In the confederate confines of sports radio, casual bigotry is about as common as traffic updates. Far less common, even unprecedented, is for a manager or coach to look this in the eye and call out a member of the media's comments as “racist.”
That’s exactly what San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy did last week to nationally syndicated sports radio talker Tony Bruno, and he should be applauded for it. After Bochy’s pitcher Ramon Ramirez hit Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies last Friday, sparking a bench-clearing brawl, Bruno blew a gasket. He posted, “gutless #!@ percent*# Giants ) Bochy is a coward for having his illegal alien pitcher hit a guy.”
Ramirez of course is not an “illegal” anything. Like every one of the 30 percent of Major League players born outside the United States who aren’t citizens, he lives and works here under a P-1 visa, often referred to as an entertainment visa.
But then, no human being is actually “illegal” at all. It’s just an ugly slur that’s been mainstreamed by those who target the undocumented. As Gustavo Andrade the organizing director of leading immigrant rights group Casa de Maryland said to me,
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“Mr. Bruno was clearly not making a factual statement about Mr. Ramirez’s immigration status; rather, he was making a derogatory comment about him based on his race. That racist slur has been actively promoted by the most vicious anti-immigrant groups in the country. It is meant to dehumanize an entire ethnic group within the United States and desensitize the public to the difficult struggles immigrants face every day. Five million children face the daily risk of becoming an orphan through the deportation of one—or both—of their parents. Mr. Bruno’s tweet was racist, ignorant and dangerous. It propagates the idea that all Latinos are somehow less than human.”
When Bochy heard about Bruno’s comments, he was incensed, saying, “Forget the remarks about me. That doesn’t bother me. For a guy to make a racist comment like that and have the ear of so many people, that bothers me. I can defend myself as a coward. I don’t know if you can defend yourself making a racist comment.”
After the initial uproar, Bruno set a land-speed record for issuing a classic “non-apology-apology” where he slammed “the sheep on facebook, twitter and blogs.” Later, Bruno wrote, “I did remove my post and apologize for my comments regarding illegal aliens. I was angry and on the air and I stand behind my comments that Bruce Bochy is a coward, as are all managers who order pitchers to throw at guys just because their pitchers can’t get a guy out. All of you people resorting to name calling are more classless and vile.” You could almost weep over the heartfelt remorse.
Assumedly one of those “more classless and vile” people is Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition who said of Bruno, “This guy is a pig. In this day and age, using this kind of language, which encourages intolerance and hate crimes, is inexcusable.”
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Honestly, I disagree strongly with Nogales. I disagree because his comments are highly insulting to pigs, who are extremely intelligent animals. I bet Bruno couldn’t find a quality truffle if his life depended on it.
The question that really matters is whether he should be fired. I asked Dr. Carlos Munoz Jr., Ethnic Studies professor at UC Berkeley. Dr. Munoz said, “Tony Bruno was off the wall. Comments like his are harmful because they perpetuate the racist anti-immigrant hysteria that exists throughout the nation. It adds fuel to the fire that started burning in Arizona and that has expanded to Georgia and other states. He deserves to be fired!” In other words, racism, ignorance and abject stupidity, when you host a national radio show, are, in fact, firing offenses.
But the unfortunate words of one doesn’t change the fact that this whole sorry story comes back to the political climate around the game. Responsibility for that falls at the feet of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Under Selig’s watch, teams have invested billions in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to develop talent on the cheap. Yet he does nothing to actually recognize the humanity of the players who are the game’s brightest stars.
Selig has had several opportunities to show that he recognizes that Latino players are more than a talent pool. But he rejected the movement to retire Roberto Clemente’s number 21 in every park. He refused to remain in the stadium and talk to reporters when Carlos Santana spoke out against anti-Latino bigotry at this year’s Civil Rights game. Most egregiously, and unforgivably, he wouldn’t move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona despite the state’s evolution toward becoming a place where Latino players and fans are simply unsafe.
In Bud Selig’s baseball universe, Roberto Clemente goes unrecognized and people like Tony Bruno get national platforms to slander “illegal aliens”. In other words, we can get Tony Bruno off the air, but there is a bigger fight brewing for the very soul of the National Pastime. Will baseball be a force for inclusion or exclusion? Throughout its checkered history, this game has certainly been both. Bud right now stands with Tony Bruno on the wrong side of that history.
[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing email@example.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]