SMULYAN PLAYS THE RACE CARD
I grew up in the still segregated Washington D.C. suburbs of the early 1960's, near Bailey's Crossroads in Falls Church. At the end of my street was a rickety wooden fence that separated the black section of town from my decidedly white, decidedly upper middle class neighborhood. The fence crossed back yards, and the fence crossed the road. The street meandered around our community only to stop suddenly at that fence. Sometimes, black children would climb the fence and watch us play with our expensive toys and ride our expensive bikes. They had nothing. It was so wrong. One day, a single black student joined my all white 3rd grade class at Glen Forest Elementary. He was shunned by the class. Warfield and I became good friends. I was shunned by the class. Though it was a difficult time, changes were in the offing.
Martin Luther King was a hero of mine. I saw him give a speech when I was seven. He spoke directly to me that day. He told me that people should be judged not by the color of the skin but by the content of their character. I was moved. I was in D.C. the night he was shot and killed. From my father's office window, I watched as parts of the city turned amber, then red with the rage of it's residents. It got worse before it got better. But today, the playing field is as level as we can make it. It's not a perfect situation, but it's light-years ahead of those dark days when I was a boy.
So why is race suddenly becoming an integral part of the sale of the Washington Nationals?
Race has always been in the shadows of this seemingly ever-lasting process. Each group has publicly stated the importance of reaching out to the black community, and all three were in various stages of bringing on board minority investors. That's good.
Now, Jeff Smulyan is playing the race card, and some very influential baseball broadcasters are buying into it.
Smulyan announced yesterday that not only is 25% of his investor dollars from blacks, but now he his promising that he will name a black team president. Notice he didn't say he would name the best team president possible, or that he would work hard to include black candidates, he said that only Black candidates would be considered. In the Smulyan group, then, Stan Kasten, whose resume includes 17 years as team president of the Atlanta Braves, would not be considered as the man to lead the Nationals.
Because he's white.
Peter Gammons reported to the nation during Sunday night's ESPN game that he was impressed with Smulyan's announcement, and Joe Morgan, responding to Tony Kornheiser's remarks that the Lerner group is in the lead, said "Yeah, but Smulyan has 25% minority investors and will name a black president" (or something close to that). Of course, Smulyan is the only principal of the three groups who has already run a major league franchise into the ground and than sold it for buckets full of money. Smulyan is the only principal of the three groups who doesn't live in Washington, who has the carpet-bagger background that will raise the hairs on the back of our necks for years to come.
Normally, I wouldn't care how an owner staffs his organization -- what Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus does in their board room is of no concern to me. But the Nationals aren't a retail store. Though we fans don't "own" them, we have an ownership in them. We live and die with each decision the general manager makes. I don't want my baseball team to be a lab experiment in the hands of some "mad scientist" who is going to sew together various "body parts" with no concern as to their continuity.
There may be a tremendous black candidate out there for team president; I hope there is. But to exclude men like Stan Kasten simply because of their color smacks of .... well, you know what it smacks of. Smulyan made this announcement because he knows he's running third in the race to buy the Nats, and he's going to do or say anything to up his chances. This isn't the kind of guy I want to own the Nationals. I want an owner that acts, not re-acts.
The city of Washington has a sordid baseball history. One owner wouldn't allow blacks on his baseball field. One owner was a racist from the deep south. One owner was simply an ass. Today, we need an owner who doesn't place his desire to own the team above the team's well-being. This team, more than any other, is desperate for stability. Stability is gained not by hiring practices based on skin color, but rather by picking the best candidate for the job.
Jackie Robinson proved that baseball shouldn't be about race. Martin Luther King proved that the content of one's character is paramount. The Washington Nationals should prove to the city it represents that it's doors, it's hiring practices, it's values are color blind and open to all with an unabiding love of baseball.
That fence on my street has been down for forty years. I don't want Jeff Smulyan or anyone else to put it back up.
Well said; thanks for addressing it.
Too often, the rhetoric on subjects like this becomes too reactionary and abrasive. Somebody says something that rubs one person the wrong way, and that person fires back with something even stronger/more abrasive, and the cycle continues, accomplishing nothing.
You, on the other hand, have a strong position on a matter but have presented it in a truly strong way---reasonable, compassionate, striving to be fair. I have no idea if Warfield, for instance, would agree with your opinion, but he'd most likely respect it.
At any rate, it looks like the Lerners are going to win the team this week...we'll see.
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