Fake History Ethics, Baseball Division.

Yesterday was the anniversary of a famous day in baseball and American race relations history. From Nationalpastime.com:

May 13, 1947: During the pregame infield practice, a barrage of racial slurs is directed at Jackie Robinson by the Cincinnati fans during the Dodgers’ first visit to Crosley Field this season. Brooklyn shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a Southerner from Kentucky with friends attending the game and captain of the team, engages the black infielder in conversation, and then put his arm around his teammate’s shoulder, a gesture that stuns and silences the crowd.

This  episode in the well-known saga of Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball has taken on the status of legend. It is in the (excellent) biopic about Robinson, “42.” It was re-told in Ken Burns’ documentary “Baseball.” Most enduring of all, the moment is memorialized forever in the statue outside Dodger Stadium—well, forever until Robinson or Reese is cancelled because something unforgivable is unearthed in their past, whereupon UCLA students will pull the thing down as progressives cheer.

I’m preparing a program for the Smithsonian Associates on how baseball has influenced American values, culture, politics, language and society, so it is of special interest to me that there is considerable controversy over whether Reese’s mid-game gesture ever happened. Writes much-lauded baseball essayist Joe Posnanski,

“There is no mention at all of the embrace in the newspapers. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote that very day that Robinson “was applauded every time he stepped to the plate.” Meanwhile, there is no mention of it in the black press either; Burns insists that the embrace had happened, the black papers “would have done 15 related articles.” There is no photo of it. Robinson’s 1948 book about his first season called “Jackie Robinson: My Own Story” does not mention any such incident….There isn’t a single contemporary account of the embrace in any of the newspapers or magazines.”

Theories abound. The episode happened on a different date. It happened, but not in view of the fans. It is a story that accurately describes what Reese’s support of Robinson—Reese was a white southerner and a team leader, and he and Robinson did become close friends—meant to the black rookie as he battled abuse and racism in that first season of 1947, but there was no literal arm around the shoulder.  Craig Calcaterra, recycling  the controversy yesterday on his NBC blog, theorized, Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/15/2019: Patriots Day! Jackie Robinson Day!

Good morning!

It’s funny: over at Ann Althouse’s blog, she’s complaining about how there’s nothing to write about. From an ethics perspective, I am finding too much to write about, especially since, unlike Ann, I still have to work for a living.

1. Quick: what does Patriots Day commemorate (and no, it’s not Tom Brady)? My home state of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine (which was once part of the Bay State), and Wisconsin observe the holiday, which honors the twin battles of Lexington and Concord, the confrontations with the British (on April 19, 1775, the day after “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”) that launched the Revolutionary War. I visited both battlefields more times than I could count when I was living in Arlington, Mass., right next to Lexington. That battlefield, what’s left of it, is in the middle of busy streets on all sides; it’s hard to imagine the scene as described in the song above from “1776.” Concord’s battlefield, in contrast, is almost exactly as it was in 1775.

All the publicity, even in Boston, about today will be dominated by the running of the Boston Marathon, but attention should be paid to the inspiring story of how ragtag groups of volunteers faced off against the trained soldiers of the most powerful country on Earth, sending the message that this rebellion would not be so easy to put down.  49 Colonists died, 39 were wounded, and five were unaccounted for. The British lost 73, while 174 were wounded,and 26 were missing.

2. It’s also Jackie Robinson Day. In every MLB game today, every player will wear Jackie’s number 42. The best way to honor Jackie for the rest of us is to tell his story to someone who doesn’t know who Jackie Robinson was, and it is shocking how many such people there are. The film “42” does an excellent job of dramatizing how Jackie broke the color barrier in baseball, simultaneously weakening segregation everywhere. The Ethics Alarms post about Robinson is here. Continue reading

Roberto, Jackie, And The Irresistible Urge To Devalue Honors

Eventually almost all possible ethics issues will be explored in baseball commentary, if you wait long enough. They will also be explored incompetently, since the average athlete or sports journalist isn’t much more astute in the field than the average citizen, which means that the analysis will be dominated by emotion, rationalizations, logical fallacies, historical ignorance, and a vacuum in ethics generally.

This phenomenon was on display yesterday, which was Roberto Clemente Day in Major League Baseball. There is no doubt that Clemente was one of baseball’s all-time greats, and 18-year veteran who played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973,  the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be so honored. Clemente’s legacy and reputation is burnished by the fact that he died in a plane crash while trying to bring humanitarian relief to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was 38 years old.

Yesterday, in an orgy of Clemente love, sportswriters and players on the MLB satellite radio channel were arguing that Clemente’s uniform number, 21, should be retired by all teams like Jackie Robinson’s number, 42, was retired. The theory: Clemente was as much of a trail-blazer for Latin players as Robinson was for blacks.

This is, to be blunt (I’m feeling blunt today) crap. Continue reading

Pundit Malpractice: NBC Sports Defends Colin Kaepernick By Misrepresenting Jackie Robinson

What does Jackie Robinson's autobiography have to do with Colin Kaepernick, you ask? Well...nothing at all, really.

What does Jackie Robinson’s autobiography have to do with Colin Kaepernick, you ask? Well…nothing at all, really.

It also represents a rationalization for unethical conduct that is not currently represented on the Ethics Alarms Rationalization List.

Someone sent Craig this quote, from Jackie Robinson’s  autobiography,  as baseball’s color-line breaker thought back to the first game of the 1947 World Series:

“There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

This naturally made Craig, whose mind sometimes cannot help itself from shifting into progressive cant autopilot, think about Colin Kaepernick’s incoherent grandsitting as he refuses to stand on the field with his team for the National Anthem. He wrote,

“Colin Kaepernick is not Jackie Robinson and America in 2016 is not the same as America in 1919, 1947 or 1972. But it does not take one of Jackie Robinson’s stature or experience to see and take issue with injustice and inequality which manifestly still exists…the First Amendment gives us just as much right to criticize Kaepernick as it gives him a right to protest in the manner in which he chooses. But if and when we do, we should not consider his case in a vacuum or criticize him as some singular or radical actor. Because some other people — people who have been elevated to a level which has largely immunized them from criticism — felt and feel the same way he does. It’s worth asking yourself, if you take issue, whether you take issue with the message or the messenger and why. Such inquiries might complicate one’s feelings on the matter, but they’re quite illuminative as well.”

Let’s begin with the fact that there is nothing similar about Jackie Robinson and the 49ers quarterback, except their race and the broad occupation of “sports” that they shared. Continue reading

Maybe The Best Reason To Remember April 15…Number 42

jackie-robinson

A lot has happened on April 15.

Leonardo De Vinci was born…Abraham Lincoln died…Apollo 13 had the accident that almost destroyed it, but that triggered one of the great triumphs of the space program…Lee surrendered, ending the Civil WarThe Beatles disbanded…I didn’t get my taxes in on time….

I would argue however, and will, that as culturally important as any of these events was that sixty-eight years ago, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era. This represented a cultural change that allowed the United States to take a giant step forward toward healing the self-inflicted and almost fatal wound of slavery, and it took a man of surpassing courage and character to do it. (Two men, really: the other was Dodgers GM Branch Rickey.)

Today all MLB players will wear Robinson’s number 42 to honor him. If you haven’t seen the movie “42, or if your children haven’t seen it, this is a good day to get a sense of what Jackie went through as he broke the color line.  You can check out Robinson’s baseball stats here,  and learn about the civil rights work he did after his playing career, in the too-short life that was left to him here. He’s in the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor, of course, and his entry there has more about his life as well as some good links.

The main thing is, remember him.

Many years ago, I had a conversation with a close friend—smart, accomplished, engaged, educated, about 26 years old at the time. She had no idea who Jackie Robinson was. Nobody, then, now or ever, should reach adulthood in the United States without knowing and understanding what Robinson did, and our nation’s debt to him. There is an ethical  duty to remember, and to respect.

Thank you, Mr. Robinson.

Thank you.

 

Transgender Ethics: Epic Trailblazer Malpractice In New Hampshire

Ex-N.H. state legislator, Stacy Laughton, a.k.a Barry Laughton.

Ex-N.H. state legislator Stacie Laughton, a.k.a  felon Barry Laughton.

Trailblazers have an ethical obligation when they presume to break a social or occupational barrier to a marginalized group’s participation and equal treatment. Simply put, their duty is to make the bias that has created the barrier and necessitated the “trail” look ignorant, cruel, foolish and unfair. A trailblazer does not have to be a shining star, though it helps, but must be capable of at least doing a solid, average, generally acceptable job., even in the grudging judgment of bigots.

This is because a trailblazer who does a poor job or displays character traits that are objectively inadequate for a role model, which a trailblazer inevitably becomes, risks adding to the barrier he or she just breached for those who follow behind them. The ethical requirement for trailblazers is the same as the traditional edict for doctors “First do no harm.” Being a trailblazer, however, is not easy, and since failure is catastrophic for the group a trailblazer represents, there is a duty not to attempt such a high-risk, high-profile cultural role unless the trailblazer is first, reasonably convinced that he or she the resources of talent, ability, fortitude, character and courage to succeed, and second, willing to accept and overcome the added stress of relentless attention and criticism.

There have been excellent trailblazers, cultural heroes all. Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League baseball player to break the color barrier is the template, but there are many other successes: Justice Thurgood Marshall, John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic President of the U.S., Amelia Earhart, Diane Crump, the first female jockey, the late Ed Brooke, the first black U.S. Senator since reconstruction, and too many more to mention. There have also been some miserable failures. The worst trailblazer was probably Shannon Faulkner, who fought in the courts for two years to force The Citadel to accept female cadets, then, after she was victorious, showed up fat and unprepared, and washed out in just one week as millions of dubious vets said, “See? What did we tell you?” Then there was Carol Moseley Braun, the charismatic, promising African-American Democrat whon Illinois voters elected as the nation’s first black female Senator, only to turn out to be thoroughly corrupt.

More recently, we have seen other trailblazers fall short, like Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL.  Is there a celebrity gay marriage that has not ended in a quick divorce? Most have been failures, reinforcing the belief that gays are promiscuous and unsuited for a real marriage. Most vividly of all in the realm of trailblazer malpractice, we are reminded of the disheartening and tragic examples of Barack Obama, and Eric Holder every day.

Still, in the annals of epic trailblazer fiascoes, it would be hard to top the story of Stacie Laughton, New Hampshire’s first openly transgender state legislator, who was elected in 2012 as one of three House members for Ward 4 in Nashua. Continue reading

The Michael Sam Botch: Back To Square One…Or Worse.

You must remember this: A kiss can be a miss...

You must remember this: A kiss can be a miss…

Sportswriters are gamely putting a positive spin on it, but they are lying or deluded: Michael Sam’s failure to make the St. Louis Rams squad and the subsequent decision of every other team (there are 32 of them) to pass on his services as well means that Sam’s quest to become the first openly gay player to be drafted by and make the roster of a pro football team was not just a failure, but may have even set his cause back a year or ten.

Or maybe that wasn’t his cause at all. Maybe a gay player whose skills left him a borderline draftee at best made a calculated decision that his best chance was to shame the NFL into drafting him by announcing his sexual orientation, and gamble that he could shine enough in camp to make the team. The genius of this strategy, if that’s what it was, is that even if he didn’t make the team, Sam would become a celebrity, and in some circles, an icon.

Well, that part worked. What doomed the rest of the plan were, in order of importance,

  • Sam isn’t good enough to be a trailblazer.
  • The media made certain that such a big deal was made over Sam’s sex life that no NFL team could avoid wondering, “How much will having this guy around get in the way of winning football games?” From Ethics Alarms in February:

The irony is that it is the mostly positive media obsession with Sam’s status as a potential trailblazer, rather than the anti-gay hate-mongers, who diminish Sam’s chances of success with their every word. This is obvious, or should be, yet the articles and rants keep on coming. I have to believe that it is a case of sports journalists engaging in the ultimate hypocrisy, making themselves look fair, unbigoted and devoted to the cause of full gay inclusion in American life (all while making their deadlines) while simultaneously and knowingly undermining the athlete they claim to be supporting. They have to shut up, or Sam is doomed.

They couldn’t help themselves, of course, and sure enough, Sam was doomed. Continue reading