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Debate Over Cubs Manager's Controversial Comments

Aired July 8, 2003 - 20:38   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: For the past couple of days, Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker has been catching heat for some comments he made about the heat. It happened before a typically hot and sunny day game at Wrigley Field. Baker said Black and Latin baseball players are better at handling the heat than Whites. Let's listen.

DUSTY BAKER, CHICAGO CUBS MANAGER: Personally, I like to play in the heat. You know, It's easier for me. I mean, it's easier for most Latin guys and most minority people because most of us come from heat. You know, you don't find too many brothers from New Hampshire and Maine and upper peninsula and Michigan, right? I mean, you know, we're brought over here for the heat. Right? I mean, ain't that -- isn't that history? Weren't we brought over here because we could take the heat?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was a long time ago, though.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might have become acclimated to a different climate.

BAKER: No, but your skin color is more conducive to heat than it is to the lighter skin colored people are to heat.


ZAHN: So was it reverse racism? Or an ill advised, unfortunate comment? Or, as Baker says, his take on historical fact?

I'm joined now by sports sociologist Harry Edwards. He joins us live from San Francisco tonight. I'm also joined by noted race relations expert Dr. Alvin Poussaint, he's live from Boston.

Thanks to both of you. Good to see both of you.

I'm going to start with you tonight, Mr. Edwards. First off, you no doubt know, there are people who think that Dusty Baker should be fired for what he's saying. They say, if a white manager had said the same thing, he'd be out of there by now. Your reaction to that?

HARRY EDWARDS, SPORTS SOCIOLOGIST: Well, first of all, I don't think it's correct to put a white manager on the street for making statements that are basically uninformed and lacking in scientific substance. I think what Dusty said was unfortunate. I know it was uninformed. He was speaking from his own personal experience, but a sample of one is a very poor basis for a generalization.

I know Dusty. He's neither a racist nor malicious. I think it's simply an issue of education, and I think this provides us an opportunity to do that.

ZAHN: So should he get a pass on this one, Harry?

EDWARDS: I don't think it's a pass. I think that he should be most certainly chastised for the uninformed nature of his statement, but I think the media in pushing this thing to the extent that it has also has a role in that. I don't think that Al Campanis should have gotten a pass. I don't think he should have been fired. I know, after my experiences of working with him, that he was neither a racist nor malicious in his statements.

So it's not an issue of a pass. It's an issue of educating people about the realities of race and ethnicity in the 21st century in this country.

ZAHN: Dr. Poussaint, do you think we have come to a point in today's society where it is somehow okay for someone to reference their own racial identity, but once you cross the line of having someone else on the other side make that kind of comment, you're in trouble?

DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT, RACE RELATIONS EXPERT: I think that's very much true. That's very true of comedians, for instance, who can make slurs about their own ethnic group but dare not make slurs about another ethnic group. This is very accepted in America with Jewish comedians, Black comedians, Italian comedians. I think yes, that you can get away with saying things about your own group that you wouldn't get away with if you talked about other people.

But let's clarify something. I don't think that dusty baker is entirely uninformed. I just think he mixes up some things. In the evolutionary sense, fair-skinned people could evolve say, in Scandinavia because they needed fair skin to absorb the sun rays to produce Vitamin A. They couldn't thrive if they lived in Africa, fair-skinned people because also the sun rays deplete a certain Vitamin B. Also, white people tend to get sunburned very, very quickly, fair people. And this produces skin cancer and melanoma. So ultimately, in the long run, if they brought them over here as slave and they were in the sun in the south all the time getting sunburned, working from dusk to dawn, they would have serious illnesses because of the cancer rate and also sun damaged skin.

So it's not entirely -- I think he mixes up some facts. But it also is true, when I was growing up in New York City, I think in school some of the teachers said -- and these weren't black teachers they were white teachers -- who said that Blacks were brought here as slaves because they could withstand the heat of the sun working in the fields.

So I think long term blacks are suited much more to be able to work in the sun without fear of skin cancer and so on although Blacks are not immune from skin cancer by any means. ZAHN: Sure. Now, Harry, are you offended by what Dr. Poussaint just had to say?

EDWARDS: No, I'm not offended by it, but, I think that again, it's that something that needs greater clarification. Eighty-seven percent of blacks in American society are an add mixture of Native American, European and African genetic stock.

POUSSAINT: That's very true.

EDWARDS: I know so many Blacks who are light skinned and who have to wear sun block and who get sunburned and everything else. So you can't just say Blacks. In point of fact, when I'm standing on the sidelines, when I've been at camp where the temperature was over 100, I put on sun block despite the darkness of my skin because I suffer as a consequence of the heat.

These things are out there. Don't tell anybody old Edwards told you so, but there were as many Whites, in many instances, working in the fields as there were Blacks. And they came up with a slur for them as well, they called them rednecks, but as George Wallace once said, their necks were red because they were out in the sun working in the field.

ZAHN: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, I just would just like to close with one question. And that is, what do you say to those folks who say there's a double standard here. Once again, you've heard it on talk radio a lot today that had this been a white manager who had used the same kind of comment, based, I know, where you say there is a bit of historical fact you're saying, they would have been fired.

POUSSAINT: Well, maybe. I don't know, possibly they could have been fired, I think that happened with Al Campanis and it happened with Jimmy "the Greek", the remarks they made. But I think that Dusty Baker, in fact, was in some way misinformed, but he was not using it in a malicious way. I think he was even suggesting that he was trying to protect white players from the heat by not having day games, which is a little bit comical.

So no. I don't think that Dusty Baker needs to be fired. I think he needs to be informed and I don't think he's displaying and hostility toward white people.

ZAHN: Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Mr. Harry Edwards, thank you for both of your perspectives this morning -- this evening. That was very interesting.

Now we should tell you that regardless of what people are saying, Dusty Baker is standing behind his comments. Let's give him the last word.


BAKER: Sounds to me, a lot of people don't know history to me. That's what it sounds like to me. They take it as reverse racism or take it as this and that then they can take it as any way the want to take. I stand by what I said.


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