As we conducted our daily perusing of the internet to find injustice and topics for our educatory offerings; we came across a post on The Big Lead which got us thinking.
The post covered a discussion that took place on a radio show (on 850 the Buzz) hosted by former ESPN page 2 contributor Bomani Jones (Jones is hosting the show in June and July on weekdays from 3-6PM live_feed) . During a discussion about the great first two months of the season by baseball's Josh Hamilton (Hamilton is the former #1 pick turned drug addict, turned recovered potential superstar), Jones wondered if the press was particularly enamored and receptive to the story of Hamilton's redemptive quest and success because of his pale hue and rekindled devotion to Christianity.
Certainly, a fair question. And one that, we at NOIS had discussed amongst ourselves in the past.
In an effort for further clarification, we decided to ask Bomani Jones a few more questions about his take on the subject. And, we also decided to get the opinion of other another prominent Negro sports columnist, Scoop Jackson.
First, our discussion with Bomani (edit. this was a discussion format, so please, those of you that love to send us grammar and spelling corrections...this is unedited/as is....so save the the Ms. Crabapple act):
NOIS: First, there have been black athletes that have fallen, obviously, into a world of drugs. Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden come to mind quite quickly. And, both of those guys went thru periods in which it seemed like they had recovered. Was the media as supportive? As applauding? Positive? I seem to remember the media being skeptical....but that's my memory. The possibility of relapse to addiction is staggering. Is it not odd that the media isn't skeptical about what the future holds for Hamilton? That everyone is so sure that he is on the right road forever?
Bomani: I don't remember Strawberry receiving the same treatment, nor do I remember Gooden throwing a no-hitter for the Yankees being treated as a tale of triumph over adversity. But, I'm also young enough that someone could prove me wrong by doing the LexisNexis search that I'm too tired to do myself right now. The saddest thing about Strawberry didn't come from the media, though. It came from Tom Lasorda, Straw manager when he relapsed in Los Angeles, who refused to acknowledge addiction as a sickness and went out of his way to call it "a weakness."
What's striking to me is the humanity that Hamilton has been afforded the last couple of years. It's a humanity he absolutely deserves, mind you. I've never met a single person that wanted to be strung out, so I'm not about to wag a finger at him for getting hooked on drugs. I applaud him for rising up and reclaiming his life. The baseball thing is secondary to me. I'd be thrilled for him if he was working on a garbage truck and just quit smoking cigarettes.
I can't say for sure exactly why Hamilton's story has been treated as it has. I just know I've never seen a former crack smoker get this much love from anyone, and the sports media hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt on this thing (or much of anything when it comes to race, quite honestly). Never.
In Hamilton's story, he is the protagonist, and addiction is treated as the villain. The dragon isn't slain, but it's a beast that we're made to root against (as we should). In most cases, however, it is the addict that is treated as the villain. That is where this case is different than most i recall seeing.
Check the SI piece (which is well-written, I must say). Hamilton's father-in-law talks about how aware Josh is that "the devil" isn't far away. The Rangers have Jerry Narron with Hamilton as "a friend" and "a precaution," according to Hamilton. All very human stuff.
That's also stuff that, depending on who's behind the keyboard and who's under the microscope, could have been written differently. Narron could have been cast more as a supervisor, someone to make sure he behaves himself. I already talked about stuff like the addiction as "the devil." The question is simply this -- why does Josh Hamilton get such treatment and others don't?
Race certainly isn't the only factor, but you have to consider it. This country has put a black face on it's nonsensical "War on Drugs" from Day One, a strategy that is certainly more about being "tough on crime" than it is about helping anybody, considering that drugs aren't any harder to find than they used to be but these policies haven't undergone much change. Check the history, and you'll find a significant reason that cocaine was made illegal was to protect society from "cocaine crazed Negroes." Policies and perceptions, when it comes to drugs, have always had a racial component.
So people are going to try to tell me that Josh Hamilton, a middle-class white guy, isn't getting different treatment than a black person would? Anyone that says that white drug addicts are not treated with a different level of sympathy than black ones is either stupid, or must think I am, if I'm expected to believe that. If you don't question whether race had something to do with how a story of a white drug addict is reported vis-a-vis a black one, it's only because you don't want to.
Now, as for media skepticism about Hamilton, I'm sure it's there. It has to be. I haven't seen it vocalized much, and maybe that's because doing so interferes with the story (I was accused by many listeners of tainting the story, one I praised on air a few dozen times). It's expressed when you see people talk about all the steps Hamilton takes to avoid temptation -- not going out with teammates, not taking per diem money, etc. -- but that stuff seems to be framed as a testament to his dedication and to the power of the devil.
My frustration, however, is not with how Hamilton's story is being treated. It's the stories that don't get this treatment that make me scratch my head. The depths of Hamilton's addiction, considering that he emerged from them, were unique. Addiction, however, was not, nor is overcoming it.
I can think of addicts with backgrounds that made it far more likely they would get strung out than Josh Hamilton The sordid tale of Chris Washburn, who was shamelessly used his whole basketball playing life, immediately comes to mind. Washburn is a punch line when people talk about cocaine-addicted basketball players, and that's foul.
I just don't think stardom or whiteness or anything else need be coupled with a neat story should be required before treating a recovered addict with respect and humanity.
NOIS: Forgotten in all of this is the fact that Hamilton DID what he did. Certainly, we are a very forgiving society. Do you think that young black athletes, like Pacman Jones, who has been reckless and a poor decision maker...do you think that if he is able to make better decisions, mature and become a solid citizen, that HE will hailed by the media as a 'hero'? Or can he look forward to people saying that the only reason he stopped his reckless behavior was the money?
Bomani: As a hero? Hell no, he won't. Pacman's haunted by demons, and we all know it. It's also worth noting that Pacman hasn't talked to many people about said demons (through a mutual friend that I've known since I was 16, and that he's known his whole life, I was turned down for an interview last year). Would he receive such treatment if he was more open? Mayhaps.
Another part that can't be ignored is that there hasn't been a line of people running to say what a great guy Pacman is or was before. Again, I know people that will vouch for him, and they're people I trust for totally non-business reasons. Most people don't. If people thought he was a bad guy before -- and most did -- then they won't be but so happy to see him succeed. On my show, I had all kinds of people that knew Hamilton from various points in his life talk about what a great guy he is. That is a significant point if Hamilton and Jones are going to be compared with one another (something I did on my show, and something a few of my listeners astutely pointed out, though I don't think this is the only real difference between these two guys).
I know this, though -- a storyline of training camp and beyond with Pacman will be whether he falls back into his bad behavior. It will come up early, and it will probably come up often. Hell, he isn't even really reinstated yet, as they make sure he can get through training camp without sneaking strippers in or something. Can't blame anyone for that, either. It's hard to stop being a knucklehead, even if we're dealing with a knucklehead young enough to grow out of a lot of his problems (like Josh Hamilton did).
If Pacman has four interceptions and a return touchdown in his first five games -- which, ballparking here, is an equivalent start to Hamilton's torrid pace -- you will not see "The Redemption of Pacman Jones" on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Of that, I can guarantee you. But, how much of that will be because Pacman won't be talking? Or because he's not as magnetic as Hamilton? Good questions.
I think Pacman's as haunted by his past as Hamilton was by whatever told him to keep getting high. If he succeeds, he's overcoming, too (and honestly, some would argue that Pacman overcame just by living this long). How do we decide whose triumph over adversity, whether self-inflicted or not, is noble and whose is just a matter of cleaning up his own mess? By whether we like them or not? There's got to be a better standard to use than that.
NOIS: From all accounts, Hamilton came from a fairly solid, stable background. Yet he fell into drugs. No one blamed his 'culture' or background for what happened. Yet, when a black athlete makes poor decisions, many in the media want to drag his 'culture' down with him. No one says, 'josh hamilton fell victim to the ills of his middle class white upbringing...and that is why he had those horrible few years'.....yet, regardless of the background of a black athlete who makes bad moves, 'black' culture is called into question...when a white athlete falls, it is simply an indictment of the white athlete....when a black athlete falls, it is an indictment of the athlete, his upbringing, black society and anything else that can be thrown in.....(I guess that wasn't a question....it was just a rant....sorry.....lol)
Bomani: The curse of blackness is as follows -- nothing good you do represents anyone but you, and it barely does that much. The bad you do represents every single black person on this side of Senegal AND the culture they subscribe to. Now, the killer is that black culture is treated as separate from this larger culture that is America.
Michael Moore did a movie called "Roger and Me" a long time ago, a film about life in Flint, Mich. after a plant closing. Long of the short -- General Motors did those hard-working Americans dirty, and leaving town was part of why crime began to skyrocket. It's a fair point Moore makes.
When I think of Flint, I think of some hard ass ghettoes and gangs. I know black folks from Michigan, so I think of the things they tell me about the place (I've never been there). The way I see it, gangs thrive in situations of poverty, the kind of poverty that comes when a blue-collar industry that employs vast swaths of people goes away. In other words, I doubt the gang situation in Flint would be what some say it is had automobile industry not pulled out. It's the same way Baltimore wouldn't have become what it is now -- now that, I've seen -- had the shipping industry not died.
Dollars to donuts says when people see those boys bangin' in Flint, they blame black culture, the same way they do when they see boys selling dope in Baltimore. If they see struggling white people in Flint, they want to spit on General Motors.
See what I mean?
I personally long for the day that I am afforded my God-given American right to not give a flying fuck about anybody else when I do something, whether it be good or bad. I long for the day when my mistakes are my own, and I'm not expected to represent 20 or 30 million people with every word I say. That's a luxury white folks have that other groups don't, and it's something they should feel really grateful for -- the comfort in knowing that the behavior of people you've never met has absolutely no effect on your life. I really wonder what that's like.
Certainly, some folks who listened to Bomani's show, or have heard others mention that Hamilton is getting more positive media support because of his sun-starved skin naturally jumped to the prerequisite conclusion that Jones and others were simply playing the 'race card'. Complaining and mentioning race as means to gain attention for themselves. Or, are so race fixated that they see racism at every turn.
If you read Jones' comments here, you would understand that it is much deeper than race. It is respect and humanity. It is compassion. The question is, is it easier to be more compassionate to one of your own?
As we mentioned, we wanted other thoughts on this topic. So, we turned to ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson.
NOIS: Any thoughts on whether the feel good buzz and attention on Josh Hamilton's rise from the ashes would be as closely covered and widely applauded if he were not of a pale hue?
Scoop: i just read the SI joint and WAS THINKING THE EXACT SAME THING!!!!
Again, The question is, is it easier to be more compassionate to one of your own?