Racism can come in many shades
Racism is alive and well in America, in black and white. The latest poster boy for white racism is Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker, an equal opportunity offender who managed to insult immigrants, minorities, homosexuals and New Yorkers in a free-wheeling interview with Sports Illustrated.
Although Rocker attempted to apologize, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig ordered him to undergo a battery of psychological tests. Meanwhile, politically correct commentators continue to dump on Rocker while ignoring other forms of public racism.
For example, I didn’t hear much of an outcry from the mainstream media when Al Gore’s campaign manager Donna Brazile, an African-American, insulted white males and black Republicans like Gen. Colin Powell and Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. I guess it all depends on who utters the offending words.
Rocker is an easy target. As New York sports columnist Dave Rossi wrote, “He’s a white redneck and a xenophobic bigot to boot.” Rossi is probably correct and if Rocker isn’t a racist, he sure sounds like one. But Rossi also criticized SI for publishing the original interview. “Why print it?” he asked, “except to stoke the fires of the moralizers…” That’s my question too. What good did it do?
Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, no stranger to controversy himself, said that Rocker deserves another chance. “I think he was off his rocker when he said those things,” Turner opined in a TV interview. “I don’t think we ought to hold it against him forever. He didn’t commit a crime.”
No, Rocker merely exercised his First Amendment right to make a fool of himself. And his black and Hispanic teammates will make life miserable for him next baseball season if he doesn’t change his tune.
My favorite sports columnist, SI’s Rick Reilly, pointed out the hypocrisy of the situation when he questioned why the Rev. Jesse Jackson had criticized the Green Bay Packers for firing former coach Ray Rhodes, an African-American. This came after Jackson had organized disruptive demonstrations in Decatur, Ill., to protest the local school board’s decision to suspend six black youngsters who had started a mini-riot at a high school football game.
“I admire the Rev. Jesse Jackson. I think he’s one of America’s heroes,” Reilly wrote. “That’s why I say to him, respectfully and sincerely, Shut up, already! It’s one thing to be wrong; it’s another to be loud wrong…. Did it ever occur to Jackson that Rhodes was fired on Jan. 2 not because he was black but because … the team with the best quarterback in the league won three fewer games than it had in 1998 and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years?” That’s it in a nutshell. In professional football, a tough and unforgiving business, the bottom line is winning.
I’m reluctant to agree with Rush Limbaugh for fear of being associated with Ms. Clinton’s vast right-wing conspiracy, but I do share his opinion that Jackson’s increasingly desperate attempts to attract media attention fall far short of what we expect from someone who thinks that he’s the standard-bearer for the shining legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After all, King preached racial conciliation and believed in a colorblind society where people would be judged as human beings rather than on the basis of their skin color or ethnicity. Limbaugh said Jackson’s desperation reflected an obvious improvement in U.S. race relations. Well, maybe.
“Was Ray Rhodes, an African-American, held to a different standard?” Jackson asked in a letter to Packers’ general manager Ron Wolf. “No,” Reilly replied, “and just ask Chan Gailey, who went 8-8 (Rhodes’ record at Green Bay) with the Cowboys and made the playoffs, and got a boot in the gluteus for his troubles. Where’s Jackson’s march on Dallas?” Oh, by the way, Gailey is white. Then Reilly commented:
“When the handcuffs finally went on Jackson during that ludicrous scene in Decatur, he pronounced grandly, ‘It’s an honor to be arrested in a righteous cause!’ Yes Reverend, it is. Now go find one.” Reilly could have added that a federal judge ruled against Jackson and for the Decatur school board in the expulsion of the black students, affirming the cherished principle of local – rather than federal – control of public schools. Jackson vowed to appeal the judge’s decision.
If Jackson wants to take on the National Football League, he might consider the firing of another black coach, Willie Shaw, the former defensive coordinator of the Oakland Raiders. Shaw, 56, was responsible for one of the most remarkable defensive turnarounds in NFL history, converting a last-place unit into the fifth-ranked defense in a 30-team league.
But Shaw didn’t blame racism for the Raiders’ decision. “I understand it,” he said. “They felt like eventually I was going to get another job or leave anyway, so they wanted to do it now.” No excuses, just the facts. As it should be.
So let’s not be so quick to blame everything that happens, whether in sports or in public life, on racism. Real life is more complicated than that and we do a disservice to all races – black, brown and white – by shouting “racism” every time something happens that we don’t like.
Jesse Jackson should have learned that lesson from Rhodes and Shaw, who declined to blame their firings on racism. I admire their honesty and integrity and hope they prosper in the NFL. As for Jackson: Shut up, Jesse! Respectfully, of course.
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.