Monday, November 19, 2007

It ain't just B anymore ...

I've found a mocha-skinned sister to love. Everybody, meet Jemele Hill, whom I had rarely read before today, when she wrote the single best piece of commentary I have ever read about Barry Bonds.

I should probably just stop there, since the Brothers Anonymous are probably flinging objects across their earth-toned living rooms already. But I can't resist observing that one of the precious few measured, logical, original, and convincing opinion pieces I've read about Bonds -- and the only readable opinion piece I've seen from ESPN in recent memory -- was written by a black woman. And, even better, she actually acknowledged her race and gender, and the role they play in her perspective, unlike pretty much any of her colleagues, ever (and by colleagues, I don't mean other black female sportswriters, or other black sportswriters, but simply other sportswriters). She obviously knew many of her readers (and, I would bet, many of her colleagues) would accuse her of playing The Race Card, and yet she discussed race, anyway. That takes grit.

(On the race card issue: it consistently baffles me that educated and intelligent people -- I've seen it used in the comments here -- still use that phrase, apparently ignorant of the blatant and sadly ironic racism inherent in suggesting that race is just a card minorities use to win arguments. Accusing somebody of playing the race card is the new race card.)

Are her race and gender why the column's good? No. Are they why her perspective is unique? Actually, yes, they probably have something to do with it. I originally wrote a cynical, sarcastic comment in this space, but that whole bloviating tone is really tiring, here and on every other sports blog I read. (And I'm sure a couple of our trusty commenters will take care of that for me, anyway.) So I'll just say this: that column is a great example of why I think sports journalism would be better off if it offered more minority perspectives.

Second place in the best-recent-Bonds-piece competition goes to McCovey Chronicles.

Later edit: This is sort of interesting. A little bit of digging on Ms. Hill reveals that, in a study done last year, she was the only black female sports columnist employed by the sample size of 305 newspapers. Is she the only black female sports columnist in America? Anybody know?

15 comments:

Diesel said...

I'm not going to lie: Hill's body of work has led me to pretty much ignore anything she writes. I would not have read this had you not recommended it. But you're absolutely right that she's absolutely right. It's a little sad, if you ask me, that we should be lauding a national sports columnist for making the blatantly obvious and correct statement, but that's where we're at.

However, I take real issue with this:

And for the record, I have been as critical as anyone of Bonds. I didn't want to see him break Hank Aaron's record, because he's not as dignified as Aaron was and Bonds didn't respect his natural ability the same way Aaron respected his.

Beyond my absolute hatred of the up-front couch, I really can't stand the way that people who weren't alive or cognizant for Aaron's career have decided that he's any more "dignified" than any other ballplayer. This isn't meant to diminish Aaron or his accomplishments; obviously, he dealt with a great deal of racism, probably more than any player in the history of the game not named Jack Robinson. The fact that Aaron didn't haul off and punch Craig Sager when rounding the bases is a feather in his cap, because if I was in his shoes I probably would have. Aaron is a great ballplayer, and probably a great dude, no question.

But the fact that any sports writer is going to talk about his "dignity" or his "respect" for his "natural ability" — I believe "natural ability" is the favorite adjective-noun combination of implicit racism in sports writing everywhere, by the way — when they didn't actually cover the man during his playing days is, in my opinion, malpractice of the first order. Aaron could have been the biggest prick in the world for all Hill knows; lord knows no one would have blamed him if he was. That she can't independently verify any of those statements about Aaron means they shouldn't play a role in what she writes about Bonds, a player she actually knows.

Also, it is weird that Hill would have preferred that Bonds didn't break the record, because I was led to believe that objectivity played a role in the proceedings.

Other than that, though, it's great.

Pepe said...

I have no idea what she means by that, either. But I'm willing to concede it, because I'm too young to have ever seen Hank Aaron play, or really to have seen him at all outside of highlight reels. I don't know the first thing about Hank Aaron's demeanor.

Then again, she looks awfully young herself ...

Pete Toms said...

Pepe, thanks for the link, I've never read Jemele Hill before. I also think she's bang on about everything except Aaron.

As for Bonds & race, any thoughts on the results of the Seton Hall survey on this subject? I think very revealing.

As for Aaron, I think the dignified remark is more a sign of the times than anything. Black athletes of Aaron's generation were quieter and more "respectful". ( I don't think that is a good thing either ). Remember Aaron played in the Negro Leagues, he's no post Ali type of athlete.

As for the "respect his natural ability" remark I construe that to mean that he played clean, but hey everybody did then. Hank Aaron would be a runt in today's game.

Diesel said...

Pete, what survey are you referring to? There have been quite a few in the last few years, so it's a little easy to lose track. Care to provide a link?

As for what Hill might have meant about "natural ability," you could be right. But that doesn't change how I feel about its presence in her column; purposely vague bromides have no place in journalism either.

Pete Toms said...

D, I have a press release in Wordpad format, no link.

You probably are aware of the survey, it was conducted by Seton Hall but "in association" with ESPN - which I guess means Disney paid for it.

Anyway the spin on it was such:

35 Percent of African-Americans Think Bonds Singled Out Due to Race;
Only 2 Percent of Non African-Americans Agree

I don't know if 2 canucks ( are you a hoser? ) are qualified to comment about race in America but it's the way of the 2.0 world.

Diesel said...

Born Canadian, current American citizen ... I'm not really sure what I am anymore.

I think I remember hearing about that survey, as well, and all I could think was "confirmation bias." The question the people taking the survey — "Is Barry Bonds being singled out because he's black?" — is precisely the type of question that can lead to such lopsided results (frankly, am I the only one surprised in how low the figure is for African Americans?). The implication in that question is that Bonds is being singled out only because he's black, and that all else being equal he wouldn't be in this spot. In truth, it's not possible anyone feels that way, because Bonds attitude and approach with media/fans plays as big a role, if not a bigger role than, his race. So, it's a bad survey question, IMHO.

But still interesting, of course.

Pete Toms said...

I agree entirely, the results are interesting but not surprising and certainly his awful relationship with the baseball media has hurt him big.

I think ( and I've been of this opinion for quite awhile ) Ms Hill gets to the crux of the Bonds race problem when she writes:

"Bonds' most egregious error is that he is not content to play the role of the grateful black man."

What is IMHO?

Diesel said...

In My Humble Opinion.

Jeff said...

I am not a fan of Jemele's work. I generally find it to be full of sloppy arguments that are not very thorough or well thought out. On this piece for example, you'll notice she never really addresses the crime of lying to a grand jury, which is serious. First, she seems confused about it. Then, she turns the commentary into Barry's crime against his legacy (this was his biggest fault?). She minimizes his alleged crime with the stupid Bin Laden comment.

Not to mention the confusing stuff that you guys yourselves pointed out.

I actually think she proved nothing other than that she has a unique ability to confuse a bunch of issues at once and still sound like she has a point, when she doesn't.

We get it - other guys used steroids - but Bonds had to tell the truth. It was a grand jury. If we find out he was telling the truth, then you have a column. Lying to a grand jury undermines the entire criminal justice system and yes, they will spend $6 million to chase you down for it. The government is unencumbered by cost in these instances.

Diesel said...

@ Jeff
Sorry, but there are shades of gray when it comes to "crime," so I wouldn't accuse Bonds' "crime" of undermining anything except the credibility of the Federal Prosecutor who wasted millions of dollars trying to run a baseball player up a pole for juicing.

Yes, Barry lied (allegedly), and lying is bad. But Barry's lie wasn't material to a case in question; the issue of whether he "knowingly" took steroids isn't central to the prosecution of BALCO, it's that he was a customer and at some point tested positive for the drug. That they've spent this long pursuing an ancillary case is proof that they're more concerned with making a splash than justice.

I'm less concerned with Hills' craftsmanship than I am that almost every other sports writer has reveled in Bonds' fall -- for either personal or sensational reasons -- without examining whether or not this is any cause for celebration.

Pepe said...

Oh please. "Lying to a grand jury undermines the entire criminal justice system"? Are we in high school civics class?

If you want to talk about undermining credibility, how about taking four years and six million dollars to scrape together a perjury indictment on a fucking baseball player. All while, conveniently, he sets records and generates publicity (and massive amounts of revenue) for a government-sanctioned monopoly that's run about as crookedly as can be.

You focus on the bin Laden comment -- I thought the Bush one was more revealing. Everybody up to and including the President of our country condoned and furthered this big collective steroid binge, and yet who's the target of the inevitable fallout? A black guy known to be a notorious asshole. Not the white players Hill mentions -- not even McGwire, a former home run king himself, who clammed up in front of Congress.

All so now revisionist crackers everywhere can sermonize about how serious Barry's crime was. Like Diesel said, not all crimes are the same, and to suggest so is not only naive -- it's also ignoring the plain fact that the government obviously doesn't think so.

The Barry Bonds case is a wasteful witch hunt conducted by a bunch of headline-whoring, careerist feds. It's a farce and a disgrace.

Also, disagree with Hill all you want, but just because you don't agree doesn't mean she's a sloppy writer or that she doesn't have a point. She has a lot clearer and better-supported of a point than just about anybody I've seen argue against Bonds, including you.

Big C said...

"All while, conveniently, he sets records and generates publicity (and massive amounts of revenue) for a government-sanctioned monopoly that's run about as crookedly as can be."

Are you referring to the Giants or MLB? Just curious.

Pepe B. Secessionist said...

The Giants, obviously. They have a monopoly on last place.

Jeff said...

Sorry, I wasn't supporting the Bonds trial generally. Of course I'd rather see taxpayer money spent differently. I just think it's futile to argue cost/benefit in these cases, because that's not how reality works at these levels.

I just do not think her column was a good argument in favor of Bonds or all that enlightening. It was all over the place. Of course all crimes are different, but it's still a crime. If one wants to focus on the proportionality of his sentence (if he gets one) in relation to other crimes, then I would agree. But we're not at that stage yet.

It's hard to feel bad for him when he just had to tell the truth. Jason Giambi managed to.

catfishvegas said...

How come she's got some gmail address rather than an espn.com one?