ORLANDO, Fla. – A famous statue of Jackie Robinson at a minor league ballpark in Brooklyn was vandalized the other day, defaced and desecrated with swastikas and ugly racist slurs.
“Heil Hitler,” some subhuman scrawled in black pen, followed by a flurry of assorted expletives.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer responded with this message to the hate-filled perpetrator: “Defacing the Jackie Robinson statue is a
dagger in the heart to everything America stands for.”
Is it? Is it really a dagger, or a distress signal?
These days, it’s hard to differentiate.
Former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, one of the smartest men I know, said something troublingly thought-provoking the other day as we were discussing the firestorm created by Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper’s angry utterance of the N-word at a recent Kenny Chesney concert. Van Gundy and his wife, Kim, had just seen the racially charged movie “Fruitvale Station”, which got them talking about race relations in this country.
“I honestly think the most disappointing thing is that racism is making a resurgence,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s getting worse, for whatever reason. I thought we were making a little bit of progress for a while, but I don’t feel that way anymore.”
Van Gundy is obviously very perceptive. According to the University of Central Florida’s Dr. Richard Lapchick, one of the country’s foremost experts on racial issues, organized hate groups have grown from about 600 at the time President Barack Obama announced he was running for president to more than 1,000 today.
“This doesn’t mean race relations haven’t improved among many people,” Lapchick said, “but there is much more hate out there now. I think a lot of it has to do with some white people who are afraid of losing power. The world they grew up in has suddenly been shaken to the core, and they’re scared.”
Lapchick is a white man who has dedicated his life to fighting for racial equality. Van Gundy is a white man whose occupation of choice is coaching a predominantly black sport.
If anyone knows how much sports has done to help eliminate racism in this country, it’s these two men. Lapchick is often referred to as the “social conscience of sports.”
Where else but sports can you see 18,000 mostly white fans cheer for a team that is mostly black? In sports – to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. – you are not judged by the color of your skin, but by the quality of your vertical leap and your 40-yard dash time.
But when you look around the world today, it’s hard to disagree with Van Gundy’s assessment of a racist resurgence. It’s not just Riley Cooper uttering the N-word; it’s prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel testifying that shortly before George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin that Martin told her on the phone that he was being followed by some “creepy-ass cracker.”
It was frightening to see how the country fractured along racial lines after the Zimmerman verdict. It was so divisive that, when Charles Barkley broke ranks and actually said he agreed with the jury’s verdict, he was branded a traitor by many fellow African-Americans.
It’s a good thing Pee Wee Reese didn’t have the same stand-by-your-race attitude that many seem to be preaching.
You see, the vandalized
Robinson statue in Brooklyn is actually a statue of him and Reese – his white teammate, and the beloved shortstop of the Dodgers. The statue shows Reese with his arm around Robinson – a depiction of the famous scene in Cincinnati during Robinson’s rookie year of 1947.
Robinson trotted out onto Cincinnati’s
Crosley Field that day and was showered with racist slurs and death threats. Then, as the New York Daily News wrote, “Without warning, Reese walked over to first base from shortstop. He slung his glove hand around Robinson’s shoulders in a gesture of friendship – and glared at the hecklers inside the Cincinnati dugout and those filling the stands above. Reese then ran his hand across the word “Brooklyn” on his jersey. The hecklers went silent.”
But now they are flourishing and foaming at the mouth once again.
Sadly, nearly 70 years later, the hate-filled
racists are making a comeback, and still hurling their ugly slurs at the great Jackie Robinson.