Mike Downey: Racist taunt against Adam Jones shows America still has a long way to go
But the good news is that reaction was swift, he writes
Editor’s Note: Mike Downey is a former Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune columnist and a frequent contributor to CNN. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Still? STILL? A baseball player being subjected to racial taunts? A full 70 years after Jackie Robinson endured this kind of despicable behavior while smashing through the sport’s white ceiling, it’s hard to believe, but here we are again.
Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles was literally minding his business, manning a position in the outfield Monday night against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, when the N-word came flying at him. Jones heard it, tolerated it best he knew how, then talked about it candidly after the game.
It was a sad moment. Maddening.
Reaction was swift. Red Sox executives personally apologized to the player, a welcome guest in their place of business. Baseball’s commissioner made his displeasure abundantly clear. The governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts called it an “unacceptable and shameful” act on the heckler’s part. A day later, Fenway’s fans gave Jones a standing ovation when he stepped up to bat.
He tipped his cap. He appreciated it. But it is exasperating that we are still seeing headlines about such incidents – racist and ugly – in sports and in nearly every other realm of American life. Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut on April 15, 1947, when our world was ostensibly a different place. Eighty-plus years after a formal emancipation proclamation, in 1947 America was still as black-and-white as it was red, white and blue.
But some American still did this publicly in a ballpark, in a year – no, a century – in which no ballplayer can take Robinson’s uniform number 42 because he was so respected; that numerical figure has been permanently retired.
Somebody else did it the next night, too. A different fan so offended a man in the stands with his use of a racial epithet, that he reported the offender to security. Again, the N-word – this time in reference, unbelievably, to the performance of a Kenyan woman who had just sung the national anthem.
The result: Red Sox games are now off-limits to the offender forever. “Banned in Boston” once alluded to literature or other culture held in disfavor; now it’s a person who is persona non grata, a man, a (so-called) “fan.”
Maybe there will never be a time on this Earth when we can get through a year without hearing some objectionable slur emerge from somebody’s foul mouth. Our nation is obsessed with pigmentation. The advances, the strides, the progress, most of us take pleasure in it, only to go numb from yet another senseless expression of bias. A game of baseball should provide a respite from all that, not a reminder.
In 2017, unlike in 1947, there is at least a palliative: punishment – ejection from the stadium and public scorn across the media and the internet. That helps. But we all know that Americans – all of us – need to do better, need to make this stop for good.
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A week after Jackie Robinson’s first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he and his teammates heard the opposition’s manager from the Philadelphia Phillies spewing the hateful word and more from his team’s dugout. A professional athlete shouldn’t be exposed to such a thing, but, unhappily, there are still Americans out there who confuse “freedom of speech” with the freedom to say any repellent thing that they feel like saying. We want these people to be out of sight, out of earshot. Alas, not all are.
Like Jackie Robinson, Adam Jones can keep doing what he has been doing, recognize it, report it, let everybody know that it still exists and won’t be ignored – although heaven knows, he shouldn’t have to do any of this. He deserves an apology, and the good news is he got more than one. With any luck, any future standing ovations he receives will be for a home run or an outstanding catch in the outfield, not for this.
Baseball is still our national pastime. Frustration remains a close second.