The Cubs lost speedy center fielder Corey Patterson to a knee injury the other day, but there's at least one healthy pair of legs in Chicago: the ones on the Dusty Baker race-and-heat story.
Those of us in the typing and chattering classes are having no end of fun with Baker, who, in the words of the Cubs blog Let's Play Two, said some "weird, Harry Caray-like things about black and Latino ballplayers." The Cubs manager is standing by his statement that dark-skinned minorities hold up better in the heat than whites do.
On MSNBC's "Scarborough Country," Joe Scarborough ran through a history of whites sports figures whose careers were torpedoed after they made racially insensitive comments -- Al Campanis, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, Howard Cosell -- and then said, "Of course, its not just white sportscasters who face different standards than Dusty Baker. Might Trent Lott have survived if he was a liberal Democrat? When it comes to race and speech in America, the standards are nothing if not flexible."
Jon Entine, the author of "Taboo: Why Blacks Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It" and a Salon contributor, writes, "I had the unfortunate experience earlier this week of appearing on the Fox News right-left slugfest 'Hannity and Colmes.' Sean Hannity appeared delighted at Baker's apparent faux pas because it gave him an opportunity to attack what he and some other conservatives see as a double standard -- blacks get a free press for transgressions that cost whites, as in the case of Snyder, their jobs."
Entine, whose piece about the Baker flap will appear in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, says he thought Hannity would ask for his expert opinion on the scientific merit of Baker's comments -- he argues that what Baker said is "scientifically sensible," but it's unclear if a better ability to withstand heat translates to better performance on the athletic field. But he never got the chance to say any of that as Hannity hammered away about the liberal double standard.
Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh similarly has his dittos in a bunch over Baker's comments. Hilariously, Limbaugh refers to sociologist Harry Edwards, who tsk-tsked at Baker, as "former San Francisco Forty Niners race coach -- yes, race coach -- Harry Edwards." Edwards was actually a consultant to the 49ers who devised aptitude tests for potential draftees, among other duties. Limbaugh went on to kid Baker for uncovering a racist conspiracy in baseball, since most ballgames are played at night, see, when it's cooler, a disadvantage for the heat-withstanding blacks.
Listen, Dusty Baker is not Trent Lott. Lott's comment about Strom Thurmond's presidential run may or may not have been an unfortunate choice of words, but the fact is that Lott had a long record that left little doubt about how he felt about blacks and whites in America. He was not unfairly punished for being something he isn't.
Given the statements Baker made, I think he's opened himself up to scrutiny over whether he shows bias against his white players. I don't think there's any record or evidence that he has, but a close look at the matter is warranted. If he denies whites playing time for this or any other reason besides their ability to help the team, then he should be punished, maybe even fired, for it.
But the way to deal with the double standard isn't to overreact to racially insensitive comments by blacks just because we overreact when whites make them. It's to stop overreacting to whites.
Campanis, who was fired as the Dodgers' general manager in 1987 after saying on "Nightline" that blacks "lack the necessities" to manage in the big leagues, was a guy with a pretty good record on race relations. He befriended Jackie Robinson, an unpopular move, when they were teammates in Montreal in 1946. He had a better record than most baseball executives in his day when it came to hiring blacks. Sure he never hired a black manager, but he only hired one manager his entire career, and that guy, Tommy Lasorda, had been groomed for the job forever. "What he said was wrong, but he was always cool to minorities when I was there, especially the Latin players and the blacks." That's Dusty Baker talking about Campanis.
Was it better that Campanis was summarily dismissed, and baseball lost a good guy, as opposed to having an open, honest dialogue about his statements? If Campanis had been allowed to stick around, to apologize, doesn't it make sense that his next act would have been something like a solemn promise to work to improve minority hiring practices in baseball? Maybe set up some sort of mentoring program or something? (He said, by way of apology, that what he'd meant by "lack the necessities" was that blacks lacked the necessary experience, not ability, but he was exhausted and couldn't get his point across clearly.)
If people like John Rocker and Marge Schott are spewing hatred, then off with their heads. Screw 'em. But if someone with a pretty good record puts his foot in his mouth, maybe swift and blinding punishment isn't the best way to go. There's more than one way to attack a double standard.
1. First, I'm an African-American.
2. There's no such thing as "races" of people. Race is a fiction concocted by one group of people who wanted to justify what they were doing to another group...
Here's the point: We get all bent out of shape when we talk about race because we don't want to know our shared history. Is Dusty Baker right about choosing dark-skinned slaves? Was Jimmy the Greek right about slave breeding? John Rocker was condemned partially because condemnation subverts a deeper discussion about race and racism.
-- J. Farabee
Your point about John Rocker is (except for the fact that you use him as an example) a good one, and is basically the point I was trying to make in my column Tuesday, though I didn't come up with a sentence as graceful as yours. The reaction to Baker's comments has been a lot of clear-headed discussion. I've read several columns that patiently explained that, no, Africans weren't brought over as slaves because they could stand the heat, but for more complicated sociopolitical and economic reasons, and that Latinos, descended as they are from Asians who came across the Bering Strait, aren't necessarily "hot climate" peoples at all, historically. When a white guy makes ignorant comments like Baker's, he's fired, and there's a feeling of wiping off our hands and saying, "Whew! Glad we got rid of that racism!" Like you said, avoidance is the name of the game.
The reason I think Rocker's a bad example is that his comments were resoundingly hateful and hostile to a degree that none of the others mentioned in this discussion were. I don't have a problem with a swift condemnation of Rocker's brand of racism. The more subtle versions, it seems to me, are best fought through open discussion.
Your article on Dusty Baker lacks context in regards to the actions of people who harbor racists beliefs. If Baker acts on his abhorrent and ignorant beliefs and you see fewer white players on hot days, he sets himself up for more ridicule and scrutiny. In contrast to Baker, historical racist beliefs held by white people have been acted on and minorities have been denied opportunities justified by the beliefs.
-- Mitchell Jones
But what about when a comment is made by someone who has no record of denying anyone opportunities, or even has a good record on that score? Howard Cosell was torched after he called a black football player a "little monkey." It was an on-the-fly description of a quick little player. It was kind of dumb, but I have no doubt that Cosell, a champion of Muhammad Ali when white America hated him, would have used the same words to describe, say, David Eckstein.
Context is exactly what I'm calling for. Let's look at the whole person, not just one comment. Dusty Baker is, fortunately for him, for the Cubs, for everyone, getting that benefit of the doubt. Others should, too, even if they're melanin challenged.
There is a double standard, and there should be. Watch an hour of Comedy Central: Dave Chappelle is funny, Colin Quinn is offensive. Part of that is a visceral response to having a cultural history of persecution. Maybe not like the Jews, but still -- when a white guy talks about blacks (as a race) being "special," we do have that feeling of, "All right guys, it's over; no more riding in the front of the bus."
-- John "Mack" McCoy
That's a terrible and painful thing. I can't argue with it. In fact, just discussing this matter by e-mail with readers, some of whom identify themselves to me as black, I find myself worrying that I'll say the wrong thing to someone, that I'll slip up and say something offensive without meaning to. It's uncomfortable and stressful to talk about race in this country, which is a big problem if you believe, as I do, that everything in this country is about race.
That's why we demand immediate dismissal for those who say something out of line. It's so much easier than digging in and talking about racial issues. It's just not better.
I'll give the last word to reader Alice Singleton-Huber, who writes that she lives in Chicago but is not a fan of Baker or the Cubs because she hates baseball.
"As a black man, Dusty Baker is speaking from experience," she writes. "The birthplace of Man? We were there, dude! Heat and humidity is an acid test that people of African descent passed long ago. Too bad we can't figure a way to get that test on the SATs."
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