WANTED: Public Enemy, Barry "Black Power" Bonds*
I have a growing confidence that the recent controversy regarding the alleged use of steroids and performance enhancing substances is leading us into a discussion on race relations that could be constructive and destructive depending upon how it is handled. With San Francisco Giants’ superstar Barry Bonds knocking at the doorstep of baseball legends Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, I envision a scenario in 2005, where the discussion over the “legitimacy” of Mr. Bonds’ accomplishments, in a climate heavily influenced by the 24-hour opinion-first news media cycle, will bring us back to a place not that dissimilar to where we were in 1995, consumed and riveted by a controversy surrounding another great Black male athlete based in California, O.J. Simpson.
For the past several days I have paid especially close attention to how the news media has handled the issue of supposedly secret or sealed federal grand jury testimony, and the reported leak of that testimony, specifically that given by New York Yankees star Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds. I have watched, read and listened as the subject has grown from the mystery of Mr. Giambi’s diminishing physique, health and performance to an emotional debate over Barry Bonds’ alleged relationship to steroids and human growth hormones and why asteriks should be placed next to his name in baseball's record books. The transition in the media’s attention from Giambi to Bonds alone, is worthy of study; but the intensity in the views of many White males that I have read or listened to regarding Barry Bonds is even more interesting to me.
There is absolutely something about Barry Bonds, his personality and career, that seems to provoke some White Americans in very powerful ways. My view, at present, partly because of the decrease in the popularity of baseball among Black Americans (perhaps due to marketing), is that many Blacks, for a variety of reasons do not hold intense views regarding the baseball star, one way or another, although most indicate respect for his athletic ability, and name recognition when asked about him.
I am convinced that will change, as more and more Blacks watch the intense reaction to Bonds in various media and among White sports fans. The unique attention and focus on the Black slugger over the next year will develop and harden the opinion of Blacks, regarding his significance. The lens of course will be cultural in nature and will be heavily influenced by the history of race relations in America.
Here are some of the salient points of what has struck me over the last few days and some of what I believe many Blacks will be thinking about as they watch White people talk about Barry Bonds over the next few days and weeks; and then, again, as they actually watch the power of his athletic performance next year as he nears the home run records of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
- What follows was written beginning on December 4th 2004.
The Performance Double Standard (And Asteriks *). On Thursday, December 2nd, 2004 while listening 660 WFAN-AM’s “Mike and The Mad Dog” program I heard a special guest (whose name escapes me) who has performed a considerable amount of research – from a multi-disiplinarian approach – in the area of determining and comparing the length of home runs hit by baseball greats, incluing such notables as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. He stated that his research, which spanned the length of the careers of the players, showed a dramatic spike in the length of the furthest homeruns hit by the athletes who are currently at the center of the steroids-performance enhancing drug controversy.
This gentleman remarked that Barry Bonds' statistics were glaring in this regard. And he also stressed that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s figures were notable, and that he was surprised by the lack of media coverage regarding Mr. McGwire’s spike. This point held my attention. And I listened carefully as he went through Mark McGwire’s statistics and was questioned with persistence, regarding them, by co-host “Mad Dog” Chris Russo. To the best of my recollection, the guest said that his research showed that from 1987 to 1995 Mark McGwire’s furthest homerun never traveled more than 450 feet, and then suddenly, from 1995 to 1999 the St. Louis Cardinals slugger increased and consistently maintained the distance of his best home runs by 100 feet, up to 550 feet from the point of contact between the baseball bat and ball.
To be sure, the baseball media did hound Mark McGwire for a period of years about persistent rumors that he was using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. And this included the controversial revelation and admission that the first baseman was using androstenedione, a substance now banned by Major League Baseball. But what is striking to me is that this data showing this dramatic spike in the length of Mark McGwire’s best home runs was available for years, yet there was no consensus among talk show hosts, reporters and columnists - as is the case with Barry Bonds now – that the slugger’s increase in size and homerun production and power was probably the result of banned or illegal substances or techniques. Why? And why, now, that research like this is available and public, haven’t Mark McGwire’s accomplishments, their legitimacy and proper place in baseball history produced more vocal and published scrutiny over the last week?
If “before” and “after” photographs of physiques; striking increases in homerun lengths and frequencies; and rumors and admissions of performance enhancing substance use is the criteria or standard then the “fair and balanced” individual should be as interested in Mark McGwire as they appear to be in Barry Bonds. This should especially be the case if one's concern is the integrity of the game and an accurate historical record.
Then, there is the nature of Major League Baseball's posture toward Barry Bonds' expected breaking of the all-time home run record when compared to their posture concerning Mark McGwire's smashing of the single-season home run record 6 years ago.
It was reported last week that the league has decided to postpone or shelve a massive marketing campaign around Barry Bonds' approach to Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Even though there were admissions of steroid use by basball players, rumors, and suspicions around the spike in home run hitting among baseball players collectively and individually, the league did nothing to pour rain on its own parade as the hulking Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa neared the single-season homerun records of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.
Is there a double standard on suspicion of illegal performance-enhancing drug use in baseball?
The December 6, 2004 edition of The New York Times framed the analogy in how the problem has been handled this way:
And although Commissioner Bud Selig has said this year that he wants a stringent steroids testing program, he has ignored past drug problems.
In 1998, when Mark McGwire was on his way to breaking the home run record, he was found to be using a steroidlike supplement called androstenedione. Not much was known about the supplement at the time, but there were questions about it.
However, the race between McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived interest in baseball that had faded with the 1994-95 strike, and Selig did not want to undermine that recovery. Baseball took its time investigating andro, which the government has since banned.
Lastly there is the issue of how the breadth and depth of a stance on morality and fairness plays into the discussion regarding whether or not the performance of a particular athlete should be acknowledged as legitimate. Shouldn’t the standard of morality be applied beyond the personal responsibility of a particular baseball player? Can't the institution of baseball and the society in which it operates come under moral scrutiny as it relates to ranking the acomplishments of athletes?
If an asterik is to be placed aside Barry Bonds’ accomplishments because of personal irresponsibility, what about those accomplishments achieved in an institutional environment of irresponsibility and discrimination?
Consider this point from an article, “Steroids Inquisition” published by The Revolutionary Worker on March 28, 2004:
The sports pages have been full of talk about how this scandal has tainted the "purity" of sports and cast a shadow over baseball in particular. The sports pages are full of mean-spirited rants about how this record or that record needs to have a asterisk next to it and so on.
As ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock wrote:
"Quit looking for virtue in American sports. It's not there. It left when the dollars arrived."
"Isn't it about fair play, and being `clean,' and the `purity' of the game?" columnist Ralph Wiley asks in a recent ESPN column on the scandal. "Ruth's records are tainted. Aaron's records are tainted," Wiley writes, answering his question. He continues, "They were each amassed by human beings performing in imperfect human systems. So of course they're tainted. But I do not blame Babe Ruth, hold it against him, that his records were amassed in a league that prohibited the participation of much of the skilled labor force, the black and the brown, the Latin American or the Asian, the African- Americans from the same land of origin."
There may be something enormously hypocritical, inconsistent, arrogant and biased in the arguments of self-styled baseball purists who are vocal on the need for asteriks for records set in an era of steroid use; but who are silent on those achievements obtained when whole segments of the American population were prohibited from participating in the sport itself.
Perhaps this dynamic is not that dissimilar to the irritation displayed by some White Americans who think it is inappropriate, irrelevant, or counter productive for Blacks to mention that along with creating magnificent documents in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, some of the Founding Fathers held slaves and viewed Blacks as sub-human.
One can certainly praise the accomplishments of the founding fathers and Babe Ruth. But the fact that Blacks were intentionally left out of the room while the accomplishments were performed should merit an 'asterik' by historical purists, at least.
“Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right”. In response to the 'basketbrawl' in Detroit and the revelations regarding secret and sealed grand jury testimony surrounding allegations and investigations of performance-enhancing substance abuse, many commentators, particularly in the sports and conservative talk market categories have countered efforts to raise the issue of a double-standard in critiquing the behavior of White and Black athletes with the argument that two wrongs don’t make a right - in other words, if a White athlete is not chastised or criticized for improper behavior similar to that of Black athletes, it does not mean the Black athlete’s offense should be excused.
This is probabaly true in most contexts, but this supposed rebuttal skirts the heart of the point of those who propose that a double-standard exists. There is no consistently applied just standard by which the behavior of all said athletes is judged and punished - whether under the auspices of the various sports associations, the criminal justice system, sports journalists, and public opinion. And as a result, the value systems, preferences and biases of opinion leaders in the mainstream and niche media are a dominant factor in the determination of the 'guilt' or 'innocence' of an alleged violator. The athletes are being tried - with the media as prosecuting attorney - in the court of public opinion, more than in a court of law.
If these opinion leaders are majority or overwhelmingly White; then the cultural lens – the background and value system - of these people colors the analysis and balance in how White and non-White athletes are judged. The same would be true if the media elite – liberal and conservative - was dominated by Blacks. This is the case obviously, of course, with the Black talk-radio market.
The problem in how relative standards influence public opinion is that the power centers influencing the decision-making in professional sports – including the consumer market - are more influenced by White-dominated and managed media institutions; the sports reporting profession; and the similarly dominated sports talk and conservative radio niche; than they are by Black talk-radio, or Latino etc...
To deny that there are significant general differences in how Black people and White people in America view reality, current events and the news is to be intellectually dishonest. If there were no such differences then how and why would these same sports talk and conservative commentators consistently speak of such topics as “the cultural upbringing of Black athletes”; “the Black and White reactions to the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial”; “the Black vote”; and “race as a factor in the hiring of coaching candidates”, for example? Even the popular conservative-liberal construct is exposed as fallacious when the factor of Black and White cultural perception is thoroughly considered.
To aim for a race-neutral society may be seen as admirable to most people, but a selectively applied race-neutral analysis in a profession dominated by one race, is a constructed illusion that usually aggravates racial problems. There may be no scenario that illustrates this problem more clearly than the reality of professional sports increasingly populated and dominated by Black male athletes being analyzed by a media profession dominated by White males.
We shall see if this scenario aggravates racial tensions when Barry Bonds plays next season and nears Babe Ruth’s home run numbers, in particular. My expectation is that Black and White sports fans as well as casusal observers will have generally different reactions.
The mainstream media, sports and conservative talk radio outlets would do this country a service if they would more honestly consider how their racial and ethnic composition and disingenuous (and inadequate) attempts at race-neutral analysis of sports controversies is influenced by their cultural and personal attitudes, and belief systems. Perhaps they should apply the same analytical model of family rearing and cultural upbringing that they use to explain the wayward behavior of some Black athletes (namely the Black basketball player) to themselves and how they form their own opinions and make judgements.
At the same time, Black commentators given a platform by White media outlets, institutions and opinion leaders should speak more honestly and comprehensively about the nuances and elements of Black culture. The hard truths about the Black experience in America should not be sold out for superficial compatability with partisan interests or political ideology (namely, progressive and conservative), or even for the superficial and fleeting celebration of the camraderie that sports can produce between races.
A little introspection by a minority of American professionals operating in and through the media may go a long way in fostering a more honest and productive dialogue on race relations in America, in 2005 and beyond.
Consider the above in light of this which follows, about Barry Bonds and the factor of race from Richard E. Lapchick, a civil rights activist and the Chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida:
I was a guest lecturer in a class on the African-American athlete at a Big Ten university last week. Of the 32 students, half were white and half were African-American. We discussed the possibility that race factors in to the public's response to Bonds. When I asked how many of the students think race is a factor, all of the African-Americans and two white students raised their hands. When I asked who didn't think it is a factor, all the remaining whites raised their hands.
Two wrongs may not make a right but they do not occur in a vacuum, and actually may reveal larger, more significant inadequacies and realities.
COINTELPRO and The Black Athlete. My eyebrows were raised when I heard President Bush take the opportunity to use his State of the Union address to speak on the issue of steroid use in professional sports. Here is that portion of the President’s remarks, delivered January 20, 2004:
To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in baseball, football, and other sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.
This announcement was followed in February by a nationally televised two-hour press conference held by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to announce the BALCO indictments of Victor Conte, president of BALCO Labs, BALCO vice president James Valente, track coach Remi Korchemny and Greg Anderson, Barry Bonds' personal trainer. "Illegal steroid use calls into question not only the integrity of the athletes who use them but also the integrity of the sports those athletes play. Steroids are bad for sports, bad for players, bad for the young people who hold athletes up as role models," the attorney general said.
Referencing President Bush's anti-steroid message in the State of the Union speech Mr. Ashcfroft pledged to prosecute steroid makers and distributors. "This is not just a call to action. It is a call to the values that make our nation and it's people strong and free, Nothing does more to diminish our potential as individuals and a nation than drug abuse", he emphasised.
Certainly on the surface this presentation is impressive and contains many truths that should concern individuals, families and the larger society and nation. But do effectiveness and real results accompany the rhetoric, and is the government being thorough about getting to the heart of how steroids might, in deed, be negatively affecting the American people? And, is the focus on athletic steroid abuse disproportionate?
A concern for how steroid use by 'role models' negatively affects young people is legitimate. But what about how other drugs are used in professional sports and how steroids affect the health of young people, in ways that receive no attention in State of The Union addresses or in Justice Department press conferences? Consider all of this from “Steroid Inquistion” [boldface emphasis is mine]:
People who are confused about the nature of the government's current crusade against steroid use in sports should look at the government's war on drugs over the last two decades. Drug abuse is a real problem in this society. But ask yourself: did the government's war on drugs do anything to really solve the problem of drug use in this country?
… public health experts who oppose the use of steroids have a hard time justifying the emphasis being given to these drugs. "As a matter of public health policy, it is very hard to defend that prominence,'' according to Professor Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley. MacCoun said that while steroid use was "not a trivial problem, it's just very hard to put it on the same scale as some of the other health problems we deal with, including alcohol, tobacco, HIV and obesity. It's pretty far down the list."
And anybody that watches professional sports knows that the health of the athletes is not that important to the owners or the media. "There is a win-at-all-costs culture that says unless you do spectacular things on the field or on the court, you're nothing special,'' said Raiders running back Tyrone Wheatley. "Is it OK that athletes are shot up with drugs to keep them playing with broken bones and torn ligaments but not OK when they take supplements to keep them on the field?"
If the government is really concerned about the health hazards of steroids, why doesn't it do something about the steroids that are fed to 80% of the cattle in the United States? Steroids in the U.S. food supply have been linked to cancer, especially breast cancer, and other health problems. Steroids carried into the water supply from cattle manure have caused fish downstream to develop with both male and female sex organs. Although steroid use in cattle has been banned in Europe, its use continues in this country. Why? Because it is a tremendous source of extra profits for the beef industry.
So, if there is a reasonable basis for questioning the stated motivation behind the President and Justice Department’s focus on steroids in professional sports, what are other possible motivations? The list in my mind is a long one, including such factors as election-year posturing and efforts to appeal to voters on the basis of issues that are both high-profile (national and sports media coverage) and can hit close to home (high school athletics). In some respects, by raising the issue of steroid use to the level of presidential concern, Karl Rove and President Bush may have been borrowing from the political playbook of Dick Morris and President Clinton who played what became known as "littleball" by successfully campaigning on issues that normally concerned local communities.
Another reason that arose in my mind is the possibility that the U.S. Department of Justice was on the point executing an agenda that pre-dates this administration. Although it is not likely that anyone leading opinion in the mainstream, sports and conservative media will raise the historical context; there is a peculiar relationship that has existed between the Black professional sports athlete and the United States Justice Department.
In the 1960s and 70s it is a fact that the most popular Black sports figures were kept under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) out of concern that their celebrity might further causes, ideologies, organizations and institutions that the United States government disapproved of, or considered to be “un-American”. The personal histories of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul Jabaar, as well as that of others are a rich underattended area of research on this subject.
While few may now consider Barry Bonds a 'conscious' or 'political' sports figure, a closer aquaintance with his past statements, business posture and philanthropic activities may paint a different picture. Some have pointed to Barry Bonds' personal relationships as evidence that he is not concerned with Black people, but a review of some of Bonds' behavior does not support that.
It has been reported for years that Barry Bonds has been a grateful supporter of Black athletes who sufferred from racial discrimination in baseball. And he is widely acknowledged by old-time Black baseball players as one who is well-steeped in the history of the evolution of their struggle. He has publicly expressed his gratitude and appreciation for their sacrifice. This could be seen in a September 19, 2004 release from the Negro League Baseball Players Association (NLBPA) wherein Barry Bonds states the following after hitting his 700th homerun:
"Hank [Aaron] will be the greatest home-run hitter, that's for sure. Hank is always going to be our mentor, just like Jackie Robinson and the black athletes before us who went through the Negro League and couldn't participate in the major leagues at that time. They're the steppingstone to why the rest of us are here now. They'll always be our leaders, regardless of what we do. They're the ones who opened the doors for us. To me, they'll always be No. 1."
[Interestingly, Negro League great, 93-year old, Buck O'Neil says Barry Bonds is a better baseball player than Babe Ruth. He played against Ruth and has watched Barry Bonds' career.]
And then, there is this comment from Barry Bonds reportedly made at the 2003 Major League Baseball All-Star Game news conference:
"You've got a Negro Leagues museum over here in Kansas City, and you have a Hall of Fame over here (in Cooperstown, N.Y.), and yet you tell me there's no segregation in baseball? Why isn't there one institution? We, as future black Hall of Famers, or future minorities - even Hispanics - should recognize the Negro Leagues museum, because we are an extension of that museum.
"We could put stuff in the regular Hall of Fame, too, but we are an extension of that (Kansas City) museum. So, if you want to see Barry Bonds, go to that museum."
Read this article from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to see how one White writer, Drew Olson, reacts to Bonds' comments.
In addition, Barry Bonds has been concerned with what he feels is the exploitation of baseball players by Major League Baseball in merchandising agreements. Mr. Bonds, unlike most other players who defer to the Major League Players Association on marketing matters pertaining to their likeness and image, owns his own image. Major League Baseball has to negotiate with him in order to include him in certain marketing efforts.
For years, it has been reported by sports beat writers in various baseball cities that Barry Bonds has made comments that they have described as racially inflammatory, racist or anti-White in nature. And according to The San Francisco Chronicle, in reports that it says leak federal grand jury testimony:
Bonds told the grand jurors that he had given Anderson a $20,000 bonus and bought him a ring after the 73-home run season. He also bought the trainer a ring to commemorate the Giants' 2002 World Series appearance. When a juror asked why the wealthy ballplayer hadn't bought "a mansion" for his trainer to live in, Bonds answered, "One, I'm black, and I'm keeping my money. And there's not too many rich black people in this world. There's more wealthy Asian people and Caucasian and white. And I ain't giving my money up."
Of all of the media’s attention on the controversy there has only been one article published, which I have seen, that mentions Barry Bonds’ interesting reaction to questions regarding the media speculation about rumors regarding his steroid use. Here is what was reported in The Houston Chronicle on March 6, 2004 in an article called, “Race Creeps Into Bonds Flap”:
On the day reports surfaced that steroids had been shipped to him, he blew off reporters at the Giants' spring training headquarters.
As he walked away, he pronounced himself, "most wanted man in America." Then he raised a fist and said, "Black power."
In light of the peculiar leaks of secret and sealed federal grand jury testimony Mr. Bonds’ attorney, Mr. Michael Rains, also has framed the issue in macro terms reportedly saying, "My view has always been this case has been the U.S. vs. Bonds, and I think the government has moved in certain ways in a concerted effort to indict my client. And I think their failure to indict him has resulted in their attempts to smear him publicly."
To think that an indictment of Barry Bonds on criminal charges would not be viewed as a feather in the hat of some ambitious politician, perhaps a district attorney, attorney general or even a President is naive in my opinion, but probably a bit easier for the general public to conceive of and accept, than, say the possibility that an arrest, conviction and public smearing of Barry Bonds is the aim of some within the United States Government. But is such difficulty due to actual facts or is it because, generally speaking the American people are ignorant of the details of the files the Justice Department has kept on athletes and entertainers and what their government did to Black opinion leaders under the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI? There was a specific targeting of professional Black athletes, for political purposes.
A good contextual reference point for plumbing the depths of this area would be to look at the controversy surrounding the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the protest of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Read Statue To Honor 'Black-Power' Salute”from World Net Daily and ”How Black Power Took Center Stage At The 1968 Olympics” from Socialist Worker.
I believe there is more than meets the eye to Barry Bonds’s “Black Power” salute than the masses of Black and White people are aware of.
Finally, one has to consider the unprecedented nature of the United States government's interest in steroid use in baseball. The BALCO lab was frequented by profesional athletes in a variety of sports - track and field, baseball and football, yet, it is baseball that has received the majority of the government's interest.
Anecdotally, most sports insiders will confidently tell you that steroid, and growth hormone use is much more rampant in pro football than any other sport. But, as of yet, we haven't seen any similar invstigations and grand jury activity around NFL superstars.
So, there is a basis for asking is there more involved than the publicly stated agenda of the United States government when one considers that in addition to President Bush raising the issue of steroid abuse in sports during his State of The Union Address and Attorney General John Ashcroft announcing indictments in the BALCO case; last March Senator John McCain threatened legislation if the Major League Baseball Players Union and Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig couldn't agree on an aceptable steroids testing policy, and less than a month later, after this warning, federal agents seized urine specimens from last season's drug tests administered by Major League Baseball.
Here is how The New York Times described the government's actions and their implications:
...less than a month after McCain's warning, federal agents seized the remaining specimens from last season's drug tests, and the aftershock is still being felt.
The commissioner's office, of course, cannot exert influence with a United States attorney, but officials are sympathetic to the players' plight.
Lawyers for the players association have been fighting in court for the return of the results. No one will discuss the case because the proceedings are under seal.
The union presumably asked that the proceedings be sealed to avoid having the test results made public. Players were tested for the first time last year, and the testing was done anonymously. But players were assigned numbers, which were placed on the testing materials, and anyone who had both lists could identify the players.
Federal agents, executing search warrants, seized the coded list from Comprehensive Drug Testing of Long Beach, Calif., then took specimens from a Quest Diagnostics lab in Las Vegas.
Besides compromising the confidential nature of the tests, the government put the players in the position of acting as an investigative arm of the United States attorney's office.
According to media reports, it was results from these tests that federal agents used to persuade baseball players to provide testimony to a grand jury. The government promised that the testimony was to be secret and sealed, out of the reach of the media and the public.
Racial Reciprocity. Finally, I have dealt in some length with the concept of racial reciprocity in earlier writings at BlackElectorate.com, both of which related to Barry Bonds. One such writing was called, "Where's The Love?" and the other was Barry Bonds, Allen Iverson, and "Racial" Reciprocity. With the help of one of our viewers, who is a White male, we were able to isolate a factor that exists in the relationship between Blacks and Whites in a macro sense, and which Barry Bonds’ relationship with the media might be a microcosym. Here is how that viewer, Art P., described this important factor, back in 2001:
Is there a racial element to the coverage of Barry Bonds' run at the single season record? I do think that some of us white folk expect (or at least hope for) some kind of reciprocation when we reach out to someone of another race, although it's probably not consciously recognized as such. If reporters are to commend Barry Bonds on his skill and achievements (and judging from an article I read about an interview he gave in the presence of his young daughter, he is a man of fundamental achievements), they tend to expect kindness and generosity in return. Maybe it's the continuation of the Hank Aaron experience, or even the Eleanor Roosevelt stereotype of liberal kindness, where the privileged expect to be appreciated when reaching out to those whom they deem to be underprivileged (I've heard that Louis Armstrong had some interesting things to say about Mrs. Roosevelt, contrary to the sanitized autobiography "Satchmo" that I read as a child). Perhaps Barry Bonds could do humanity a great service by gently raising the "reciprocation" point with a group of reporters, although I'm not sure that's his style.
Art P.’s point on reciprocity is complimented by more from ESPN sports ethics analyst Richard Lapchick who wrote in a special article for Page 2 called, “Race Hasn’t Left The BallPark”
When I am interviewed, I am repeatedly asked why the public doesn't embrace Bonds. Why didn't they love him in 2001 when he broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record like they loved McGwire when he broke Roger Maris' record? Why don't they love him now as he becomes the third-greatest home-run hitter in history?
I sense that writers expect me to comment on Bonds' lack of cooperation with the media, which, in turn, keeps the fans from knowing who he is. No doubt, many writers resent Bonds, and that contributes to an under-appreciation of him. To many, he seems arrogant and aloof. Lately, writers ask for comments on the BALCO case and its implications, which reinforce years of rumors that Bonds' records are built on chemicals. Steroid use would make it easier to dismiss what he has done.
Somehow, we want to avoid what may be a real factor regarding the public's unwillingness to accept Bonds. He is a powerful black man who plays by his own rules, not the rules of baseball decorum or white social norms. He does not often share his smile with fans; instead, he is as likely to scowl or glare at those who approach him. To many whites, that fits a stereotype of African-American men as menacing or threatening.
In contrast, Michael Jordan smiled constantly and interacted with the public when he was an active athlete, and he was embraced for it. Fans bought his gear and put his poster on their children's walls. He wasn't threatening, and instead seemed lovable. Other African-Americans athletes noted that and adjusted their off-the-court demeanor accordingly.
Barry Bonds never did.
As a civil rights activist and a student of race relations for four decades, I have no doubt that there are white fans who will never embrace Bonds simply because he is strong, unconventional by white standards, and black. Studies on race consistently show that we all hold stereotypes about other racial groups. More than half of white people think African-Americans are more prone to violence, more likely to use drugs, less inclined to work hard and less intelligent than whites.
A Gallup poll released last week shows how wide the gap between African-Americans and whites really is. While only five percent of African-Americans and 12 percent of whites believe that race relations in America are very good, twice as many whites as African-Americans (76 percent to 38 percent) think African-Americans are treated fairly. Five times as many whites as African-Americans think African-Americans have equal job opportunities.
So why do I believe that race is a factor in our non-celebration of Barry Bonds? A look at Henry Aaron's run at Babe Ruth's career home-run record 30 years ago -- which was marred by death threats and a barrage of hate mail -- shows how deep the scars are. (Racial patterns do persist across history. Sixty-three percent in the aforementioned Gallup poll said race relations "will always be a problem.")
The negative reaction to Aaron convinced him that America didn't want the record to be held by a black man.
Aaron was not aloof. He talked to fans and the media, and wasn't perceived in the same way as Bonds is today. He was simply a black man about to smash a great white icon's record. But in his shining moment, he lived in fear of bigotry.
Arthur Ashe was a black man who became a great champion playing tennis, a white man's game. As Aaron did, Ashe interacted with fans and the media, and he became a success on the court and in business. Infected with HIV contracted from a blood transfusion during surgery, Ashe wrote that living as a black person in America was harder than dying of AIDS. That is quite a statement about race in America.
During the dramatic 1998 baseball season, McGwire and Sammy Sosa exemplified how sport can bring people together across America's racial divide. As the two men chased Maris's single-season home run record, many fans came to adore Sosa's gestures and accepting smile. In fact, Sosa seemed to interact with fans more than McGwire did. Yet there is little doubt that the media -- and even Major League Baseball -- paid more attention to McGwire than to Sosa.
Mr. Lapchick here is making an important point relative to Sammy Sosa. I also feel that it was Sammy Sosa’s bubbly personality, his demonstrated desire to “reciprocate” with the media, his embrace and cater to the fans, and his deferential attitude toward Mark McGwire – which he demonstrated in press conferences, interviews and joint appearances – that endeared him to the media. In that sense Sammy Sosa, bulging muscles, dramatic increase in homeruns and all, was “acceptable” to the media, and not a desireable target for a steroids inquisition, so to speak. Another factor is that although Sammy Sosa is one of hundreds of millions of Black or Brown-skinned people from Central and South America, he and others are always exclusively identified as “Latin” or foreign ballplayers in the American media. The mainstream media and sports journalists operate behind the curve on issues of identity and race in the Western Hemisphere. One day the unity and point of intersection of “Black” and “Latin” will be made very clear. There is much that Blacks and Latinos have to learn and accept about their shared history in the Western Hemisphere.
But it is the perceived dynamic of the process by which Black public figures obtain acceptance and embrace from the White media establishment and other power centers that is an area of heated discussion within the Black community.
It is this subject that finds Blacks and Whites and Blacks and Blacks in inter and intra racial discussion with such differing views about such Blacks as Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, Kobe Bryant, Harold Ford, Jr., Allen Iverson, Sister Souljah and Charles Barkley. It is also why Nas’ new song, These Are Our Heroes (“The Coon Picnic”) is so controversial. Think over what he is saying about the "acceptable Negro".
Mr. Lapchick continues:
I know many African-American and Latino athletes who are sure that McGwire was favored because he is white, and the record could be kept in the family.
In a racial context, history has not portrayed big, powerful, surly, white men as menacing or threatening. Instead, that stereotype has been reserved for African-American men.
After McGwire admitted to using androstenedione, a precursor to steroids, there was little talk about putting an asterisk next to his single-season home run record. Although Bonds denies that he uses steroids, numerous reporters and fans talk about an asterisk next to Bonds' 73 home runs in 2001. Do they hope to elevate McGwire's record back to the top?
I am sure many fans and many in the media are turned off by the fact that they don't have a personal relationship with Bonds. They see him as distant and haughty. I am sure they are concerned that his achievements might not be totally legitimate because of the steroid rumors. But I am equally confident that an important part of the reaction of at least some white media and fans is related to the fact that Bonds is powerful, independent and black.
2005 is going to be quite a year for race relations, and I think the subject of Barry Bonds will have much to do with it.
Maybe this controversy - if and when Barry Bonds passes Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron - will all boil down to what The Houston Chronicle described earlier this Spring:
On the day reports surfaced that steroids had been shipped to him, he [Barry Bonds] blew off reporters at the Giants' spring training headquarters.
As he walked away, he pronounced himself, "most wanted man in America." Then he raised a fist and said, "Black power."
Due to the importance of this subject matter, BlackElectorate.com is featuring this Deeper Look from Monday, December 13th to Friday, December 17th and strongly encouraging its viewers to make comments and offer feedback in the BEC Dialogue Room
Monday, December 13, 2004