As a black broadcaster, how would I react to a race-insensitive remark on air?
The news cycle has evolved and the three teams that advance to the Championship Series and an impending Game 5 between the Dodgers and Giants are expected to be the most important stories of the Major League Baseball playoffs. But over the past few days I’ve found myself balancing my passion and my profession, sorting through the emotions of a moment that has alienated a portion of the baseball public, including myself.
During Game 2 of the American League Division Series between the Astros and the White Sox, a live conversation between Jim Kaat and Buck Showalter entered some sobering territory. Trying to explain the exceptionally talented White Sox infielder Yoan Moncada, Showalter – my former manager with the Rangers – went from glowing adjectives to Moncada’s worth through the eyes of the evaluators. This area often leads us to objectification, which then leads us to ownership. And that’s where Kaat stepped in. So, in a cadence clearly meant to be complementary to Moncada, Showalter asked, “Can we have one?” to which Kaat replied, “Get a 40 acre field full of them.”
From the start of the conversation, I had a bad feeling, but I didn’t see the punch line coming. When it happened, I felt like it hit me in the face.
We could dive deep into the story here, but, put simply, “40 acres” is a reference to a promise made during Reconstruction to grant “40 acres and a mule” to the “negroes now liberated by acts of war. and the proclamation of the President of the United States. “
It was done while Abraham Lincoln was president and was reversed in a political cycle after Andrew Johnson took office. It’s a very specific, very historic issue that first brought hope – reparations for the ravages of war and slavery on blacks – but later, after a broken promise, unleashed the terror of Jim Crow America.
Faced with this reference during a baseball game, I found myself stuck on a break, wondering how one approached slavery reparations during the ALDS when discussing the worth of a Latin player. At least I hoped it was done without knowing it. For almost a week, I wondered if I should say anything – if the lessons from it are worth pursuing publicly, or if it’s just better to move on. . I responded to my internal debate by deciding that I should at least give it a try.
As a black baseball commentator, I have long experienced this dilemma. When you are a professional but also represent a minority, you are put in a difficult position. It’s not just about having to perform the autopsy of an awkward moment like this – and knowing that you will have to do it, in public or in private, because you can never guarantee that someone is others will speak on your behalf, given the risk involved. It is also because – as we so often do in everyday life – you have to consider “what if”.
When I’m on the air, these are the conversations I have with myself on a daily basis. On a show, as easily as I can tell a story about defending Jason Heyward, I could share a story about how he worked to help solve issues that disproportionately impact black people. But would that be considered a “race card” game? Be political? I have to weigh that, because people so often confuse racial broadcasters with politics, in an attempt to diminish sincerity.
Often times I find other ways to engage because I believe in what we can learn from the intersection of sports and social issues – an opportunity that can elevate a game to something that can help us come together. as people. It’s not that far-fetched, considering the game means more to us as fans than what the scoreboard communicates.
What if I covered this match, with Showalter and Kaat, as a field reporter or second analyst? What would I have done? What would I have said? It is an obligation strongly felt by the only black voice in any room, let alone during a baseball game, where you would expect to be talking baseball.
In my opinion, there are a few options in situations like this.
I could have answered indirectly. I could have hit the talk button and forwarded my issue to the producers offline, so it would go through the proper channels. From experience, I know that calling a game is difficult. You have to talk for more than three hours and your brain is stuffed with information. Data, analytics, interviews, inside information, whatever you want. And every once in a while it just comes out wrong, or you react with your mouth before your mind. You don’t have time to go through the nuance of what someone has said without risking the same kind of generalization error. Easier on balls and strikes, not so much on racial history.
Or I could have answered directly. I could have stepped in on live TV to express my dismay – even knowing how it could be taken. Would I blame an icon? Would I bring too much darkness and make too many people uncomfortable? After all, how do you deal with it being upset, without coming out a certain way?
I know I would have felt compelled to respond to what was said. Through my own experiences in the game and in the booth, I have a unique understanding of what a comment like this can do.
I came to baseball when it was much more acceptable to discuss a player like cattle. After all, players literally depreciate team assets. The scout side is more brash when it comes to a player’s body type or size, their arm, their leverage, all the physical attributes they project onto their potential for success. We are horses or bulldogs, stallions and studs.
These roundabout compliments can mask where they can take us – especially when addressed to people who truly belonged to our country, who are still working to be included every day. In the voting booth, in housing policy, in education, in governance.
My other option, by responding instantly on the air: I could have remained silent. I could have internalized it. There is a label to broadcasting. You have to think long and hard about whether you are going to contradict someone or call them up, on Twitter or live during a game. This doesn’t have to be due to insensitive content – it could be an error during a call or just an error in a player’s name. The default is you don’t. And if you do, you do it carefully, gently, out of respect for your colleague.
So I wonder. Would I have had the courage to leave the booth in the middle of the game? would I have been silent? Would my silence have helped the story die more than that of another presenter, as mine seems to excuse comments on behalf of all black people, an unfair burden that assumes we are monolithic?
In this case and in so many others, the intention behind the statement becomes irrelevant. Kaat apologized for his “bad word choice” four innings later, but by then it was too late – you don’t have to be malicious to negatively impact someone. At the end of the day, if the comment made the headlines, if it sparked controversy, whatever intended intent, it’s a black man in the middle. In this case, he’s the one calling games for a living, tackling assumptions and going through his many brushes with racism for context. Pressure is often put on Blacks to bury their feelings and continue, for the greater good of the game – until we wonder if we are even on the playing field.
But it’s part of who I am. I am an analyst of color who brings his experience and weaves it into this space. All analysts can bring our personal stories around identity. They can be universal and educational, but it can also be painful with this identity. We can eliminate slavery or we can recognize its vestiges and how it still plays a role in our systems. Last week again, Kansas City school circulated petition to bring back slavery, so I’m not talking about 1865.
When I was calling a Cubs game a few years ago, during a live shot, a Chicago fan made a symbol behind my head in front of the camera. It could have been the circle game; it could have been a sign of white supremacy. After an investigation by the Cubs, this led to an indefinite ban.
It was both, it was neither, but in the end, I was in the middle and I had to fix it. This ban doesn’t change the fact that I have to exploit my experiences with racism throughout my life, that I have to educate about speculation about what it meant even when I was not the one to think it, that I have to being accused of playing a racial card on a hand that I have never dealt, that I cannot receive the credit as a black man so that I can patiently weigh the information and understand only the racially connotated words, even unintentionally, require painful internal calculation, whether an indictment follows or not.
We all need to be better and more aware, more educated about history so as not to make bad analogies. Yet we also need to see how understanding is an evolutionary process and give people the bandwidth to grow, including ourselves. I would certainly like to benefit from the same courtesy.
But it’s also important to understand that our words don’t just sit in a vacuum. On air, the millions of viewers who pay attention to our every word make nuance and context difficult. This may be an additional burden on broadcasters, but it does not make it any less true. It also means that we have a responsibility to understand the true impact of our lyrics – and to realize that used loosely they can devastate not only the millions of diverse fans affected by what we say as commentators in every game. , but also someone in your industry who is 1,000 miles away from the game you are calling, who can be seen in the booth right next to you.
But understanding matters more.