Last weekend Brewers pitcher Josh Hader made it into his first game since the firestorm over his old tweets erupted during the All-Star break. You likely recall — and were likely unsurprised — to hear that he got a standing ovation from the Milwaukee fans.
I certainly wasn’t surprised. When a hometown player gets in trouble the local fans usually circle the wagons and defend him. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with him or what he did. It doesn’t make them bad people. It’s just a thing that happens in the extraordinarily tribal landscape of sports.
But that does not mean that the ovation is not worth examining a bit. Today Michael Powell of the New York Times examines it a bit and makes a point that seems so obvious upon reading it that I’m rather ashamed of myself for not thinking about it at the time:
This, however, is a white behavioral moment worth exploring, and I type these words as a lifelong member of that race.
Let’s pose a counterfactual: Josh Hader is black, and an excavation of his Twitter account reveals that he called whites “crackers,” wrote of his hatred for them and endorsed an organization that engaged in genocidal violence against whites. One of his tweets included a picture of a clenched black fist. That black pitcher had also expressed hatred for gays and made graphic, misogynist statements.
I’m trying to imagine thousands of white fans rising to their feet and giving him a standing ovation, even after he apologizes and blames youthful indiscretion. Or, rather, I’m trying and failing. We know what happened when a few black football players of good character took a knee to protest police violence against black Americans: They were pilloried by the president of the United States and received no standing ovations . . . Some are now unemployed.
Again: the folks who stood and applauded Hader are not necessarily bad people. I’m sure many are, in fact, wonderful people. They were simply doing us-against-the-world fan stuff, the sort of which has happened in most home ballparks for players who find themselves mired in controversy.
But only some players. Almost exclusively white players, including the ones who do far worse things than kneel for a flag. Sports fans — primarily white fans — find it in their heart to defend or at least least support white players who step in it while rarely if ever doing it for athletes of color. And make no mistake, if the hypothetical Powell described actually happened, we know DAMN well that player would not get an ovation.
Not because everyone in the stadium is a racist. But because our empathy and understanding for people of color is sorely lacking and, in most instances, we refuse to put ourselves in their shoes. And we’re far too quick to let white people off the hook for stuff we’d never forgive if done by someone else.