Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023 |
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Hank Aaron was a great baseball player. He was one of the greatest, and arguably, the greatest. He had that rare combination of someone who could hit, hit with power, run, throw and field. And in a game of numbers, his speak for themselves: 755 lifetime home runs, .305 batting average and 2,297 runs batted in. He always performed, on and off the field, with grace and humility. Despite the pressure, the anger, the insults tossed at him as he closed on Babe Ruth’s home run mark, he was always the epitome of class and elegance. Aaron, a black man, refused to respond to racists who couldn’t accept he was about to surpass the great Bambino.
It is why it was surprising that in an interview, as we celebrated the 40th anniversary of his record-breaking, historic 715th home run, he chose to go after Republicans and compare them to the Ku Klux Klan for the GOP’s opposition to President Obama.
It’s wrong to give a general, sweeping assessment that those who disagree with the president are racists. For many, it likely has more to do with their differing political philosophies than skin color.
Here is what he said: “Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated,” he told USA Today Sports.
“The bigger difference,” he added, “is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
Ouch. That’s as blunt as it gets.
Now, Hank is correct when he says there is room for improvement for race relations in the U.S. He is right to raise the issue because it is one many don’t want to acknowledge that is still a problem in this country.
Many will cheer him for doing so, for refusing to sit back quietly and just enjoy his retirement. During the interview, Aaron described the racist letters he has kept for decades as he was chasing Ruth’s home run record.
“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record,” he said. “If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed.”
Like anyone, Hammerin’ Hank is entitled to his opinion. If he believes racism is still a problem in this country, and he believes pointing it out will raise awareness and lead to its end, then he should and we support him. If anyone can be a spokesman on this issue, and do it with dignity, it’s Hank Aaron. While we don’t agree with his generalization comparing people wearing suits and ties today to those wearing hoods decades ago, we do agree that sometimes, you have to be the one who says what many are afraid to say. And even today, talking about racism is, in some places, not only off limits, but makes you a racist.
We applaud Hank Aaron — for his achievements on, and off, the field.
Keep swinging, Hank.
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