If a couple of lime green aliens descended upon earth today and asked me: “How does sport reflect society amongst earthlings?” and “Can you show me sport symbols of white male privilege and supremacy”?, I might point them to two separate, but not unrelated stories today on Joe Paterno and Sammy Sosa.
Today it was announced that Paterno might get a new statue built two miles of the Penn State campus. In other news, The Chicago Cubs celebrated their 100th Anniversary of Wrigley field, but did not invite Sammy Sosa who only hit 545 home runs for the Chicago Cubs, and is the most important Chicago Cub of the last 30 years.
Of course, Paterno was cited in the 2012 Freeh Report along with other Penn State leadership for “callous and shocking disregard for child victims” in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. ESPN’s Josh Myers reports on Paterno statue:
“Two alumni already have received the OK from the borough to install a projected $300,000 life-sized bronze sculpture downtown, about two miles from the original site. And they’re hoping the statue, which will feature Paterno sitting on a bench reading Virgil’s “Aeneid,” will be installed by fall of next year.”
For those who have forgotten the Freeh Report on the Penn State University Child Sexual Abuse Case, below are just two of eight key findings:
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State. The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs, Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated…”
“It is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large.”
Have any reporters asked how the children who were raped by Sandusky feel about this statue? I hope someone will. Where is the brilliant Sara Ganim when you need her?
This Paterno statue story should really stand on its own, and to be clear, Sammy Sosa is no comparison — it is a contrast. It is a contrast of just how little it takes for a Black and/or Latino athlete to fall out out of public favor.
From ESPN again:
Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was not invited to participate in the festivities commemorating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field on Wednesday, and a team official says Sosa has some work to do before being welcomed back by the organization.
“There are some things Sammy needs to look at and consider prior to having an engagement with the team,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. Sources indicate one thing Sosa has to do is make amends with some former teammates for his actions at the end of his Cubs career.
Sosa posted three seasons of 60-plus home runs, including the 1998 season when he and Mark McGwire eclipsed Roger Maris’ then-record 61-homer season. But he left the team on bad terms after sitting out the final game of the 2004 season and leaving the stadium before the game was over… A New York Times story reported Sosa was on the 2003 list of players who flunked tests for performance-enhancing drugs.
From the article it seems that Sosa’s biggest flaw is that “he left the team on bad terms”, and for that Cub fans will suffer. In the article Green added:
“Sammy Sosa was a Cub that left his indelible print on this franchise, but as it was said by [owner] Tom Ricketts before, he hoped there is a time when Sammy can be back and be with the franchise”
If Tom Ricketts is really in charge, and not like his arch-conservative Limbaughesque father, Sosa can be back with the franchise at any time Ricketts decides, and any talk “making amends” first is absurd.
It is squarely Ricketts’ responsibility, and no one else’s, to make amends with baseball history and not hold fans hostage to petty internal squabbles. If Pete Rose, who has been famously banned from baseball for gambling, can get that very ban waived on multiple occasions so that fans can honor him, surely Ricketts can send Sosa an evite.
But Rickett’s most recent second class treatment of Sosa is just the latest chapter of Sosa’s career pattern — white control over his image and putting Sammy back in his place. From the early narratives of the McGwire-Sosa Great Home Run Chase, to the media (man)handling Sosa’a 2003 corked bat incident, to his Cub departure, and to his alleged flunked steroid test from 2003 (part of an illegal series of media leaks reserved soley for Dominican stars).
In her tremendous book, “When Baseball Isn’t White, Straight, and Male“, Dr. Lisa Doris Alexander explores the 1998 Great Home Run Chase in detail, and notes that as long as Sosa played the just-happy-to-be-there role of McGwire’s subordinate sidekick, baseball writers were “berry, berry” good to him. Once Sosa began to behave similar to McGwire, he would no longer receive Big Mac’s protective privileges.
Jay Jaffe further outlines the shame with Sosa’s Wrigley absence:
“The shame.. [is] that the joy that he brought to fans and throughout the game during his considerable peak has been so easily swept aside as though it meant nothing at the time. Do you really want to pretend that a moment such as Sosa’s home run in the first game at Wrigley Field since 9/11 doesn’t still stir the blood on some level?”
The PED problem owed as much to Commissioner Bud Selig, the owners, the media and the fans as it did to the players. To pretend otherwise is a whitewashing of history. To pretend that Sosa’s tenure in Chicago was perfect isn’t accurate, but it’s no less revisionist for the Cubs to suggest that a superstar who helped them turn handsome profits and pump up the value of the franchise into the stratosphere meant nothing. Warts and all, Sosa deserved to be at that centennial celebration.
The Wrigley celebration also included some irony-on-steroids as Commissioner Bud Selig was on hand. As players, one need not be Cub royalty like Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, or Billie Williams to get honored either. Consider that Ryan Dempster’s Cubs pitching record of 67-66 was enough to get honored. Not to be outdone, Bobby Dernier once batted .264 while hitting 16 home runs and 92 RBI’s. And that was his entire Cubs career. Yes, he was honored too.
So in summary, you can be as blind-as-Bud, bland-as-Ryan, or banned-as-Pete, and still get a ticket into a big baseball celebration.
But if you help galvanize baseball’s national revival, bring joy to millions, bring millions to the Cub franchise, but leave the Cub clubhouse on bad terms over 10 years ago, then you can’t go home again.
Perhaps if Sammy Sosa had only looked the other way in the face of the most disturbing crimes against children, he might have at least get a statue built for him somewhere outside of Wrigley Field.
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