by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Nine winters ago, Jesse Jackson, who was running for president, referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York as “Hymie Town.” This is an ethnic slur. He made it to a Washington Post reporter, but when the story broke, Jackson denied ever saying such a thing. A week later, he said he couldn’t remember saying it. A week later, he admitted saying it, but claimed it was in private conversation. Then he promised never to make such derogatory remarks again.

I have been trying for days to figure how this is different than what Marge Schott is accused of doing. I can’t. But Schott, too stubborn to apologize, now loses control of her Cincinnati Reds for a year, and antes up a
$25,000 fine. And the man clapping hands the loudest and calling for even more punishment is Jesse Jackson. This only shows that Jackson, like many of us, has a selective memory.

So, apparently, does baseball. Now, I do not like Marge Schott, never did; she has a history of cheap and insensitive behavior to anything besides her dogs. But anyone who thinks she owns the market on baseball bigotry needs better TV reception in his cave.

Hey, folks. This is a sport full of black and Hispanic superstars, yet it has no black or Hispanic owners, no black general managers, and only five minority managers, one of whom works for the Reds, Schott’s team. In this way, Schott is actually way ahead of 13 owners who have never had a minority in charge of their clubs, and, truth be told, never will. These men have, I promise you, made comments in private conversations that were no better than Schott’s poison tongue. Her mistake was taking her mouth public with a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled employee. And not apologizing quickly — or sincerely — enough.

Now she’s out. And baseball is congratulating itself on its newfound sensitivity. This, of course, is the same game that smiled while Ted Turner, who owns the Atlanta Braves, did the Tomahawk Chop night after night, on network TV, while dozens of American Indians protested just outside the stadium. This is the sport that allows Steve Howe, a seven-time failure at its drug policy, to take another try.

So I look at this decision by the executive council, claiming it is for
“the good of the game,” and I look at how many owners have long despised Schott and would be happy to see her gone, and I look at how many are afraid that a racial boycott, which Jackson had threatened, might cost them money, and I can’t help but wonder if this very self-righteous punishment — “There should be no question that the type of language commonly used by Mrs. Schott is offensive and unacceptable. There is simply no place for this in major league baseball,” said Bud Selig, chairman of the council — is not, at the very least, a tad hypocritical. It’s time for real change

Hey, wouldn’t it be better to change the hiring practices of this sport? If you really want to improve things, force Schott to institute a percentage of front office minority hires, same ratio of minorities she has hitting home runs and pitching shutouts for her team. This, at least, would lead to change.

Good idea? Forget it. The other owners don’t want anything that concrete, because sooner or later, they would have to comply as well. No, most of them will never be caught. They’ll make their ethnic slurs in private, the way most of us do. They are not as dumb as Schott, they figure. So make her suffer. Slice her up. Look stern in your admonishment. Then go back to the smoke-filled rooms and make sure the doors are locked. Remember Calvin Griffith, a chubby-faced, foot-in- the-mouth owner if there ever was one? Back in the ’70s, he made the comment that he moved his team, the Twins, from Washington, D.C., to Minnesota because there were “too many blacks” in D.C., and they didn’t pay to see baseball games. Had he said this today, I guess Griffith would be selling pencils on the street corner.

Instead, nothing happened. Like Jackson, Griffith was never punished. Never paid a fine, or lost control of his affairs. Times have changed. But bigotry has not. Especially not in private conversations.

It goes on.

It goes on and on. Private words, public costs

So, believe it or not, we have just witnessed a small but amazing moment in the history of this country built on free speech: Private conversations being held against you. The Schott decision may feel good, make you feel like some sort of justice was done. But we had better be very careful of making private comments a reason for public punishment. Our courts don’t have the room for it. And if you are really being fair about this — and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it, being fair? — then everyone, not just rich people, not just owners of sports teams, but everyone who has ever uttered a Polish joke, made a crack about “cheap Jews,” or done a mean imitation of the Chinese waiter, is in danger of saying bye-bye for a while.

Do you pass the test?

I have no problem saying what Marge Schott did was wrong. I’m just not sure it’s special. Was it a case of too much attention paid? Did she simply make it so obvious it couldn’t be ignored? After all, nobody minded Al Campanis’ obvious racism until he displayed it on ABC-TV.

Or is it simply that the other owners circled their wagons and made a call that was good for them, the hell with Schott? They talk about “the best interests of baseball,” but I ask myself how the sport can get so indignant about remarks made by a foolish owner, yet condone its poor minority hiring record, or sexual assault charges against its players, or the return of Howe, a seven-time loser? You mean that stuff is OK for baseball’s image?

Morality is not something used when it serves your purposes. If Schott’s dismissal truly makes people less racist, less bigoted, well, no one could be happier. But if all it does is get rid of an embarrassment, and allow everyone from Ted Turner to Jesse Jackson to live comfortably with their own hypocrisies, well, then, I don’t see how we accomplished a whole lot here. Sorry, but I really don’t.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!