12, 2007

I recently made a list of topics I wanted to eventually get around to blogging about. Looking back over the list today, I realized that four of the six topics (and a fifth one I added today) directly relate to race and its place in sports. Here are those five topics:

  • Don Imus and “freedom of speech” issues.
  • Braves, Indians, Redskins, and other team names — should they be changed?
  • Jackie Robinson tributes.
  • The “crisis” in baseball about not enough African American players.
  • The recent ESPN/ABC poll about Barry Bonds and racism.

So I thought I’d kill several birds with one big, verbose stone.

Don Imus

Here’s what I wrote on my message board:

While I agree that the Imus thing was overblown, I don’t agree that what he said was not offensive. The only part that bothered me was how many people got offended who had no business doing so. There are only two groups of people who had a right to be offended: the Rutgers women’s basketball team, who could justifiably be upset about being called nappy-headed hos; and any actual nappy-headed hos who do not like being associated with a women’s basketball team. Anyone who is not a Scarlet Knight or an actual nappy-headed ho had no business being offended. (And being an actual nappy-headed ho only gives you the right to be offended if you are offended for the reason I stated above — I’m looking at you, Messrs Jackson and Sharpton.)

I’m glad Don Imus got fired for his statements, though. I think it was overblown, but I think anyone with a brain could have foreseen the reaction it got, and someone with no working filter on his brain-to-mouth connection has no business being on national radio. I hear people saying it is a free speech issue, but their arguments would only hold water if someone was actually trying to have him arrested for what he said. CBS Radio and MSNBC had every right — and a responsibility to their stockholders — to limit this guy’s “free speech” by giving him the boot.

Racist team names

Are “Braves,” “Indians,” and “Redskins” inappropriate team names? Yeah, they probably are. As far as offensiveness goes, they are certainly more mild than a lot of racial names that no one would ever consider, but the fact remains that they are at least somewhat offensive. So the question is, is the historical value of the name enough to keep it around even though it is inappropriate? That’s a tough question to answer. On the one hand, the names weren’t necessarily meant to be offensive when they were created; on the other hand, that’s because the names were created in a time when we as a society were far less concerned about the feelings of non-whites. I don’t think that’s an excuse, nor do I think it’s a legacy we ought to honor. The cities of Cleveland, Atlanta, and Washington certainly have plenty of history from which to choose a quality, inoffensive name.

Jackie Robinson and the Black Baseball Crisis

April 15 was a pretty cool day. I really enjoyed watching the Dodgers/Padres game and seeing everyone wearing number 42 on their backs. I thought the ceremony was handled wonderfully by the Dodgers and Major League Baseball. I thought Jackie’s widow, Rachel, was a marvelous, engaging guest in the booth with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. There were only two things that detracted from the overall greatness of the moment for me:

  1. The question about how many people should be able to wear number 42 that day.
  2. The ongoing discussion about the “crisis” (C.C. Sabathia’s word) baseball is facing with regards to the dropping percentage of African Americans in the Majors.

The number issue was interesting until it got boring. Originally, the idea was for each team to have one player wear number 42 to honor Robinson; then it was decided that the Dodgers, Robinson’s team, would all wear the number. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that anyone who wanted to wear it could wear it that day, and nearly every African American player did, along with a few players of other racial backgrounds and five or six entire teams. Torii Hunter was among those who cried overkill, and in a way it’s hard to blame him. Overall, though, I agree with Ken Griffey Jr., who is quoted near the end of that article I linked to:

“I didn’t know so many guys planned to wear the number. I sure wasn’t expecting whole teams to wear it,” Griffey told the newspaper of his gesture-turned-movement. “But I’m not going to look at it as a negative. This is a tribute for what the man has done, a day to celebrate.”

Let’s pretend that the tribute, instead of wearing the number, was to give $1 million to Rachel Robinson’s foundation. Would anyone be complaining that too many people were paying tribute? Or that people were doing it just to look cool? I don’t think so. A tribute is a tribute, and whether the motives of everyone involved were pure or not, a whole bunch of people paid tribute to a true pioneer that day, and that is a good thing.

So let’s talk about the “crisis.” Let me start by acknowledging that I am fully aware of the limitations I am up against as a white man, and I do not even pretend to understand the nuances of racism and the issues that people of other races face on a regular basis in this country. I know that I can never fully understand anything related to racism. All I have to go on is my own experiences (far too many people believe that it is impossible for a white man to understand “diversity”) and my common sense.

So I see this headline on March 29 on Only 8.4 percent of major leaguers were black last season. And I realized: I don’t know what words mean. Are they referring to “black” as a race? Of course not. They are using it as a synonym for “African American,” which is certainly NOT a race. (For example: Joe Blow is a black man born in Milwaukee; his brother John Blow is born a few years later, after his family has moved to Canada. Joe is an African American; John is an African Canadian. But they are certainly the same race.)

So what this article is ACTUALLY saying is that only 8.4 percent of Major Leaguers are black AND U.S.-born. The way it is worded, you’d think it was a bunch of white guys and a few black guys. But no — it is 8.4 percent African American, with another (I would guess) 40 percent made up of Latinos from dozens of countries, quite a few Asians, etc. Included in that is a whole bunch of Latinos (especially from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico) who are every bit as “black” as that 8.4 percent. I actually read an article decrying the fact that the Mets had no black players on their major league roster — yes, the same Mets who were led by Pedro Martinez, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Reyes.

So maybe this is all a quibble with semantics; my only real problem with the issue is that they are using “black” to mean something it doesn’t. So is it a crisis that only 8.4 percent of Major Leaguers are African American? I don’t think it’s a crisis, but I do wish it was different. Why? Because what that number actually represents is the fact that African American young men, if they are into sports, are more likely to be into basketball or football than baseball. But why doesn’t anyone care about the severe lack of Hispanic Americans in Major League Baseball? Or Asian Americans? If the problem really is about the game losing its standing among American youth (and not about grandstanding or, even worse, reverse racism), why don’t we care about all the youth of other races who aren’t playing baseball? Is it because they aren’t playing other sports, either?

Barry Bonds and Racism

One last time with the disclaimer: I am a white man, and I know I will never quite understand all there is to understand about racism.

So ESPN and ABC News did a poll about Barry Bonds, and they broke the results down based on race. I’m not going to rehash the results, but here’s a link. The results are interesting, but I only want to focus on one: 27 percent of blacks believe Bonds has been treated unfairly because of his race.

I don’t know a politically correct way to say this, so I will choose bluntness instead: that is stupid. Barry Bonds is treated the way he is (whether it’s fair or not) for two reasons: 1) he is perceived as a cheater; and 2) he is a jerk. Some of the most beloved players in the game are African American — Dontrelle Willis, Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard, etc. The two most beloved athletes in the world — Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods — are African American. In the sports world of 2007, you are judged on a lot of things, some fair and some not, but race is very far down the list for most people.

I dislike Barry Bonds because he cussed me out in a movie theater for asking for his autograph when I was sixteen years old. It didn’t help that he almost ran me over in the parking lot of Jack Murphy Stadium a year or two later. And his attitude over the years has done nothing to endear him to me. But I have never, ever thought, “Gee, I hate Bonds because he’s black.” If I were to list a million things I dislike about him, his race would NEVER come up. Jerk, sure. Steroids, absolutely. Plays for the Giants, boooooo. He’s black? I don’t give a rat’s behind.

I sat in Dodger Stadium a few weeks ago and joined in the heckling of Barry Bonds in left field. He was being heckled by people of all races, religions, and social classes. No one ever said, “You’re so black!” or anything like it. They chanted “BALCO,” they chanted “Shoot ’em up Barry, shoot ’em up!” They said, “Down in front, I can’t see the plate over your head.” But no mention of race.

Anyone who thinks Bonds is treated unfairly because of his race is an idiot. They may be black idiots, they may be white idiots, but they are idiots.


So there you have it. The entirety of my opinions on all things related to race and sports.

One thought on “Baseball, Apple Pie, and Racism

  1. Steven Stout

    Amen on the Bonds comments.

    Great entry, though.

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