An ESPN-ABC News poll has found that black baseball fans are more than twice as likely as white fans to be rooting for Barry Bonds to break Henry Aaron's career home run record, and white fans are more than twice as likely as black fans to believe that Bonds knowingly used steroids, and more than three times as likely to believe he shouldn't go to the Hall of Fame.
To repeat for the million trillionth time: This is America, and race always matters.
Last week we learned about an academic study of NBA foul calls that found a slight racial bias on the part of officials, and there were the usual, predictable dismissals. Racial bias? In America? Nonsense!
Now here comes the ESPN-ABC News poll, a scientific telephone survey of 799 adult baseball fans, 203 of them black. The margin of error is 3.5 points overall, 7 points among blacks. Some of the more interesting results:
Do you think Bonds did or did not knowingly use steroids?
Blacks: 37 percent yes
Whites: 76 percent yes
Are you rooting for Bonds to break the home run record, or do you hope Bonds falls short of it?
Blacks: 74 percent rooting, 18 percent falls short
Whites: 28 percent rooting, 60 percent falls short
Do you think Bonds should or should not be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame?
Blacks: 85 percent should, 10 percent should not
Whites: 53 percent should, 37 percent should not
On "Sunday Night Baseball," ESPN reported the poll at the start of the third inning of the Philadelphia Phillies-San Francisco Giants game, which Bonds sat out, with the emphasis in a graphic and Jon Miller's description on the overall percentages of fans who are rooting against Bonds (52 percent), who think he should be recognized for the home run record (57 percent) and who think he should be voted into the Hall of Fame (58 percent).
No mention was made of the far more interesting racial breakdown in the poll until the next half-inning.
ESPN baseball columnist Jayson Stark, who is white, wrote on the Web site that he was surprised to hear that only 52 percent of fans don't want Bonds to break the record. "If those percentages are accurate," he wrote, "many of us [in the media] have misread the mood of the nation on this."
On the air, analyst Peter Gammons pointed out the same low percentage as the most interesting finding of the poll, guessing -- wildly, it seems to me -- that a similar share of fans were rooting against Roger Maris' chase of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961 and Henry Aaron's pursuit of Ruth's career record in 1974.
Overall, do you think Bonds has been treated fairly or unfairly?
Blacks: 34 percent fairly
Whites: 61 percent fairly
"I think if you look at that poll, Jon, I think it speaks for itself," said Miller's partner, Joe Morgan, who is black. He then went into kind of a ramble about how blacks resent that the criminal investigation against Bonds has been strung out so long. "If you have something, then I think people would say, 'OK, show it, then we'll understand,'" he said. "But I think that is unfair when you continue to string things out, and you continue to have a guy hanging out there one way or the other."
As great a player as he was and as interesting as he sometimes is when he's talking about baseball between the lines, Morgan's really not the guy you want as the spokesman for your point of view. But he's surely right about one thing. The poll speaks for itself.
Do you think he's been treated unfairly mainly because of his race, personality, or his alleged use of steroids?
Blacks: 27 percent
Whites: 1 percent
Blacks: 21 percent
Whites: 26 percent
Blacks: 41 percent
Whites: 66 percent
Happy Jackie Robinson Day, everybody. It's good to know we're living in a time of such harmony and colorblindness, the ugly racial divides of years gone by buried at long last.
Right, white people?
Forget the substance of the question. Never mind whether Bonds has been treated unfairly, and if so why. Look at that first answer. Twenty-seven percent of the black fans in the poll believe Bonds has been treated unfairly because of his race. One percent of the white fans believe that.
Even if it could be shown with precise scientific instruments that Bonds has been treated fairly every day of his life, the fact that a black fan is 27 times more likely than a white fan to believe Bonds has been treated unfairly because of his race speaks volumes.
"Well, that's America," Morgan said Sunday. "That's always going to be the case when you have a controversy involving a black athlete, or one involving a Caucasian athlete. It's always going to have that racial divide."
Right. And any discussion of the Barry Bonds story that ignores the racial aspect -- and I include those that have appeared in this space -- is naive at best and irresponsible at worst.
My own growing dislike of Bonds over the past few years has felt to me like it stems from his hijacking of my favorite team. I've resented that the Giants have become all about this disagreeable person and his apparent cheating. I've grown tired of the club's refusal to turn over the roster and build a new, exciting team ready for the future because it can't afford to have a rebuilding year while the Bonds home run golden goose is still alive.
But maybe it's just that I've given in to the anti-Bonds drumbeat. It's a mostly white drumbeat by the mostly white media, and I'm white. Maybe they're just playing my kind of music. Just because my feelings about Bonds don't feel to me like they're influenced by race doesn't mean they aren't.
Twenty-seven to one. That's a hell of a lopsided score. It's a result that tells us there's more than one way to define reality. It tells us that the next time someone wonders why some people always have to bring up race -- it'll be a white person wondering that, I'm pretty sure -- the answer is that race is always, always, always a part of the issue.
That's America, as Joe Morgan said. The next person who denies it will be lying.
- - - - - - - - - - - -