Thinking about under-response to a hate letter sent to the Yankees’ Derek Jeter causes author to reflect on his own “blind spots”
By Alec Yoshio MacDonald, IMDiversity.com Special Contributor
Two months ago on this site, I complained about how society chooses to ignore issues of race in the world of sports. Hypocritically, I have since ignored them myself.
I had planned to write a series of columns exposing the bigotry and double standards that run rampant in professional and collegiate athletics. Yet while my pen idled over other matters, a number of incidents on and off the playing field passed by without my comment. Among them:
— In an international soccer match, fans in Bulgaria used “monkey chants” to heckle a black player on the visiting team from England. Preferring to de-emphasize this infuriating behavior, the harassed player’s own coach commented that “it is better not to talk too much about such things because all you do is to give more publicity to the situation.”
— A sports talk radio host in San Francisco spewed derogatory comments about the intelligence of Latin American players on the city’s baseball team, insulting Giants manager Felipe Alou and his lineup of “brain-dead Caribbean hitters.” When Alou justifiably complained and the host, Larry Krueger, was fired, the Bay Area media whined about political correctness running rampant.
— After Hurricane Katrina, the nation was forced to confront images of its underprivileged and oppressed, suffering through inhumane conditions in the formerly exalted Louisiana Superdome, palace of the athletic world and playground of millionaire pro football players. This ironic juxtaposition of America’s poor against the backdrop of luxury mournfully highlighted the country’s warped sense of priorities in regard to where it spends its money and why.
I’m disappointed with myself for not rising to the occasion on these incidents, or for neglecting my previous pledge in general. So I feel that I should act on the latest relevant item to cross my radar; if I don’t address it now, it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle as my favorite team, the Chicago White Sox, embark upon what is sure to be (for me) a time-consuming and stress-inducing American League Championship Series.
The item in question has to do with Derek Jeter, superstar shortstop for the New York Yankees. While I am downright pleased that the Yanks were just ousted from the playoffs, I am less so about a recent report that revealed their captain, Jeter, had received a letter threatening his life. Judged by the FBI to be part of a wave of hate mail sent to prominent African American men, the letter informed him that if he didn’t stop dating white women, he would be “shot or set on fire.” It further labeled him a “traitor to his race” for his prior such relationships (an idiotic insult, I should point out, since he is actually biracial).
I think it’s tragic that the echoes of the lynching of Emmitt Till still ring out so clearly after fifty years, but I suppose a mindset so deeply entrenched in American history, no matter how despicable, doesn’t merely disappear with time. One might hope for our society nowadays to be so enlightened as to accept romance between partners of different backgrounds, but no, we have to start talking about killing people instead.
Apparently unfazed by such talk, however, Jeter shrugged off the nasty words directed his way, and said simply, “It was just a stupid letter. I’ve gotten stupid letters before.”
So if he doesn’t feel like making a big deal about it, then maybe I shouldn’t either. But I will – because my parents are of different races, and I’d be fuming if anyone tried to use that as a reason to keep them apart. In fact, that’s why I was finally compelled to get my act together, follow through on what I proposed back in August, and write this piece.
What this would seem to prove – unfortunately – is that in the end, most of us mainly care about those issues relevant to our own experience. Perhaps I passed up on commenting on those previous incidents because they just didn’t hit home strongly enough for me. And perhaps the influence of race issues in sports gets ignored because so many of the people who are doing the ignoring can afford to do so.
I don’t have any solutions for this problem, so I’ll have to think about it for awhile. This time, though, I’m going to skip making promises for the future. I’m going to focus on the present instead: there’s a White Sox game starting now, and frankly, I don’t think I can afford to ignore it.
Previously by Alec MacDonald