Monday, April 16, 2007

Jackie Robinson and Don Imus

Jackie Robinson and Don Imus
Sunday was Jackie Robinson Day for Major League Baseball. But if you think about it, it was Jackie Robinson Day for all of us.

As many people believe, Jackie Robinson was the first black man in Major League Baseball. This is not really true1, but he was the first black player who crossed the "color line" in baseball in the modern era.

Sixty years does not seem like much time, within a person's lifetime, and if we try and remember back to then, what Jackie Robinson did was truly remarkable. Robinson was not the best negro player at the time, but he was partly chosen because of his metal. Imagine a 28-year-old man battling every day, receiving death threats, having team members who did not want him in the line-up, let alone opposing players and fans. He received death threats, apposing players even imitated gun fire with their bats to remind him of these threats.

And his job? Part of it involved being in a box where the apposing pitcher threw 90-mph pitches in the region of his head. Nice.

What fascinates me is that in 1947, as people were shouting death threats during games, there was no huge public outcry to silence this abuse.

Fast forward to 2007. Don Imus makes some stupid racially insensitive comments, and there is public outcry. I have resisted commenting on Imus because it seemed that everyone was talking about it. Matt Lauer even goes One-on-One with Don Imus. And when Matt Lauer gets in the act, you know it is oversold.

Okay, first I would like to tell you a disclaimer: Although I have heard many different talk show hosts, I have no idea who Don Imus is. Yeah, I have heard the label "shock jock", but I have never listened to a program, and the first time I heard his voice was with Matt Lauer.

I have heard lots of takes on the whole Don Imus circus, and everybody is wrong. Just joking.

Here is what I have heard:

1. Firing Imus limits his Freedom of Speech. I have two things to say about free speech here: (1) Imus was on public airways and there are limits to speech on public airways (he was not censored for this anyway), and (2) he was still free to say what he said. There are consequences for one's actions.

2. The government should not be telling us what to do. Well, the government actually did not step in on this situation.

3. Imus ruined a backetball team' s celebration. Yeah, he did do that.

I have no problem with CBS firing Imus. They are his employer and they wanted to fire him. He gets paid boatloads of money, some of the compensation being paid because his job is always at risk.

Sort of sad, though, that we have spent way more time on Imus than on Jackie Robinson, a man that crossed a line years ahead of Rosa Parks, of Equal Opportunity Legislation, of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.

1Black ballplayers were excluded from participation by the National Association of Baseball Players on December 11, 1868 when the the governing body voted unanimously to bar "any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons." This was the first appearance of an official "color line" in baseball. When baseball attained professinal status the following season, pro teams were not bound by the amateur association's ruling, and two brothers, Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker, even played in the major leagues in 1884.


Prata said...

I'm as racially attuned as anyone else, but let me say this about it (negros may wish to cover their ears).

Although he shouldn't have said it outloud (he was being goaded by his producer but that's besides the point) he was thinking and so were a lot of other more politically correct people. Secondly, even though he shouldn't have said it; it made me giggle, and he was accurate. I was watching the game when he said it and those bitches were rough. Not only were they rough, they threw some of the other chicks on the floor (and I'm sorry but girls basketball always looks like a cluster fuck to me) and they were tatted up. Wrong to say, still accurate.

If you go to the other spectrum, when blacks rail on whites no one says anything. It's just the black oppression speaking out. Whites rail on blacks and every black leader in the country gets up in arms and wants to go on a march. I mean really, all of this stuff is way over played in today's society where there are a huge number of racially mixed individuals.

Oh I don't know, maybe cuzz I'm mixed.

First bitches!

Josie said...

The famous actor/singer Paul Robeson played football for Rutgers University and was beaten up and had his fingernails pulled out by the other team players because he was black. He prevailed and became a two-time all American and the class valedictorian. He later played football for the NFL and got a degree in law from Columbia University. But he is best remembered for singing “Ole Man River” in the movie "Show Boat".

Women weren’t even permitted to attend Rutgers University until the early 1970s, so Imus’ remarks were not only racist, they were sexist (and stupid...).

I was going to do a post about this today, but you have said it much more eloquently than I could.

Bruce said...

I've known who Don Imus was for 30 years, but then again, I'm a lot older than you and also a bit of a radiophile. Anyway... he was not fired solely for making those remarks. They were a contributing factor, yes, but not the only reason. If sponsors had not started pulling their ads, and had the yearly billing for his show at WFAN not dropped from $25MM/year to $13MM/year, then you would've seen just the two-week suspension originally meted out.
Even NBC News boss, Frank Capus went so far as to admit that it was far from the first time that Imus had made insensitive or offensive comments on his show. “There have been any number of other comments that have been enormously hurtful to far too many people,” Mr. Capus said. “And my feeling is that there should not be a place for that on MSNBC.”
So, if he was so offensive before this, why was he still on the air? Because he was making them money, that's why.
When the money stops coming in, you're yesterday's news, so to speak, no matter who you are.

Ian Lidster said...

Thanks for your tribute to Jackie Robinson, who is kind of a hero of mine. The fascinating one (Robinson notwithstanding) is old Satchel Paige, a terrific ballplayer, who toiled for years in the so-called 'Negro League' but ultimately, after Robinson got the door open a crack, finally made it to the majors in his late 40s. I can't remember how many seasons he played.
Nice piece, Leesa.


Joe said...

Well said, Leesa - as always. Between this and your Kurt Vonnegut tribute, you're on yet another roll.

Thanks for making me think - which is no easy task, I assure you.

Leesa said...

prata: first, you stated, concerning Imus, "he was thinking and so were a lot of other more politically correct people". Sorry, Prata, this is women's basketball. Not a lot were thinking about it. Period. Second, you may be right about the rest, but to take women's basketball and blow your career on a stupid remark.

josie: Moses Fleetwood Walker, one of the first black players (1884), as I recall, was killed leaving a bar one evening. Thanks for the compliment.

bruce: I think CBS's response was economic, and I have no problem with that. As long as they don't cancel Numb3rs.

ian: Satchel Paige was the first black man in the World Series. Following year, as I remember. Pitched 2/3 of an inning.

joe: thanks. Though I don't think I am on a roll, actually. I think I am tapped out.

Prata said...

*busts up* That's fair.

RWA said...

Someone here wrote a column talking about the Imus situation. He pointed out that many people wouldn't have even known that Rutgers played for the national championship without the Imus hoopla.

In a sad way, that's right. Women fight so hard for success in sports - and yet the media focuses solely on things like this and the LSU coach who resigned from an alleged relationship with a former player.

You are exactly right about Jackie Robinson. I wonder sometimes what the world would be like today if people like him hadn't been brave enough to take the chance and do the things they did.

Leesa said...

prata: sort of half-joking. Sort of.

rwa: I would rather the marketplace determine what sports are seen. Women's tennis seems so much more enjoyable than men's (I like vollies). Men's basketball (college) is good, so it gets the views. I think the NBA is fairly unwatchable, but hey, I am not the target audience. Figure skating and gymnastics - women's is better. Football - er, only one choice here.