• Judging Torii Hunter: Tolerance in Sport

    by  • January 2, 2013 • Baseball, Mike Spry • 1 Comment


    TORII HUNTER IS AN ASSHOLE — a vicious, ignorant, weak, and righteous asshole. If I was a Detroit Tiger, I would find it difficult, as a Christian, to have an asshole like Torii Hunter in my clubhouse. Given my Christian teachings and learning, I would find it uncomfortable to share team meals, shower, or take the field, lest his assholeness infect me. If the Lord had wanted us to be tolerant of assholes, he would have explicitly stated as such in the Bible. But he did not, so I could not in good conscience live and work alongside an asshole.

    As I remove my tongue from me cheek, let me clarify my lede: Admittedly I’m not a Christian. Probably. I mean, I get gifts from Santa, and hide chocolate eggs from children, but I spend Sundays watching football and nursing hangovers and once used my Bible to serve pie. But I invoke the word of God as Mr. Hunter did recently in a piece in the LA Times about gay athletes in team sports where he claimed that, as a Christian, he would find it difficult to have a homosexual in his clubhouse:

    “For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right… It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”

    Had Mr. Hunter been a Tiger last season, he would have shared the clubhouse with an anti-Semite. Designated hitter Delmon Young, while with the Tigers in 2012, was arrested in New York last April when he attacked tourists who were attempting to give money to a panhandler:

    “According to the police, a heavily intoxicated Young yelled anti-Semitic slurs and attacked a group of tourists outside the New York Hilton, the Tigers’ team hotel, about 2:30 a.m. Friday. According to a police report, Young began yelling the epithets at a group of four tourists who were giving money to a panhandler who was wearing a skullcap and a Star of David pendant around his neck, and the encounter became physical.” (New York Times)

    I’m not sure what Mr. Hunter’s feelings are on anti-Semites, though in keeping with his Christianity, the New Testament suggests he and Mr. Young would have been okay with one another. But Mr. Hunter’s use of religion as an excuse for racism is both tired and misrepresentative of Christianity. The Bible may be used to preach intolerance towards homosexuals, but it does so without a single instance of Jesus being intolerant to homosexuals. It does however, forbid working on the Sabbath, a biblical law that Mr. Hunter breaks every time he takes the field on a Sunday (Exodus 20:8).

    Am I writing in judgment of Torii Hunter? Yes, yes I am. And here’s my concern with prejudice in pro sports: There is no judgment. Not from the leagues, not from players associations, not from peers, and, surprisingly, not much from the media. Oh sure, there’s the occasional fine or suspension, but often in the cases of ignorance and hate like with Messrs Hunter and Young, it amounts to no more than a slap on the wrist. And from time to time a columnist will write that such behaviours and attitudes shouldn’t be tolerated in sport, but they are often excused, or ignored. The voices are weak. The result is an tacit endorsement of sport over humanity, of athletic ability over reason. We make excuses for athletes, a practice older than the Bible itself.

    Mr. Hunter responded to his statement by attacking the LA Times writer of the piece, Kevin Baxter, a veteran reporter who is respected throughout his industry. Mr. Hunter claims that his comments were misrepresented. Of course, this is not the first time his comments have been “misrepresented”. In 2010 while speaking on a USA Today-hosted panel on improving baseball, Mr. Hunter had this to say about Latino players:

    “People see dark faces out there, and the perception is that they’re African-American. They’re not us. They’re impostors.

    “Even people I know come up and say, ‘Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player?’ I say, ‘Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.

    “As African-American players, we have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us… It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. It’s like, ‘Why should I get this kid from the South Side of Chicago and have Scott Boras represent him and pay him $5 million when you can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips?’”

    Afterwards, Mr. Hunter said the quote was misrepresentative of his feelings. His comments last week suggest otherwise. His comments suggest that Mr. Hunter is a bigot who isn’t willing or able to recognize his bigotry. His comments suggest that Mr. Hunter is, as noted above, an asshole.

    Torii Hunter is not unique. Not in his ability to play all three outfield positions, nor in his lifetime .277/.335/.466 line, and unfortunately not in his ignorance. Homophobic slurs are all too prevalent in pro sports. From Jonathan Vilma to Kobe Bryant to Gordon Beckham to DeSean Jackson, homophobia in sport is the norm. This past summer, Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar took the field with “TU ERES MARICON” written on his eye-black stickers. The Spanish phrase translates approximately as “You’re a faggot”. What’s most alarming, besides Mr. Escobar’s overwhelming stupidity, is the fact that no one, not a teammate, coach, clubhouse attendant, saw fit to scold the infielder or force him to remove the slur. Mr. Escobar’s first reaction to the public’s concern was to claim that the phrase meant something different in his culture, an argument that is both insulting and moot. He has been living in North America for almost a decade. A better argument would be that his sport, his community, tolerates such behaviour. And that includes us, the fans, the media, et al.

    Mr. Escobar was suspended for three games, and donated his salary for those games to the You Can Play Project and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. In the sports world, this  is about the norm: the punishment never seems to suit the crime. In fact, so light are the punishments that one could conclude that there was no crime at all, rather the slap on the wrist is window dressing for us socialist tree-hugging hippie-folk.

    Interesting to consider the consequences of such ignorance had Mr. Escobar worked for another division of Rogers, the Jays’ owner. What if Mr. Escobar had worked at a Rogers Mobility kiosk at a Toronto mall and had come to work with “You are a faggot” written on his face? Hell, with anything written on his face? As per their own Business Conduct Guidelines, Rogers states that:

    “The Company is committed to ensuring that all employees, vendors, business associates, volunteers, customers and the general public are treated with respect and dignity. The Company will not tolerate harassment and/or discriminatory acts or practices, by any of its employees.”

    This is unless of course you can hit .253 as a middling infielder for a below average team that hasn’t made the postseason since Clinton was President.

    Similarly, the Detroit Tigers are owned by Mike Illitch, whose other properties include the Little Caesar’s pizza chain. If some 37 year-old showed up delivering your large 3 Meat Treat, Hot-n-Ready, and before giving you your bill stated, “as a Christian, gotta mention that I hate the Gays! Don’t forget to tip!” does he have a job the next day? What if he can play leftfield?

    The term we invoke most often in these conversations is “tolerance”. I hate the term “tolerance.” It suggests a virtue, a righteousness in its user that is often inapparent, unearned, unwarranted. Within the context of prejudice, tolerance is often invoked as a mode by which we quantify — being more tolerant of other communities, other genders, other races, as if by 2013 that’s not something that should be expected of an enlightened people. Those who “tolerate” are celebrated. But for what? Civility? Reason? But if we must use the term, than I suggest that the problem is that we’re being tolerant in the wrong direction. We’re tolerating the ignorant. And why? Because they’re wealthy, coddled, and spoiled athletes? None of these people are irreplaceable. There are dozens, hundreds of players who could take Hunter or Escobar’s spots.

    Part of the problem is deterrence. If the punishments don’t stop the behaviours, then obviously the punishments aren’t working. I would argue that the suspensions should be three tiered: one month, one year, lifetime ban for egregious racist or homophobic comments or actions. But, I’m a realist and I know that this will never happen. So what can be done with the Hunters and Escobars, if not suspensions? Heavy fines? We know players love their monies. Flying coach? Staying at Motel 6s? Being forced to play for the Royals?

    But the larger problem is one of culture. We have been complicit in fostering a corrupt and deeply flawed culture in pro sport. It’s a culture that panders to youth and ignorance, that excuses instead of educates, that values apologies over change, ability over character, and that finds a place for racism, for prejudice, for homophobia, for ignorance, long after most other cultures have evolved beyond. Pro sports are the last bastion of hate, and the value which we place upon its culture has the danger of infecting us as a whole.

    It is 2013. We have had openly gay governors, senators, congresspeople, film stars, postal carriers, window cleaners, and llama trainers. But no openly gay athletes in the four major North American pro leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL, NBA). The reason for this isn’t that they don’t exist — every academic study available suggests a simple law of averages that gay players abound. It isn’t because society as a whole isn’t ready for a gay point guard or a bisexual goaltender. It’s because we, those who prop up sports — the fans, the players, the managers, the coaches, the agents, and the media — we are far more willing to tolerate assholes than admit to our failings and commit to cultural change. Until we start using our voices, and speaking with our wallets, our continued support of a culture of hate will foster no change, and the Torii Hunters of the world will continue to stand tall and ignorant, righteous in their assholedom.


    Mike Spry is a writer, editor, and columnist who has written for The Toronto Star, Maisonneuve, and The Smoking Jacket, among others. He is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. The short story collection Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011) was shortlisted for the 2012 ReLit Award. He lives in Wakefield, Quebec. His most recent work is the poetry collection Bourbon & Eventide from Invisible Publishing.


    One Response to Judging Torii Hunter: Tolerance in Sport

    1. Jeff Dupuis
      January 2, 2013 at 16:50

      I am so tired of people using the Bible, or any holy text, especially the Abrahamic ones, to justify ignorance or intolerance. Given the nature of the Bible, how it was compiled and it’s many sources, you have to be a scholar on the subject before even considering using it to justify social policy in the 21st century. The two anti-homosexual sections of the Bible, Leviticus in the Old Testament and Romans in the New Testament have little to do with what Christ taught. He had nothing to do with the letters of Paul and we cannot be certain how much Old Testament scholarship Jesus had done, although there are gospels that suggest he was well-versed in certain texts. The point is, books like the bible provide guidance, that’s it, civility and common sense must win out. Hopefully he can learn to qualify ancient texts with modern values before he tears down the Tiger statue out front of Comerica Park, citing the commandment about graven images.

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