Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Jones is well aware of the way race affects how players are treated. In 2017, when Jones was with the Orioles, fans at Fenway Park spat racist epithets and taunts, and threw peanuts at him. Major League Baseball and the Red Sox apologized to Jones, but his account of the incident was widely disputed by the usual suspects.
Last week in Arizona, Padres third baseman Manny Machado was called for interference after hitting a pop-up. Machado put his head down and very gently lobbed his bat like so many hitters do after making contact. Machado never touched catcher John Ryan Murphy as he attempted to catch the pop-up, but was called for interference nevertheless. The Diamondbacks broadcasters, Steve Berthiaume and Bob Brenly exoriated Machado, calling his actions “bush league.” The pair went on to rake Machado over the coals, with Brenly fantasizing about Machado getting “dropped in his tracks” by the wrong guy. Berthiaume later exclaimed, “300 million dollars!”
Machado, whose reputation does precede him, earned himself few friends in the postseason last year against the Brewers. In Game 2 of the NLCS, Machado didn’t run out a grounder. He later told Ken Rosenthal on the FS1 broadcast, “Obviously, I’m not going to change. I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle’ and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen. That’s just not my personality, that’s not my cup of tea, that’s not who I am.”
In Game 3, Machado twice made illegal slides into Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia, attempting to break up double plays. On the second of the two slides, Machado was called out for interference. In the 10th inning of Game 4, Machado hit a ground ball to Arcia. As Machado crossed the first base bag, his left leg collided with Jesús Aguilar’s right leg, which was planted on the first base bag. The two exchanged words and the benches emptied. The two appeared to put the issue behind them when Machado reached safely on a single in the 13th inning.
Objectively speaking, Machado has been a dirty player. However, it can also be true that the color of his skin affects how other people — particularly white people — perceive him. Machado has been lambasted for his actions while Chase Utley, who broke Rubén Tejada’s leg with an awful slide in the playoffs and had a new rule preventing such slides colloquially named after him, received a fraction of the criticism.
Jones, a teammate of Machado’s between 2012-18, thinks Machado’s reputation would “one hundred percent” be different if he were white, as The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan reports. In fact, Jones repeated “one hundred percent” three times. The full quote:
One hundred percent. One hundred percent. One hundred percent. We know that, because some players are called grinders and other players are called something else. Some players are called pouting, other players are called passionate. It’s all about how you word it. My wife’s a lawyer. She told me a long time ago that everything is about how you word it. And how you word it is important. It’s like how you write a headline — most people nowadays see the headline and react off the headline. They don’t care about the thousands of words you guys put into the actual article. They just care about the headline. We just want clicks. I get it. Trust me, it drives money, it’s the market. I completely understand it. It sucks that certain words are used to describe certain players and certain words are used to describe others.
Jones is right: people tend to describe white and non-white players differently. In August 2012, in a study published for The Atlantic, Adam Felder and Seth Amitin found that broadcasters were 13 percent less likely to praise a Latino player for his intangibles and 14 percent more likely to praise a US- or Canadian-born player for his intangibles. The pair also found that US/Canadian-born players were 10 percent more likely to be praised for effort and 10 percent more likely to be praised for character. As Felder and Amitin point out, their study of broadcasters found similar results to a July 2011 study of print media in baseball.
This holds true on a societal level as well. In March 2014, the American Psychological Association published a study in which 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public universities in the U.S. were asked to rate the innocence of people of various ages and races. Per the APA’s summary, “The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.” Furthermore, “The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found.”
That study doesn’t directly correspond to Machado’s treatment, as Machado is US-born and of Dominican heritage. However, it is an example of how people tend to unfairly assume responsibility and guilt for non-white people. Now imagine what people with power do with that bias, consciously or not. It does follow that, if Machado were white, he likely would have been treated differently — more favorably, like Utley — for his actions. Berthiaume and Brenly certainly wouldn’t have baselessly ranted about him on air for several minutes.
The issue is obviously uncomfortable for a lot of white people — if you want alcohol poisoning, take a drink every time someone uses the term “race card” in the comments — but it’s a worthwhile endeavor to consider how people who are different from us experience the world, and listen to them sincerely without getting defensive. Jones invites controversy everytime he chooses to speak up about the topic, but we sorely need players like him to help bring attention to these kinds of problems.