Racism a gray matter
I need some help. I need to go to journalism school again because apparently there are new rules out there, and if I am going to continue to be a sports columnist, I had better learn them. They are the rules concerning writing about Barry Bonds. The hand wringing in the media has gone on all week since an ABC/ESPN poll was released that show 52 percent of fans don't want Bonds to break Hank Aaron's career home run record, which, according to some, is a smaller percentage than expected and should make those of us who have criticized Bonds' home run chase rethink our positions. Also, only 34 percent of black respondents to the poll believe that Bonds has been treated fairly. That just proves, according to some media observers like Dr. Todd Boyd, who wrote a column for ESPN's Page 2, that the outrage over the suspicions of Bonds cheating with performance-enhancing substances and his anticipated passing of Aaron's 755 home run mark is fueled in large part by race. "Yes, in the decade following the landmark O.J. Simpson court case, where acquittal in a court of law was trumped by conviction in the court of public opinion, Bonds now finds himself incarcerated in a prison of racial suspicion, animosity and resentment," Boyd wrote. Well, I don't want to be part of that. I was raised by parents who taught me never to make judgments about people based on the color of their skin, and I have raised my children the same way. So the last thing I want to do is incarcerate anybody in "a prison of racial suspicion, animosity and resentment." So I need Dr. Boyd or Jesse or the Rev. Al or someone to give me some guidelines to deal with this question - when can I write a critical column about a black athlete without putting them in "a prison of racial suspicion, animosity and resentment." Are there any circumstances in which I can be critical without it being racially motivated? Please, come up with some sort of criteria of when it is OK, because I was certainly ignorant of the fact that when I wrote that there was an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence that Bonds used steroids to get to this point, and that the Mitchell investigation could slap a cover on the book "Game of Shadows" and have enough to suspend Bonds, it was racially motivated. That troubles me. While I was not naive enough to believe that there was no racial component in some of the Bonds outrage, I am surprised to learn that any outrage is racially motivated. I was foolish enough to believe that since Bonds was about the break the record of a black man - a black man, by the way, who wants nothing to do with Bonds - that it diffused the racial implications to a large extent. How wrong I was. It turns out that Aaron is one type of black man who is not offensive to the white media, while Bonds is, according to Dr. Boyd. "Whereas Aaron was always a humble gentleman who had grown up in the segregated South, Bonds is a second-generation baseball prodigy who has often come across to many as entitled, selfish and disrespectful - a poster child for the stereotype of today's overpaid, self-indulgent black athlete," he wrote. It seems to me that Dr. Boyd has heaped far greater insult on Aaron here than I ever could on Bonds, by the implication that Aaron is white America's black man. That was the same horrible insult that Joe Frazier suffered before his legendary fight against Muhammad Ali 36 years ago, something Frazier did nothing to warrant. But I must be wrong. Obviously, when you respect someone who is a "humble gentleman" instead of a man who is "entitled, selfish and disrespectful," it has racial overtones. So I will have to adjust my thinking. And as far as those who believe that the poll should force columnists to rethink their positions on Bonds, this is a new one to me and again, may force me to go back to journalism school for the new rules on opinion writing. I didn't know we were supposed to base our conclusions on what one particular segment of the population thinks or doesn't think. Are we talking about focus groups here? While we are exploring this issue, what do I do with Michael Vick's role in a dog fighting ring, spelled out in a story by SI.com? Pacman Jones and Las Vegas police seeking felony and misdemeanor charges against Jones after a fight and shooting at a strip club that paralyzed one man during the NBA All-Star weekend? You see, I know what I would write if it were a white athlete who had anything to do with dog fighting or a white athlete who was connected to strip club shooting. But now I am at a loss about how to write about a black athlete with those issues. I know I will be careful about being critical in those situations in the future because to do so apparently helps promote racism, which, when it comes down to it, is hate speech, and they can put people in jail for hate speech. I don't want to go to jail for Barry Bonds - not unless I have the same bag of money waiting for me when I get out that Bonds' former trainer, Greg Anderson, will probably have when he is released from prison. That was a cheap shot. Sorry. I'm trying.