By TOM GODFREY
Reports of racist taunts at a recent Toronto Blue Jays game are disturbing and uncalled for in our diversified city as the cherished team battles their way to hopefully win the World Series.
The Blue Jays are riding a wave of popularity as they continue to make inroads in the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs. As a result, we were all stunned to see shots of a beer can being tossed on the field of Rogers Centre in images that flashed around the world.
What happened to the kind, polite and law-abiding Canadians, many U.S. residents asked on social media.
Even worse were the racial slurs that were heard by many fans as the partially filled can almost hit South Korean-born Hyun Soo Kim, an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, who was making a catch in the emotional wild-card game.
Fans said they heard spectators taunting Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and first-base coach Wayne Kirby, who are both Black, and were being told to “go get some more fried chicken”.
“Ushers witnessed this. Security witnessed this. They didn’t do anything, and let them stay in their seats,” one man said in disgust.
It is no surprise that the Internet lit up with angry baseball fans who want Blue Jays staff to do more to crack down or ban-for-life fans heard making racist slurs or involved in unruly behaviour. Banning the sale of beer in cans is not good enough. More has to be done by the Jays to educate and make their fans more aware of hate speech and its impact on others.
The racial slurs, which deeply hurt so many people in our multicultural city, takes us back to the “good old boy” days of 1946 when Jackie Robinson was first allowed to enter the sport and helped to break the colour barrier long held by professional baseball.
If it wasn’t for Robinson, top Jays sluggers like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin and others may not be in MLB today. Back then Robinson had to face daily insults, bigotry and violence about his race.
The former track and field and football star was handpicked to play for MLB. He played his first game with the Montreal Royals in 1946. The team was a minor league affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Robinson, the son of a Georgia sharecropper, was sent to Montreal as a first big test to see if a Negro could play and withstand the pressure, boos, insults and having items thrown at them while on the field.
He played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947 and had a career that lasted 10 years. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
He was named Rookie of the Year that same year, National League MVP in 1949 and a World Series champ in 1955.
The Dodgers by signing him heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball that had lasted for more than 80 years. Black players had previously been relegated to the Negro leagues.
Robinson influenced Black culture and history and gave a lot of his time to help the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, he helped to establish the Freedom National Bank, an African-American-owned financial institution in Harlem.
He was also the first Black television analyst in MLB and the first Black vice-president of a major U.S. corporation, Chock full o’Nuts.
Robinson died of a heart attack on October 24, 1972 at the age of 53 in his Connecticut home. He was posthumously awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
There have been a number of books written and movies made which documented Robinson’s life and many feats. Today he is still relevant and remains an inspiration to many of us.
Perhaps the Blue Jays and MLB on the next Jackie Robinson Day, which is celebrated every April 15, can try to install into fans his values of racial tolerance, respect and dignity to all.