Sunday, January 26, 2014

When did it become OK to call someone a racist?

Yesterday I attended a baseball meeting in New York City.  There were about 100 people in the audience.  Two of the speakers explicitly called two Hall of Famers racists.  None of us said a word.

Speaker one talked about the subjects of two biographies she had written, repeatedly using vulgar language.  We remained silent for that also.  She described former Dodger manager Walter Alston as a racist.  Alston was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee as Manager in 1983.  Alston died on October 1, 1984 in Oxford, OH (Aged 72).

The other speaker was the president of the Hall of Fame.  In defending the voting results that have barred users of performance enhancing drugs (PED), presumably including steroids, he mentioned that Ty Cobb was a racist.  That is a familiar refrain and it was not surprising that no one objected.  Cobb was inducted into the Hall of Fame by BBWAA as Player in 1936 (222/226 ballots). Induction ceremony in Cooperstown held in 1939.  Cobb died on July 17, 1961 in Atlanta, GA (Aged 74).

Both Alston and Cobb are long gone and cannot defend themselves.  This post is not a defense but a question.

SABR Biography Project:

Walter Alston This article was written by Bill Johnson

Widely acclaimed sportswriter Jim Murray wrote a column–it appeared in the Hamilton (Ohio) Journal-News, among many outlets—about Alston following the manager’s retirement. “I don’t know whether you’re Republican or Democrat or Catholic or Protestant and I’ve known you for 18 years.” He continued, “You were as Middle-Western as a pitchfork. Black players who have a sure instinct for the closet bigot recognized immediately you didn’t know what prejudice was…There was no ‘side’ to Walter Alston. What you saw was what you got.”

April 14, 2011
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Ty Cobb This article was written by Daniel Ginsburg

Cobb certainly did not oppose racial segregation in baseball or elsewhere, and all evidence shows that his attitudes were typical of his times and Georgia upbringing. Years later he took a somewhat different view, however. In an Associated Press article dated January 29, 1952, Cobb came out in favor of integration in baseball, stating "Certainly it is O.K. for them to play. I see no reason in the world why we shouldn't compete with colored athletes as long as they conduct themselves with politeness and gentility." Later, Cobb wrote to Al Stump that segregation was a "lousy rule."
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These brief statements are not definitive but we should be much less inclined to simply call people racists, especially without good evidence and cause.  When did it become OK to call someone a racist?

1 comment:

WMiller81 said...

Hi, Not sure I can answer your question exactly, but I'm guessing that calling someone racist probably goes back to at least the '60's or '70's. It may be more common today, and your point is well-taken that sometimes the term might be thrown around rather carelessly, especially when it comes to describing players from the old South. Cobb may have been one whose thoughts on race simply evolved over time, though I doubt he would ever have been O.K. with interracial marriage, for example.