One person tweeted to me that Jackie Robinson would never have gone into the stands when called a racial slur. This “Jackie Robinson: model minority” nonsense needs to be unpacked. First of all, that was 1947. Times have changed. Second, Jackie Robinson, a husband and a father, would have risked organized violence, as in lynch mobs, if he had pursed a physical response against fans. Third, Jackie Robinson was a 26-year-old Army veteran and a college graduate from UCLA. He also carried the hopes and dreams of masses of people with every at-bat. To ask a 19-year-old Marcus Smart [a college basketball player] to act in accordance with Jackie Robinson is a ridiculous weight to ask Mr. Smart to carry. And lastly Jackie Robinson, if you read his searing memoir, ‘I Never Had It Made,’ had real regrets about not going into the stands and pummeling racists with what he called “my despised black fists”. Jackie Robinson died way too young at age 53. He and his family always believed that his early death was connected to the stress that he had to carry precisely because he kept it all bottled in on direct orders from the Brooklyn Dodgers organization and on society’s orders, shaped by the pre-civil rights times in which he played.
Baseball’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, football’s Kansas City Chiefs and hockey franchises like the Chicago Blackhawks have likewise come in for criticism. But the Redskins have far and away drawn the most ire, and some question whether clinging to the name, rather than engaging the opposition in meaningful dialogue, will be possible much longer.
In 1961, writers had the privilege of reporting on Roger Maris’s doing the near impossible and breaking the Babe’s single-season record of sixty home runs. At the turn of the twentieth century, they got to see Ruth’s record surpassed six times, including McGwire’s truly impossible seventy, in 1998, and [Barry] Bonds’ seventy-three, in 2001. It’s almost touching now to read the breathless…embarrassing “Special Commemorative Issue” that Sports Illustrated published in 1998 to honor the “Great Home Run Race” between the juicers McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The steroid era was a moment of deception but also of starry-eyed self-deception; if it was a breakdown of integrity on the part of baseball’s stars it was also, in some measure, a failure of sports journalism. Because the steroid story usually takes the form of a blame game, there doesn’t seem to be much room for reflection on the role that they, the baseball writers—or, for that matter, any dedicated observer of the game—may have played as enablers of cheating.
The ritualistic rage at Alex Rodriguez feels less like justice than a public stoning, and it’s Exhibit A that the moral crusade against performance enhancement is as unhealthy as the thing it purports to correct. Whatever Rodriguez’s transgressions, is he really so much more culpable than any number of the people he played with or for, including baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who makes his living off the sweat of other men’s bodies and whose apparent idea of justice is to use the threat of a lifetime ban as a publicity tactic? A-Rod…may very well have done everything he is accused of, but what we have here isn’t a genuine assessment of his offenses but rather a squeeze play by Selig, an attempt to pressure A-Rod into forgoing his due process…the commissioner is unmistakably less interested in a fitting penalty than he is in shutting up A-Rod—and at the same time bolstering his own weak reputation…
art: by Mick Coulas
…when the [New York Mets] decided that it would be a nice gesture to organize game-day festivities with the local American Indian community, it took months for someone to realize the potentially problematic scheduling of Native American Heritage Day on July 25th, when the Atlanta Braves were in town. Faced with the prospect of embarrassing their guests and not wanting to appear insensitive, the Mets followed centuries of American tradition and shafted the Native Americans.