Saturday, May 9, 2015

Race Bating

Commenting this week on the scandal du jour known as "Deflategate", Father Michael Phleger posted the following on his Facebook page:
Today ESPN reported that New England Patriots most probably deliberately DEFLATED the balls in the AFC Championship Game......If this is true then shouldn't the New England Patriots lose their title as was done to the Jackie Robinson West Team???? but, oh that's right the JRW team was all Black....silly me!!!!!!!! 
He was referring to investigations that have concluded that the National Football League champion New England Patriots tampered with balls used in the game leading up to the Super Bowl. At this writing, the NFL is contemplating punishments to both the team, and their quarterback Tom Brady, the alleged instigator of the transgression. Suspensions and fines most likely will be the result, not the stripping of their championship title, as was done to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on account of rules violations.

I admire Father Pfleger, his ministry and his commitment to the predominantly African American community in which his parish, St. Sabina resides. I agree that the punishment to the JRW team was unnecessarily severe and bemoan the likelihood that the punishment to the Brady Bunch will probably be little more than a slap on the wrist. But I strongly object to Father Pfleger's defining the comparison of the two teams and their punishments around the issue of race.

First and foremost, the NFL and Little League Baseball are two unrelated governing bodies, the rulings of one have absolutely no relevance with the rulings of the other. Had LLB a history of letting off white teams for comparable rule violations, then Pfleger would have a point. However LLB already has a precedent of revoking the championships of teams who broke their rules. Had they given a lighter penalty to JRW, they most certainly would have been accused of favoritism toward an all black team.

Likewise, had a black quarterback, say Seattle's Russell Wilson, been accused of a similar offense as Brady's, and his team's Super Bowl championship from last year been revoked, the good Father would have been spot on. But neither the NFL, nor any other major American professional sports league to the best of my knowledge, has a precedent of revoking a championship for any reason.

If you look at the details of each case separately, I think it's clear that Father Pfleger's implication that race played into either decision is absurd. Last summer, the entire nation tuned in as two little league teams captured the public's imagination. The Taney Dragons of Philadelphia, featured Mo'ne Davis, a 5'4" girl with a 70 mph fastball. The other team was Jackie Robinson West, from the south side of Chicago. What was unusual about both teams as far as the Little League tournament was concerned, was that both came from big cities and were made up predominantly of African American players. The last part is particularly significant as organized baseball has witnessed a steady decline in the numbers of black players in its ranks for the past few decades. Nobody knows the exact reason for this but the attention paid to the two little league teams from Philadelphia and Chicago was seen as a shot in the arm for baseball in the African American community.

I don't have the numbers but I can't ever remember as much attention paid to the annual Little League Tournament held in Willimasport, PA. When the JRW team returned home to Chicago after capturing the American championship, they were hailed as conquering heroes, the celebration for them downtown was not unlike celebrations of Chicago's championship professional teams. Their championship was seen as a happy story which contrasted sharply with tales of violence and misery in much of Chicago's African American community.

With all the attention to youth baseball, all the good will generated, not to mention all the revenue gained from advertising and contributions brought through the efforts of the Jackie Robinson West team to the game, it's inconceivable to me that Little League Baseball would single out JRW for punishment because of their race. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced that the opposite was not true, that JRW may have been given special treatment by receiving every benefit of the doubt, as the allegations of the team's fielding players from outside their district had been well known for a long time. It turned out that during the tournament, LLB simply chose to look the other way. It was not until long after the championship was awarded, when irrefutable evidence surfaced that the allegations of rules violations were true, that LLB was forced to act. Although I strongly disagree with the revoking of JRW's championship, LLB's decision was entirely consistent with their actions of the past.

There have been a number of instances where national championships have been revoked for rules violations in amateur sports organizations such as the NCAA. As a professional league, the National Football League has different commitments than amateur leagues, namely contracts, stock holders, team owners, and the most important source of revenue, the fans who pay for it all. A disqualification of a team's championship would go a long way to disrupt the ungodly revenue stream that comes into the NFL and other professional sports leagues. No one in the industry wants that. Unlike Major League Baseball, the majority of NFL players are black. A very large number of its fans are black. A different set of standards for blacks and whites would definitely not be in the best interest of an industry for whom the only color that matters, is green.

Father Pfleger does have one point. I said I do not believe that the ultimate decisions of the NFL and LLB were racially motivated, but the public's opinion, at least judging by the comments to Pfleger's post, is certainly racially charged. Unfortunately, most of the hundreds of comments the post received, seem to follow along racial lines; most of the black commenters supported Father Pfleger's implications, while most of the whites attacked him, sometimes in the most vulgar of terms. It must be pointed out that Father Pfleger himself is white.

Again, I applaud much of the work Father Pfleger has done at St. Sabinas, but I strongly urge him to tone the race bating down. There are plenty of instances of bigotry and racism in our society that deserve to be attacked. Finding racism in places where it does not exist, and further dividing us along the color line, is in no one's best interest, except sad to say, Father Pfleger's and others who seem to thrive on the attention it generates.

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