Earlier this week, it came out that Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader, several years ago, had tweeted out a bunch of racist and homophobic stuff. Whether you want to believe him or not, he said he was an idiot, that he’s learned much since then, that he no longer believes that stuff. He seems genuinely contrite and he addressed the team a couple of times. I don’t know what to think and it really doesn’t matter.
What makes this story even more disturbing is that last night Hader pitched in Milwaukee for the first time since the news came out. What did the nearly all-white Brewers fans do? They gave him a standing ovation! What the hell? I was all set to write a long post of fury, but of course Deadspin took care of this for me.
There is a whole huge group of people—overwhelmingly they are white people—whose anger, Tuesday night, was not that a top baseball prospect managed to make it all the way to the All-Star game before he was made to answer for being openly, gleefully racist on a public social media account. To these people, the sin that was revealed Tuesday night was in the unearthing of the Tweets. Before Hader had ever answered or apologized for making a whole batch of genuinely hateful statements on a public forum, these people were firing off angry emails about how it was unfair for anyone to assign any meaning to the Tweets in the first place, as if making Hader’s hateful public posts more public was somehow a dishonest act, and worse than producing the posts in the first place.
I don’t want to parse the meaning of Hader’s standing ovation too finely, because I can’t know what was in the minds of the thousands of individual Brewers fans who participated. But there’s something undeniably jarring about an overwhelmingly white crowd’s eagerness to envelop Hader in a show of support, to loudly reaffirm his position among them. It would be unfair to assume this was done because he was racist, but it also cannot have been done because Hader exemplifies ideals of inclusivity and anti-racism, which, on the racist-not racist spectrum, is the only thing worthy of applause. All Hader can be to anyone who doesn’t personally know him, right now, is either a guy who has done the bare minimum to atone for a history of appallingly open bigotry, or a guy who, by being made to apologize for his own public comments, has somehow been unfairly victimized by a liberal outrage machine.
Do you stand and enthusiastically applaud someone for merely apologizing for prior bad acts? Or do you stand and enthusiastically applaud someone as a show of defiance towards an oppressive force that targeted one of your own? Probably Brewers fans were just drunk and dumb. Their enthusiasm for welcoming and embracing Hader in this particular moment, though—while the ugliness of what he said is still ringing in the minds of exactly the people and groups it was meant to offend, and while those people are still justifiably skeptical of Hader’s self-professed and undeniably self-serving evolution—says an awful lot about who might not be welcome among them. And it’s hard not to believe that’s exactly the intended message.
8 or 9 years ago, when I lived in Texas, I saw that the Dallas alternative weekly newspaper had a long article on how Dallas sports fans responded to the two disturbed Joshes on their teams–Josh Howard of the Mavericks and Josh Hamilton of the Rangers. And of course, Hamilton, despite his highly checkered past, was embraced as a fan favorite, all that explained away by his embrace of evangelicalism. And Texas sports fans just thought Howard was a thug. Of course the racial overtones of this were obvious. Dallas readers were furious at this article. They weren’t racist! Because no one is racist except of course for liberals who hate white people. And that’s the mentality of these Brewers fans. Here you have a world where black athletes are pilloried for expressing perfectly reasonable outrage over police violence toward black people. But a white athlete who has said the worst possible racist things but later apologizes, whether genuine or not (again, it doesn’t really matter for this point)? A hero!