In 1974, when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record, he received a slew of racist hate mail. Last week, as we were celebrating the 40th anniversary of Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run, he received another slew of racist hate mail.
That’s right. More hate mail. All over again. Forty years later.
Aaron, who kept the hate mail that he received 40 years ago, told USA Today baseball writer Bob Nightengale that, in terms of race relations in America, we haven’t come as far as we think.
“He keeps the letters just to remind himself that racism still exists today,” Nightengale said on The Morning Show. “He (also) talks about supporting President Obama.”
Indeed, just because America elected an African-American president doesn’t mean that racism no longer exists. In fact, Aaron feels racism still exists to a significant degree; it’s just that it’s not as overt as it used to be.
Instead of wearing “hoods,” Aaron said, “now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
“He was talking about CEOs, corporate America, everything else,” Nightengale said. “He wasn’t referring to a political party.”
Of course, that’s exactly how some people took it. They feel that Aaron, 80, was comparing Republicans who oppose President Obama to the KKK.
Nightengale didn’t see it that way.
“People can say things behind closed doors; they try to be more politically correct publicly, but (they) can (say and) do a lot of different things privately,” Nightengale said. “I agree with him. I agree that stuff now is kept more private. You’ll hear things at private parties or things behind the scenes where people won’t say things publicly, but they’ll certainly say it in whispers and things like that.
“You still do see racism going. It’s just not as overt as it used to be.”
Thus, as we commemorate Aaron’s 40th anniversary and honor Jackie Robinson, we’re still talking about – and dealing with – racism in America. Brandon Tierney thinks that is a shame.
“It is,” Nightengale said. “And I think what’s happened has kind of proved his point – that racism still exists. I mean, for him to get these letters now 40 years later is exactly what he was talking about. I think that’s why he kept them originally, just to remind himself that this county still has a lot further to go. Don’t believe for a second that everything’s fine now.”
Nightengale doesn’t think Aaron was trying to specifically attack Republicans – or any political party. Rather, he feels Aaron’s message, in essence, was don’t be a fool and don’t put your head in the sand; racism is still a problem.
And Aaron wants to be part of the solution.
“Here’s a guy who had all kinds of hate mail and people wanting him – death threats and everything else,” Nightengale said. “Never once did I hear him lash back out of anger or anything like that. Just knowing the kind of person he is, he would never say anything like that.”
Nightengale does not think Aaron – or the Atlanta Braves – needs to issue a statement or apology clarifying that he was not talking about Republicans or the KKK.
“No, I don’t think so,” Nightengale said. “Those words never came out of his mouth, so why should he apologize for something he never said?”