Guest Blogger Dave Zirin on the Santana Incident at MLB’s Civil Rights Game
Major League Baseball’s annual Civil Rights Game was poised to be a migraine-inducing exercise in Orwellian irony. Forget about the fact that Civil Rights was to be honored in Atlanta, where fans root for a team called the Braves and cheer in unison with the ubiquitous “tomahawk chop.”
Forget about the fact that the Braves have been embroiled in controversy since pitching coach Roger McDowell aimed violent, homophobic threats at several fans. Forget that this is a team that has done events with Focus on the Family, an organization that is to Civil Rights what Newt Gingrich is to marital fidelity.
The reason Atlanta was such a brutally awkward setting for a Sunday Civil Rights setting, was because Friday saw the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, sign HR 87, a law that shreds the Civil Rights of the state’s Latino population. Modeled after Arizona’s horrific and unconstitutional SB 1070, HR 87 authorizes state and local police the federal powers to demand immigration papers from people they suspect to be undocumented. Those without papers on request will find themselves behind bars. Civil rights hero, Atlanta’s John Lewis has spoken out forcefully against the legislation saying “This is a recipe for discrimination. We’ve come too far to return to the dark past.”
But there was Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, celebrating civil rights in the Georgia, and chortling excitedly about the 2011 All-Star game in Arizona. In the hands of Selig, irony becomes arsenic. Thank God that Commisioner Selig was stupid enough to choose the Civil Rights Game to honor, among others, the great musician Carlos Santana. Santana was supposed to be the Latino stand-in, a smiling symbol of baseball’s diversity. And maybe, he would even play a song!
But Bud picked the wrong Latino. Carlos Santana took the microphone and said that he was representing all immigrants. Then Santana added, “The people of Arizona, and the people of Atlanta, Georgia, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” In a perfect display of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Georgia, the cheers quickly turned to boos. Yes, Carlos Santana was booed on Civil Rights Day in Atlanta for talking about Civil Rights.
Then in the press box, Santana held an impromptu press conference where he let loose with an improvised speech to rival one of his virtuoso guitar solos. He said, “This law is not correct. It’s a cruel law, actually, This is about fear. Stop shucking and jiving. People are afraid we’re going to steal your job. No we aren’t. You’re not going to change sheets and clean toilets. I would invite all Latin people to do nothing for about two weeks so you can see who really, really is running the economy. Who cleans the sheets? Who cleans the toilets? Who babysits? I am here to give voice to the invisible.”
He went on to say, “Most people at this point they are either afraid to really say what needs to be said, this is the United States the land of the free. If people want the immigration law to keep passing in every state then everybody should get out and just leave the American Indians here. This is about Civil Rights.”
Where was Bud Selig during all this drama? It seems that Selig slunk out of a stadium backdoor in the 5th inning. If there is one thing Bud has become an expert at, it’s ducking his head when the issues of immigration, civil rights, and Major League Baseball collide. If Selig really gave a damn about Civil Rights, he would heed the words of Carlos Santana. He would move the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona. He would recognize that the sport of Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Curt Flood has an obligation to stand for something more than just using their memory to cover up the injustices of the present. If Bud Selig cared about Civil Rights, he would above all else, have to develop something resembling a spine. But if Bud is altogether unfamiliar with the concept of courage, he received one hell of an object lesson from Carlos Santana.
Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact him at email@example.com.
Guest Blogger Oscar Garza (Senior Editor at Los Angeles Public Media) on the L.A. Sign, Street Gangs and the DodgersMajor League Baseball has dealt with one problem at Dodger Stadium—the McCourts’ wayward ownership—and now someone else will have to deal with another huge issue at Chavez Ravine: a decline in the atmosphere there bought on by thugs who have made it a less friendly place.
According to the LA Weekly: Over the last five or six years under [Frank] McCourt’s ownership, the LAPD sources say, cheap ticket prices promoted in some sections, including outfield pavilions, helped add to the number of thugs and gang members. It wasn’t long before the 18th Street Gang and others became a more prominent presence, operating with the knowledge that a typical penalty for bad behavior was merely “getting kicked out,” one of the LAPD sources says.
It came to a flashpoint on Opening Day of this season with the parking lot beating of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, who remains in a coma. His attackers, described as Latinos with gang-like tattoos, have eluded capture.
Amid outrage in the community and the media, the Dodgers and the LAPD have stepped up security and they’ve vowed to once again make the stadium a family-friendly destination.
Of course, we’re all troubled by the gang presence at one of the most beloved ballparks of our national pastime, and we fret about the gang tags in virtually every L.A. neighborhood, but we don’t stop long enough to think about how complicit we are in the pervasiveness of gang culture in popular culture.
The über-example is the love-hate relationship we have with the Mafia, which reached a new prominence through Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” trilogy and many of Martin Scorsese’s films. Their progeny include Snoop Dogg’s “Doggfather” persona and “Mafia Wars”—one of the most popular video games ever created.
We watch NBA players seemingly throw gang signs during games. (The Celtics’ Paul Pierce, who grew up in Inglewood, was fined $25,000 for such an instance.) We embraced gangsta rap and the “artists” who brazenly boasted about thug life, and the music industry still promotes rappers who are compelled to come hard (whether they really are or not).
Latinos have our own love-hate relationship with gang culture. Cholos are the modern-day pachucos—social outcasts who rebel against their bi-cultural disconnect. But there’s a distinct line between being a victim and a victimizer, which is sometimes overlooked in popular appropriation of gang behavior.
Take, for example, the LA hand sign. It’s not associated with any particular gang, but it’s certainly inspired by the habit of bangers flashing the sign of their set.
If you’ve never flashed the LA sign, I bet you know someone who has. Inner city kids do it, as do suburban kids. Hipsters do it. George Lopez recently did it on national television from his courtside seat at a Lakers game. Nike released a t-shirt with Kobe Bryant’s puppet character flashing a cartoonish “LA.”
It’s cool. It’s funny. Harmless, right? Until a couple of real LA gangsters beat an innocent fan within an inch of his life.
So, yes, let’s hope that Dodger Stadium gets cleaned up and managed better. Let’s pray for Bryan Stow’s recovery and hope that his attackers are caught and brought to justice. And let’s hope that communities can make progress against our deeply ingrained and seemingly intractable gang problem.
But let’s look in the mirror too–and ask ourselves if flashing a pseudo-gang sign is the best way for Angelenos to represent.
[This commentary was originally published at laforward.org]