Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Throw Ty Cobb out of the Hall of Fame if Barry Bonds can't get in

I’m on a mission to get Ty Cobb (December 18, 1886 – July 17, 1961) kicked out of the Hall of Fame.

I know it’s ridiculous to suggest that the hall dismiss arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. He was inducted as a member of the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, receiving 222 out of a possible 226 votes.

Cobb set 90 Major League Baseball records, including the highest career batting average (.367) and the most career batting titles with 12.  He held records for half a century after his retirement, including most career hits (4,191), most career runs (2,246), most games played (3,035) and most stolen bases (892). When discussing the legends of baseball, Cobb and Babe Ruth are the first to come to mind.

I have a good argument to kick both of them out of the Hall of Fame. I’m willing to let it slide if the Hall of Fame votes Barry Bonds in as a member.

You can’t do that! I can hear the echoes bouncing off the walls at Cooperstown.  Bonds is a cheater.  He defrauded the integrity of the game by juicing up with steroids. That’s what sportswriters are using to justify keeping one of the best ever to play out of the Hall of Fame. 

Bonds has become the poster boy of a corrupt era.  He’s not the only player to juice up.  The list is so long that it’s tough finding a person who passes the smell test.  To his credit, Bonds has credible statistics prior to his head enlarging and body pumping up to resemble a NFL linebacker.

MLB may need a poster boy to distance itself from the juice era.  I get that, but I refuse to allow it to happen without calling the league on its hypocrisy in claiming innocence of all things pre steroids.

The truth is both Cobb and Ruth were racist.   Cobb’s racism is documented in Al Stump’s book Cobb: The Life and Times of the Meanest Man Who Ever Played Baseball. In 1994, the book was used as the basis for Cobb, a film starring Tommy Lee Jones as Cobb. Cobb’s racism is trumped only by his fits of rage and violent playing style.

Ruth was no better than Cobb.  Ruth was known for his racism, womanizing and mean ways with fans.  Both Ruth and Cobb made it into the Hall of Fame because of their play on the field.  Fans are now asked to measure the worth of players based on their reputations off the field.  We’re also challenged to consider the cultural context in which the bigots from the past played.

Cobb apologists argue that the “Georgia Peach” was no different than his peers.  Cobb was born and reared within a racist Southern environment, and shouldn’t be ridiculed for being like everyone else.  Implied in condoning Cobb’s ways, based on the context of a racist society, is the negation of how he and others benefitted from the policy that prohibited the inclusion of black players. 

In other words, Cobb, Ruth and others were great, in part, because of the cultural norms of the day.  They thrived, in part, because of racism.  Despite the advantages of living within a culture that affirmed and celebrated his game - despite the advantage of bigotry - we allow bigots in the Hall of Fame.  We’re told it’s not Cobb’s fault.  It was normative for the day.

The rules are altered with Bonds.  The aftermath of the steroid era exposed how vast it was used.  Not only was it used, the league allowed it to happen.  I was not illegal.  The Commissioner, owners, managers, coaches and players were all complicit in the management of steroids, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine and other drugs.  Players assumed they needed the juice to compete.

It was part of the culture of baseball.

Like Cobb, Bonds lived within a historical context that normalized what we consider horrific.  The difference is Cobb, and the other racist, are inducted into the Hall of Fame, while Bonds is denied entry for doing what was normal for his era.

Fans of the game will argue a difference between racism and steroids.  They argue that the integrity of the game is compromised by drugs.  Given baseball is a game of numbers, how can we stand by numbers smeared by performance enhancing drugs?  Can we credit those who are awarded for playing with an advantage?

This is when my blood begins to boil.  Aren’t the numbers of Cobb, Ruth, Musial and Williams blemished by who wasn’t allowed to play the game?  Should we authenticate the play of those who lived within a culture that honored their position of white privilege, allow them into the Hall of Fame despite that advantage, while denying entry to others who played within a culture that affirmed similar advantage?

Like I said, I’m calling for the Hall of Fame to throw Cobb out of the Hall of Fame.  If he’s allowed to stay as a racist, then nothing that follows will bear meaning. The game was tarnished by race and the league allowed it to happen.

Now we’re told to honor the integrity of the game.

Don’t make me cuss!

Friday, March 21, 2014

William Barber coming to Columbia, Mo to discuss Moral Monday: The rejection of power and privilege

The sound of pain is hard to endure. It gets worse when you’re standing in privilege.

There’s something about conceding that your life is made better because of gifts handed down.  It’s not that you are more gifted or smarter than the rest.  You simply have more stuff to begin with.  Sometimes that stuff is not the type placed in a bank account. 

Stuff can be race or gender.  Sometimes it’s heterosexual or Christian privilege.  As much as we hate to admit it, our lives are shaped by how others perceive us more than the gifts we bring to the party.  Too many of us weren’t invited to the party because our personal appearance failed to fit the invite requirements.

But, this isn’t the prelude to a pity party.  It’s a celebration of a brewing trend that is capturing the hearts of people of privilege.  More and more, people are less content with holding their privilege as a reward for being lucky enough to be born on that side of the tracks.  They’re getting it.  Something is not right.  We can no longer deny the God given dignity of people born with a wooden, rather than silver spoon, in their mouth.

You see, I’m accustomed to protest.  I was born within a culture that refused to bow down to the limits imposed on me because of my race.  My mama believes in whipping that ass when folks get in her way.  Yes, I was nurtured within a family culture that stepped up whenever someone seemed broken by another person’s assumption of privilege.

I thank my mama for that.

I’ve been singing we shall overcome as long as I can remember.  It often happened in what seemed to be the brush arbor of black faith.  That’s the place where the slaves stilled away at night to get their praise on after master and missy gave them Hell all day.  My ancestors would hide away somewhere under the protective arm of trees to sing revolutionary songs.

That stuff brings chills to my body whenever I think about it.  Many consider that weak-minded submission.  I regard it critical in our understanding of an ever present counter-culture that constantly redefined the terms of human existence.  It was that, damn you, we gonna do it our way, moment.

I’m used to that.  Be it at the Second Missionary Baptist Church here in Columbia, Missouri, or back at Compassion Ministries in Durham, NC, I know what it feels like to hold hands with my people while calling on God to let my people go.

But this new energy is forcing me to rethink my assumption related to bondage and limitations.  James Cone tells us that God is God of the oppressed, and, since black folks are oppressed, the liberating message of God is found within the community of black people.  I’ve always said amen to that, and, to a large extent, it still roots the way I think about praxis and practice.

But wait. 

Back to this new stuff.  A new movement led by people willing to reject the advantages of their privilege has taken center stage.  It’s what happened in North Carolina with the Moral Monday movement.  Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP President, has led a coalition of grassroots folks in recasting the terms of discourse regarding public policy.

Barber is a black man who leads a congregation in Goldsboro, NC.  He is a product of the black church, with a down home preaching style that rekindles memories of grandma cooking collards greens after signing in the choir on Sunday morning.  Barber is old school worship united with progressive theological insight.  There is no question that Barber is black.  There is no question that his love for black folks has propelled him in the middle of a flourishing movement.

I get that.  I get all of it, but the shift is among those willing to do what the young rich man couldn’t do after Jesus imparted the challenge.  They are rejecting all of that privilege in hope of a common good.  Their views and desires are not embedded from what they can get out of it all.  They are living from the inside out, rather than the normal position.

It’s happening here in Missouri.  Can you feel the wave? Back in North Carolina, Barber led thousand into the state legislative building in acts of civil disobedience.  Close to 1,000 people willingly went to jail to protest the actions of extremist politicians.  Many of them weren’t black, in fact, most of them are white.

Clergy in Columbia, Missouri have decided to stand for justice.  Many lead congregations filled with people of privilege.  They are willing to stand for those hindered by the refusal to expand Medicaid benefits in the state.  They are fighting for early voting, to assure all citizens have access to the democratic process.

They will stand with me on April 1 when Barber comes to town to discuss Moral Monday.  We will wear our robes, hold hands and pray.  We will sing a few revolutionary songs and prepare to reverse the tide of hate laced public policies.

The revolution has changed over the years.  It has no race, no gender, no sexual orientation, and is not limited by theological views.  It’s a movement of those who need more to make it, standing with people who have more than enough.  This is a movement of dignity.  We are all the same.

Gil Scott Heron said the revolution won’t be televised.  This time it will be the lead story on network  TV.  The images will force people to say ‘those people are just like me.’