Only days after celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ascension over Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, Hank Aaron is again the target of racist Neanderthals.
In an interview published in USA Today, the former major league slugger said, “Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is stuck with his foot in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated.
“We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
From the reaction USAToday and the Atlanta Braves received, you would have thought Aaron had burned a baseball bat on David Duke’s lawn.
Reporter Bob Nightengale wrote that the newspaper and the baseball team were inundated with literally hundreds of vitriolic letters, e-mails and phone calls full of vicious racist epithets.
I’ll say one thing for these mental defectives. They slithered out from their hiding places in a timely fashion.
Not only was the 40th anniversary of Hammerin’ Hank’s record-breaking homer off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium being remembered fondly.
April 15 was Jackie Robinson Day, the date Major League Baseball had set aside to honor the Brooklyn Dodger who broke baseball’s color barrier.
I remember reading the sports pages with horror when Aaron was getting close to Ruth’s all-time mark of 714 home runs.
His daughter, Gail, did not feel safe walking around the campus of Fisk University in Nashville, where she was a student.
His elderly parents were getting weird phone calls at 3 a.m. at their home in Mobile, Ala.
The Braves were getting so many racist death threats through the mail (no e-mail back then) that the FBI was called in to investigate.
If you’re saying to yourself that it couldn’t happen today, tell that to the people mourning the deaths of their loved ones in Overland Park, Kan., where a white supremacist faces murder charges after allegedly opening fire at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement home, killing three people on April 13.
Aaron’s comments merely acknowledge the fact that most of today’s racists exercise their prejudice with politically correct coded language instead of the blatant use of the “n” word or with bullets and nooses.
Instead of spewing their venom publicly while people of a different race try to go to a school from which they had been banned, they disguise their racism with pretexts and loopholes in corporate boardrooms.
Over the decades, Aaron has been one of the most mild-mannered athletes in sports. He let his bat do his talking for him.
The fact that he received such a hateful reaction for speaking his mind now only underscores the need for more of us to keep speaking our minds.