It’s not a game: race, sports, and justice
A very peculiar thing happened last week, Willie Randolph went from bad manager, to bad guy in the eyes of the media. During the past couple of weeks, the Mets have continued to fall in the National League East, a division they were favored to win. Willie Randolph is cool, sometimes too cool, he sticks behind his players, he doesn’t throw water coolers, he gives you glimpses of his immense frustration with grown men who can’t seem to throw, catch or hit a small ball. But Randolph became the center of a media storm recently when he interviewed with the Bergen Record (yeah, I never heard of it either) and he commented on the way the Mets network SNY portrayed him. He felt that the network was portraying him unfairly and in many ways attempting to vilify him. The article says,
“Is it racial?” Randolph asked. “Huh? It smells a little bit.”
Asked directly if he believes black managers are held to different standards than their white counterparts, Randolph said: “I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but I think there’s something there. Herman Edwards did pretty well here and he won a couple of playoff [games], and they were pretty hard on Herm. Isiah [Thomas] didn’t do a great job, but they beat up Isiah pretty good. … I don’t know if people are used to a certain figurehead. There’s something weird about it.
“I think it’s very important … that I handle myself in a way that the [African-American managers] coming behind me will get the opportunities, too … .”
Those words, set off a firestorm in NY. No longer was the issue was Willie a poor manager, but it was Willie is playing the race card? (I’m glad that Matt Cerone had the courage to “question” the notion of the race card) Like most Black folks who realize their job hangs on a string, Randolph quickly apologized for his statement.Here I excerpt from the NYTimes’ coverage.
“I want to apologize to Met ownership and SNY and my team for the unnecessary distraction that I created, and I caused, the last couple days,” Randolph said. “I shouldn’t have said what I said. It was a mistake; there are no excuses for that.
“The fact of life is we have not been playing well as a team. When that happens you are going to get criticized for that. I take full responsibility for what I said out of frustration. I wanted to publicly apologize.”
He continued on
“I never said anything about anybody being a racist,” Randolph said. “What I said was kind of like what it felt like to me.”
Asked why he issued an apology, Randolph said, “I just felt like it was something I needed to do.” When asked if we was told to apologize, he said, “No.”
Randolph said he tried to contact the Mets’ owners Wednesday, but did not reach them.
This morning I visited Metsblog to see why my team keeps sliding further in the hole but I was quickly greeted with a post on Randolph’s meeting with the Mets front office. Now with a team that is below .500 you expect this meeting to be about “changes” on the field, they suggest the meeting is first about Randolph’s comments to the media.
We live in a society where the smallest mention of the role of race, can set off a firestorm. The idea that we live in a perfectly equal society should be laughable. A few years ago Gary Sheffield resurfaced the issue race and baseball, only to be met with heavy resistance. Willie knew that if he was going to actually keep his job, he would have to squelch a legitimate dialogue. While some folks argue the race card is the way that people weaken race relations, in reality, we all too seldom acknowledge the vulnerability that people of color face to discrimination. Saying something happened to you because of your race is sometimes more of a hazard to your well being than the original race-related offense. The culture of fear that Americans live in regarding racism has lead folks to truncate or all together eliminate dialogue about the consequences and meaning of race and racism (yes, they are different).
I’ll close with a recent anecdote from a close friend who is a successful African-American male. A week or so ago, my friend walked into a late night convenience store to get a snack. As he thumbed the snacks, he reached into his suit pocket and pulled out his wallet, as he realized they didn’t have his snacks, he put his wallet back into his pocket. As he began to walk out of the store an entering White customer in cut offs and a tee shirt said to him, “You gonna pay for that?” To which he looked back in bewilderment. My friend, with constitution said, “Excuse me, who are you?” To which the man responded, “A friend of the owner. Are you gonna pay for that or just take it?” At that moment my friend had a crossroads. He could either reach into his suit’s pocket and retrieve his wallet to demonstrate he had not taken any snacks or could ignore the man accusing him of theft.
Before completing the story, my friend asked me, “What would you have done?” I thought and offered a measured response, “I don’t think there is a ‘winning answer.’ It’s like the tipping dilemma. You go to a restaurant, a waiter or waitress treats you poorly because they think Black people don’t tip well. You in turn can either tip well for poor service and try challenge the stereotype or tip poorly given the service.” As we sat on the phone discussing options, I was reminded that no matter how much education (we both have PhDs), income (we have successfully broken into the middle class), or accolades we gather, we remain vulnerable to racism and sometimes paralyzed by it. No degree, clothing, or social analysis can fully protect us from the pollution of racism. People argue that racial bigotry is wrong, but have we reached the point where calling out the bigotry is even worse in public opinion than the bigotry?