Monday, June 30, 2008

I might get some flak for this. But whenever race is brought into sports, it causes a storm of controversy. And when it is used irresponsibly, it is cause to call it out for what it is.

There is a man who until the middle of last week was a pitcher for the Houston Astros. Before that he pitched for the Pirates, the Yankees, and the Rockies. Currently he is unemployed. Why is he unemployed, you ask? Because he threw the General Manager of the team to the ground and then tried to choke him.

Let me say in no uncertain terms that I think being unemployed should be the least of his problems, and in fact he should be locked up, like someone who isn't a professional athlete would be if they did the same thing to their boss. Now that being said, I needed to say the following.

I was reading the Sunday Baltimore Sun's sports page when I read the commentary by David Steele (who some of you may remember I have mentioned in the past). His main article was about Babe Ruth and Ruth's granddaughters pushing for the Babe's number to be retired throughout baseball like Jackie Robinson's number has been. Personally, I have no opinion on that. But in his sidebar, bullet point section he mentioned the following...

The last time a pro athlete wrapped his hands around his boss' neck, it led the national newscasts, anger-management and workplace-violence experts were consulted, the president of the United States was pressed for his reaction, and the player was kicked out for a year and became an instant pariah. Of course, the last athlete who did that wore cornrows.

Here is my problem with this statement. It is bad enough that too many times, and way to casually, incidents are made out to be a black / white issue (and by that I don't mean "cut and dried", easy to see one side or the other), mainly because I think it is the easy way out to make an explanation or rationale of something. But when it is taken even further that it is because the last case was someone who was "blacker" than the current case (I don't see any other way to interpret the cornrows statement), well that smacks of sensationalism to me.

Let's look at some facts. According to Chacon himself, he is not sure exactly of his heritage, since he was put up for adoption at age 4...

Chacon was born in Anchorage, Alaska, but has only dim recollection of his biological mother and none of his father (he believes his biological father was African-American and his mother Latina). His mother placed him in a Greeley, Colorado foster home when he was 4, and he was adopted by Tony and Blanca Chacon.

No matter his heritage, he is not Caucasian, as this GIS (Google Image Search) will show you. So basically Steele is saying that since Chacon is a clean cut minority, white people don't have as big of a problem with his choking someone as we did when "thuggy" Latrell Sprewell did it.

Well, here is another reason, maybe not so "black and white". According to Chacon (and I realize that it is just his side of the story) GM Ed Wade was yelling and cursing at Chacon, and Chacon asked him multiple times to stop before finally rising to his feet and taking the altercation to a new level. Wade has admitted to telling Chacon to "look in the [bleeping] mirror", and to raising his voice. He has admitted to these things after at first denying that he ever yelled or cursed at Chacon. Since he has recanted his defense once already, is it not possible, even feasible, that he yelled and cursed at Chacon before that moment? Is that a defense for throwing someone to the ground, or for any physical assault? Not in the least. But it isn't like there was no provocation in the matter. Now compare that to the Sprewell incident. In the course of a practice, P.J. Carlesimo (the coach of the Golden State Warriors, the team that Sprewell played for at the time) instructed Sprewell to make his passes crisper, or to use the parlance used by the coach, to "put a little mustard on the pass". Sprewell responded that he did not feel like being coached or instructed that day and told Carlesimo to stay away from him. Carlesimo approached him anyway, and Sprewell responded by choking Carlesimo for 15-20 seconds before other players pulled him off of Carlesimo's neck. He left the court, then returned a few moments later and threw a punch at Carlesimo, and landed a glancing blow.

So on one hand we have a guy who was yelled at and cursed at by the man who is supposed to be in charge of the entire team, even the coaching staff, and he is belittling another man. On the other hand we have a man who is doing his job by coaching a team, and who has a player who doesn't feel like doing his job, so with no provocation chokes and later punches the man.

Latrell Sprewell acted like a spoiled prima donna who thinks he is better than the other players, like he doesn't need instruction. He acted like a lazy bum who lashed out when he was called out for it, like if your boss were to come past your cubicle and sees you writing a sports blog instead of doing the work you were supposed to be doing (and getting paid to do), and tells you to get to work. Your co-workers will probably overhear your boss, and you will probably be embarrassed (not that this has ever happened to me). Would telling your boss that you don't need them to tell you how to do your job, then saying to stay away, and when they approach you anyway you try to kill them.

Shawn Chacon was wrong to refuse to go to the Manager's Office when Wade told him to go there for a meeting with him and Manager Cecil Cooper, but he did not start the altercation, and he did not begin the escalation of the altercation. And while Chacon was wrong for denying Wade's request to go to Cooper's office, in hindsight it was probably the best thing for him. I have no doubt that Wade's tirade would have been just as bad if not worse behind closed doors and without 24 witnesses (the rest of the team), and seeing how Wade initially denied yelling and cursing, I have to wonder if he would have admitted to it if said witnesses were not there to refute his statement.

Mr. Steele, you are in the wrong here, and stirring up racial issues only clouds the real issues in this case.

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