Major League Baseball found itself in another extremely thorny and complex cultural situation last week following their decision to suspend White Sox infielder Tim Anderson for one game in the wake of a near brawl between the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals. The initial story that got released was Anderson’s bat flip following his home run caused a scuffle which escalated into something worse, and the actions of Anderson and White Sox manager Rick Renteria were partly responsible.
Royals pitcher Brad Keller hit Anderson on his next at-bat, and tensions quickly erupted. When news was announced Keller had gotten a five-game suspension, while Anderson and Renteria each got one for “aggressive actions,” it was widely assumed that was the end of the story. While there were folks asking why Anderson got suspended just for flipping a bat, others felt it was justified. Then MLB issued a statement that put things in a totally different light. ESPN.com released a report, one MLB later confirmed, which said Anderson was suspended by MLB because an umpire heard him call Keller the “N word” among other things. Later it was determined his actual statement did include that vile statement.
However the fact a Black player was being suspended by an all-white disciplinary and management board didn’t sit well with a number of Black journalists and commentators. On ESPN’s “Pardon The Interruption” Michael Wilbon was livid, saying “I’m going to make some people mad. I know the people at MLB and I like them. But Joe Torre and (Commissioner) Rob Manfred have no business making that kind of decision on Tim Anderson using that word. They are in no position to make that judgement.”
Longtime sports writer and current sports journalism professor Kevin Blackistone said on ESPN’s “Around The Horn” that “baseball is in no position to determine whether what Anderson said should have been grounds for a suspension. You can’t have white men making those kinds of decisions regarding what language is appropriate for Black men to use. We (Blacks) make our own decisions regarding that word and its usage. That’s something they can’t understand.”
This is a complex and far too intricate discussion to be reduced into a simplistic should or shouldn’t Anderson have said it framework. It’s an issue that’s split the Black community on a generational basis. Listen even a few minutes to much contemporary rap and you’ll hear it used regularly. Likewise in conversations among Blacks, particularly young ones, and even those in their 30s and 40s, it’s used on a regular basis. It can even be deemed a term of endearment, depending on who is being referenced.
On the other hand, when whites use it it’s offensive and demeaning. One can make the case the world would be better off with the elimination of ALL racial slurs and epithets, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with that on principle. But the reality, as everyone from the NAACP to the Fritz Pollard Alliance has discovered, is much different. The simple fact is you won’t convince many young Blacks their usage of it is equally as bad as that of a Klansman or Neo Nazi. The Undefeated ran a lengthy article last year maintaining that if young people knew the history of that word they’d never use it. That article obviously hasn’t had much impact.The same with the Pollard Alliance and NAACP efforts to eliminate its usage among contemporary NFL players specifically, or young Blacks in general.
Bottom line is in this particular instance, MLB would have been better off simply fining Anderson for what they deemed “aggressive actions” and letting it go at that. Given their well documented problems with diversity and inclusion, the last thing they needed to do was wade into even murkier waters with this suspension, and starting a complex, nuanced discussion that goes far beyond anything they intended, or are equipped to handle or understand.