It may take you a week, a month, a year. It may happen in your youth or in your prime, even in the later years. The only way to describe ‘it’ is a sudden realization of something you’ve known all your life. A truth, perhaps the only truth one can ever hang their hat on: no one gets out alive.
Looking back on the days and years, the minutes and careful seconds that compose my life’s trajectory, I am astounded that I am still ‘alive’. Life, as I see it now, is simply an aggregate of moments, split-seconds when you make that final decision to run or stay. And yet, who’s to say the choice was ever yours in the first place? Who am I to tell you anything about your life, or mine, and expect it to make any sense or be decodable?
It’s the great irony of life, how similar we look and yet, how different we can be. I have always believed that gap between us could be filled by the dream long lost in the technological ether, that thing called ‘love’. I sit here now, half dead in time, wondering if I even know what the word means. That’s how fragile things become, like ideas, beliefs, even the foundations of your life start to show their age in ways, with a smile or a tear, you did not expect.
Again, there is only one truth. And as dark as it looks, one only need shed a light on it to see it more clearly and discover that what you thought was the cave of a monster, was a place that you could find shelter from the storm, a little home of your own. The ancient Taoists understood. They shined a big fat light on the subject of death and realized, it’s nothing to be afraid of because it’s the truth of everything. That doesn’t mean the living don’t get to mourn. Everyone grieves, even Chuang-tzu wept at the loss of his wife.
Nope, it’s not the end of the journey one should fear, it’s those moments of mental lightning, where the gods demand you testify for your life, the ones that introduce a deviation from the course that can never be reversed. Again, who’s to say I’m right? Maybe it’s just me, my life that’s had its moments when all you’re eating is a bowl of shit. That’s theoretically possible and I am just trying to say, I know now, it doesn’t really matter.
The rest of this is a selective memory of the journey that got me nowhere but here, so to speak. ‘Selective’ in the sense that all memory is selective. It will come much as it arrived, in unexpected ways and over a long period of time. But, as sure as a man jaded by life, yet still optimistic, can put time enough a way to remember, think and write, I promise to do as such, realizing such a promise might as well be made to the wooden cross on my wall for all the good it will do.
Since 1978, Major League Baseball (MLB) has sought to recognize the careers of sports broadcasters and journalists who it claims have made “major contributions to baseball” by honoring them with what is known as the Ford C. Frick Award. Named after the former MLB Commissioner, National League President, and Hall of Fame inductee. The award’s recipients include many of baseball’s most influential and well-known broadcasters, such as Mel Allen (1978), Red Barber (1978), Vin Scully (1982), Jack Buck (1987), Dick Enberg (2015), Bob Costas (2018), and just recently, Al Michaels (2021). Understandably, it is considered one of the MLB’s most prestigious awards conferred upon any non-player. And yet, for many, it represents an unfortunate, and unsightly reminder of Baseball’s racist history.
Simply put, in honoring the memory of Mr. Frick in this way, the MLB is, in effect, celebrating a well-known segregationist and white supremacist. And while many in the baseball community may object to this characterization, they cannot argue with the historical record detailing Mr. Frick’s important role in upholding the League’s policies regarding segregation during the middle of the twentieth century. Perhaps the most infamous example is his involvement in the creation of the so-called “MacPhail Report” of 1946.
According to the late, baseball historian Jules Tygiel, “On July 8, 1946…the National and American Leagues established a joint steering committee ‘to consider and test all matters of Major League interest and report its conclusions and recommendations.’” Amongst the numerous issues under consideration was the widespread practice of racial segregation, what the committee later referred to as the “Race Question.” The year prior to the committee’s creation, Branch Rickey had famously broken MLB’s so-called “gentleman’s agreement” by signing the now legendary, Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
According to Branch Rickey biographer, Murray Polner, the formation of the committee was, in many ways, a response to Rickey’s actions and an effort by the other owners and Baseball’s leadership “to keep [Major League Baseball] lily-white.” Thus, the league appointed owners Larry MacPhail (Yankees), Thomas Yawkey (Red Sox), Sam Breadon (Cardinals), and Philip Wrigley (Cubs), along with both the President of the National League, Ford Frick, and American League, William Harridge, as members of the committee, with MacPhail“ elected [as] chairman.”
Over the next six weeks, the committee met on several occasions and then presented their findings in the form of a 25-page report at an owner’s meeting held in Chicago on August 27, 1946. In the Forward of that report, the committee acknowledged that “Baseball…[was] under attack…” and that “Its right to survive as it ha[d] always existed [was] being challenged by rapidly changing conditions and new economic and political forces.” Amongst these various challenges was the threat of integration, for which the committee sought to provide, “Methods to protect Baseball from charges that it [was] fostering unfair discrimination against the negro by reason of his race and color.”
In subsection “E”, under the heading “Race Question”, the committee outlined the primary reasons, they believed, justified the continuation of the Major League’s informal policy of segregation. The first involved the fans. According to the report:
A situation might be presented, if Negroes participate in Major League games in which the preponderance of Negro attendance in parks such as the Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Comiskey Park could…threaten the value of the Major League franchises [with regards to white fans].
In other words, since the majority of those who attended the games were white, the committee feared that integrating the teams would lead to more Black fans attending. The result of which might prevent white fans from attending games all together. This, they argued, would no doubt have a deleterious effect on a team’s ticket sales and revenues.
The second reason given by the committee emphasized the “qualifications [or, lack thereof] of Negro players.” It stated:
The young Negro player never has had a good chance in baseball. Comparatively few good young Negro players are being developed. This is the reason there are not more players who meet major league standards in Negro leagues.
Negro players, the report contended, lacked “the technique, the coordination, the competitive aptitude, and the discipline” necessary to play in the Major Leagues. One of the reasons cited was the Negro player’s lack of “minor league experience”. Of course, the committee failed to mention that the reason the Negro player had no experience in minor league baseball was because it, like the MLB, was also segregated.
Thus, the primary reasons proffered by the committee for why Black players couldn’t and shouldn’t play in the Major Leagues were, in the first instance, clearly racist, and in the second, promoted an overtly white-supremacist ideology. Despite these facts, at the end of the meeting, all the attendees were asked to sign the report as evidence of their agreement with its contents. Everyone (except for Branch Rickey), signed, including Ford Frick.
Since then, many have attempted to defend Mr. Frick’s complicity by pointing to his actions after that infamous meeting in Chicago. For instance, some refer to a situation that occurred less than a year later when it was rumored that players on the St. Louis Cardinals were contemplating a strike if they were forced to play against Jackie Robinson. As National League President, Mr. Frick is reported to have instructed Cardinals’ owner Sam Breadon (another co-signor of the MacPhail report) to “Tell [the mutinous players] that if they go on strike, for racial reasons, or refuse to play in a scheduled game, they will be barred from baseball even though it means the disruption of a club or a whole league.” Murray Polner called it “Frick’s finest moment.” And yet, while Mr. Frick’s words may seem to disprove any racist inclinations, one must ask, what choice did he have?
With Robinson now a fully-fledged MLB player it’s not as if Mr. Frick could have ignored the threat that a player walkout would have meant to the National League as a whole. The horse was already out of the barn. Moreover, it’s not as if his threat could be interpreted as some anti-racist polemic. Essentially, he was reminding the players that they were contractually obligated to play “scheduled games” regardless of who was playing on the other team. A more telling example of Mr. Frick’s views on race occurred years earlier, in 1943. According to Murray Polner, Bill Veeck Jr. sought to purchase the pitiful Philadelphia Phillies with the intent of “stock[ing] it with Negro players.” When Frick learned of the plan, he, along with Commissioner Kenesaw Landis, blocked the sale to Veeck so as to prevent him from “contaminating the league [with Negro players].”
The point is, regardless of Frick’s stand after the admittance of Jackie Robinson, his involvement in the formulation of the so-called MacPhail Report cannot, and should not, be ignored or excused. He helped to write it and then signed it, and in so doing, became an accomplice to one of the most disgraceful attempts to prolong a form of systemic racism that to this day is rightly viewed with disdain and disgust.
How then can the MLB defend itself for allowing something like the Ford C. FrickAward to continue to exist? It has been 75 years since that infamous day in Chicago, and yet, in honoring Frick with his own award, the MLB willfully ignores the man’s history as a racist. Perhaps even more shameful than the award itself is the fact that not a single Black journalist has ever received it. Thus, the Ford C. Frick Award has become nothing less than a pantheon of celebrated white men. Even if all the recipients are men worthy of recognition, the optics are very troubling.
Which begs the question, how do historians of the game, people who know Frick’s history, like Bob Costas allow themselves to be associated with it? It’s a shame and an embarrassment to baseball and an affront to all minority journalists who cover the game. Simply put, the Ford C. Frick Award is an unsightly and unfortunate reminder of Major League Baseball’s racist history, one that needs to be done away with.
As a film historian I am intensely aware of the inherent flaws of the cinematic narrative. The fact that it deals mostly in hyperbolic stereotype has been the Achilles heel of all popular film since the earliest iterations of the modern film paradigm. The classic example is of course D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. From a 21st century perspective, the use of so many disturbing and exaggerated racial stereotypes is offensive to the postmodern sensibility. And yet not much has changed when it comes to Hollywood’s reliance on and perpetuation of ugly and inaccurate stereotypes. A prime example is the film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
I remember the first time I watched the tale of Ricky Bobby, like many around the world, I found the comedy to be both outrageously funny and socio-culturally accurate. It was one of my all-time favorite comedies and I owned the regular and widescreen DVD versions, which I watched on a regular basis. Though I have family that lives in the Southeastern United States and are fervent NASCAR fans, I accepted Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s vision of Southern culture without question. In other words, I allowed myself to believe that their version of the South, though a parody, was largely anchored in socio-cultural truth.
Thus, when we first encounter Ricky’s transient and criminal father, Reese Bobby, at his son’s school, or later, when we see Ricky Bobby’s first race, I laughed, just like everyone else, because I believed that no matter how outrageous their behavior, it was all based on a socio-cultural reality as to how Southerners are supposed to act. But that was fifteen years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
For instance, cultural movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have brought increased scrutiny on media productions like feature films and how they portray individuals representing minority and formerly marginalized communities like LGBTQ. More and more, the viewing audience and critics have become highly aware of the damage that ugly stereotypes cause to the individuals and communities they claim to depict. The argument from producers of film and video, that they were just having fun is no longer satisfying when one realizes the degree of harm that denigrating another culture, race, or community through the cinematic arts can do. Again, I refer to the ultimate example, Griffith’s disgraceful masterpiece The Birth of a Nation. Productions like Talladega Nights are only a more recent version of that terrible and divisive paradigm.
Recently, many have argued that comedy should be immune from socio-cultural critique and condemnation. Pundits of culturally problematic productions have sought to protect comedy as the great equalizer: comedy laughs at everybody, they insist. And yet, when one considers the trajectory of modern comedies, it becomes clear that they are not laughing at everybody. Comedians have long been under the delusion that they are the guardians and purveyors of the Freudian wit: a higher consciousness of the true, ironic nature of life and society. Thus, they have promoted themselves as better than the rest of us because of their unvarnished insights into the foibles of the human experience. Nothing could be more disingenuous.
Society and culture are finally coming to the realization that modern comedy is primarily about othering. Which is to say, that it is about making fun of someone else because of who they are, the culture they belong to, or their physical appearance and mannerisms. Comedy uses these distinctions as a means of differentiating between hero and villain, between who is admired and who is laughed at. Talladega Nights is an important example of this dichotomy and the socio-cultural deception that it perpetuates.
The only thing southern about Will Ferrell is his birthplace in Southern California. Likewise, Adam McKay is an old-school northerner from Philadelphia. Neither of these men could be, or would be considered, in any professional context, experts of the South. Their portrayals of the Southerner, therefore, are largely based on antiquated stereotypes that originate in the Civil War. Southerners are thus depicted as stupid buffoons who are socially backwards, naïve, and dangerous. All Southerners, including the women and children, are portrayed with this lens. Even Ricky’s mother, a kind of heroic outlier to the Southern reality cannot help but slap her grandsons in the face when disciplining them for their misbehavior. Ironically, it’s intended as a moment of high comedy and yet, comes off as disturbing and unnecessary.
From his name, a combination of two first names, to his upbringing: a single white trash mom in a poor town, to his homophobic hatred of so-called evolved culture (think of the bar scene when Ricky meets Jean Girard for the first time and his reaction to jazz music), Ferrell and McKay have made it clear that they believe the South is against everything progressive. The Southerner is, according to Ferrell and McKay, hopelessly locked in a time of good ol’ boys, fast cars, and loose women. In other words, a time of homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, self-delusion, and a reckless disregard for the law.
“What about the protagonist/antagonist of the film, the French F1 driver, Jean Girard played by Sacha Baron Cohen? Isn’t he also depicted as a stereotype?” The easy answer is “yes” but in acknowledging that fact we risk overlooking how the stereotype is ennobled through its hyperbole. Girard has culturally iconic friends like Elvis Costello and MOS DEF. His marriage partner raises and trains world-class German Shepherds. They are open and unapologetic about their homosexuality. They do not watch low-brow films like Highlander. They like Jazz, macchiatos, and Perrier mineral water. More importantly, Jean is a champion F1 driver, widely considered the most technologically advanced motorsport in the world. He isn’t so much a character as a reflection of everything that Ricky Bobby, and thus, the South, according to McKay and Ferrell, is not but should be. In this way, Jean is representative of how McKay and Ferrell see themselves: enlightened, unapologetic, elitist neo-Northerners mocking the American South.
When I watch Talladega Nights now, I feel ashamed by the knee-jerk laughter that comes so easily at the expense of Southern culture. I feel exploited by McKay and Ferrell’s obvious efforts to denigrate one of the oldest examples of American culture and society. Moreover, I am saddened by the fact that American comedies continue to rely on a type of hurtful and ugly othering to manufacture laughs. It reminds me of when I was a middle-schooler watching the Bad News Bears, starring Walter Matthau, with a friend of mine that was obese. When the comedy shifted to making fun of the fat kid on the team, we both laughed and yet, I couldn’t help feeling bad for laughing. Moreover, I couldn’t help but wonder if my friend was laughing because he really thought it was funny or because he didn’t have a choice. Back then, as now, everyone laughed at the fat kid.
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