5.06.2007

A Few Thoughts on Barry Bonds and Race

Well, until the Clemens signing dwarfed all other weekend baseball headlines, the "scientific polling" about Barry Bonds that raised interesting questions about race, drugs, and record breaking was about as juicy as it gets. Juicy. Get it?

What's almost more interesting to me than the actual results of the ABC/ESPN polling is how surprised the media seems to be--or how surprised the media seems to think we should be--that race is a significant aspect of the whole Bonds saga. Although I generally detest Joe Morgan, I have to say he was pretty much on target when he matter-of-factly said something on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast to the effect of, "Well, when you have questions surrounding black athletes in sports, it's no surprise that there will always be a racial divide over how people perceive that athlete." Now, I don't know about always, Joe, because I like to fancy myself an optimist sometimes and I prefer to avoid words like "always" and "never" (although my fiancee would probably beg to disagree--apparently I have a habit of saying things like "You never unload the dishwasher." What can I say, sometimes always and never are warranted.), but you're right on target with how unsurprising these results should be.

Maybe the surprise has something to do with this poll following so closely on the heels of the self-congratulatory Jackie Robinson festivities a few weeks ago in which it seemed like all was right with baseball racially ("look how far we've come, look what progress we've made!" was the storyline). Sure, the Jackie Robinson celebrations and observations initiated serious conversations about the dwindling African American presence in baseball--but (1) figuring out how to get black kids interested in baseball and (2) figuring out how to deal with what appears to be a quite wide racial divide over a controversial black athlete that perhaps reveals an even deeper and broader racial gap in the sport are two drastically different things.

You want black kids to get involved in youth baseball, Bud? Well, first get your ass in gear and throw some money to some urban initiatives. But maybe you should also man up, make a statement, and be in the freaking ballpark when Barry Bonds--who, aside from being a steroid-using athlete, is also a black athlete--breaks Hank Aaron's record. You think the black fans--adults and kids alike--buy your bullshit line to the effect of "Hey, I wasn't there for Clemens' 300th win, why should I be there for Barry's 756th homer?" (First: 300 wins? Please. 22 pitchers have 300 wins. One man has 755 homers. If Roger Clemens broke Cy Young's wins record, you'd sure as hell be there, asshole). Maybe blacks believe that argument as much as when cops try to tell them that they're not targeted for traffic stops. If they (rightly) see themselves as being guilty of driving while black, how do they not see Barry as guilty of breaking records while black?

What do we learn from this whole mess? Well, maybe a thing or two about how little America has progressed on racial issues... but this is a sports blog, not an academic blog. I deal with these issues too much on a daily basis to want to address them here. So, as far as baseball goes, primarily we get further confirmation that Bud Selig is a colossal fuck-up that seems to compound one fuck-up with another.

He fucked up the 1994 season (and, as a White Sox fan, that one particularly stung). He fucked up (and continues to fuck up) the whole steroids mess by turning a blind eye to Sosa and McGwire because their homers were "good for baseball" coming back from the strike. He fucked up the All-Star game. He's fucking up the salary cap and revenue sharing. And now he's fucking up the celebration of one of baseball's truly special record chases in part because he's already fucked up the steroids issue.

Should Barry have done steroids? Probably not. But should the pitchers he was hitting against (I'm looking at you, Rocket) have done steroids? Probably not. But if it's not against the rules, it's not cheating. And that's what we've got to work with. Sosa and McGwire broke the single-season record on the juice and baseball loved it. Bonds broke those records and baseball loved it a little less. Now Bonds is closing in on an even bigger record, and Bud wants baseball to love it hardly at all, wants to scapegoat Barry for this whole mess that he doesn't have the balls to fix himself. Well screw you, Bud. I'm rooting for Barry.

6 comments:

Gage said...

I don't care what you say. OJ was innocent.

Jason said...

The reason people aren't rooting for Barry isn't race. The reason is that he's an asshole. I don't cheer for Barry because I don't like him as a person. I don't like George Bush because I don't like him as a leader. If Sammy Sosa is getting ready to break the record, people would cheer. Sammy has personality.

I believe you when you say race is still a problem in this country. But I think it is a problem that is slowly going away. Since racism isn't accepted anymore, each generation will see less and less racism. I just read an article about today's kids who don't see race as that big of an issue anymore because they are exposed to people of different races. Integration has been a good thing for this country. I think the reason you see those type of poll results is that the current generation of black people have seen racism so they naturally take Barry's side.

That's just my uneducated opinion. I would like to be enlightened.

trout said...

Without getting too deeply into it, ask yourself this--why does Barry come off like an asshole? An angry black man, if you will? It might have something to do with race, and it might be an attitude that's a little more understandable to blacks than whites.

My point was mainly that Bud Selig and baseball as a whole shunning Bonds as he breaks the record may not be perceived the same way in the white community as it is in the black community. And I think, particularly in the wake of all this Jackie Robinson hoopla, Bud would be wise to really think about the choices he makes.

So, in short, I agree that the immediate reason most people aren't rooting for Barry isn't race--but I believe that race is an inevitable underlying factor in how black and white people perceive one another, no matter how much it may have been attenuated over the course of the past 100+ years.

Jason said...

OK, I agree with you. Selig should probably be in attendance for the record, but Hank Aaron said he wasn't going to be present. Should baseball make him go? I think Hank Aaron being at the game would make more of an impression then Bud Selig. Most people don't know who Selig is and those that do know him writhe when they see him.

I also agree with you that race is still a factor in how people see each other but I think our nation made great strides during the Civil Right's movement. My comment was that children these days are more colorblind. Their parents, who are major baseball fans, still see color. So I see the lenses you talk about. But I don't see Barry as an angry black man. I see him as an asshole.

Baseball should honor Barry, but I don't have to. In the words of Gage, "Screw you fat head."

trout said...

I guess I just can't help but be skeptical about this whole colorblind thing. Is it better than it was in the 60s? Maybe. But residentially and as far as schools go, things are still quite segregated. It's tough to be colorblind when blacks are still largely urban and poor while whites are still largely suburban and middle-class. I also tend to believe that this narrative of progress is a white narrative and, whether for intentionally or not, can lead to a dangerous complacency when it comes to issues of race. The LA riots were only 15 years ago, and I don't think you can pin that discontent on an older (Civil Rights or pre-Civil Rights) generation.

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