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To mention bigotry or not...

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by chazp, Feb 26, 2007.

  1. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    In one of the towns our paper covers, the little league season is about to get under way and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the youth baseball in the town. Of the eight men who began the league 50 years ago, only one is still alive (he's 86 years old). They plan on honoring him on opening night with a ceremony. I have been bombarded with emails and phone calls to do a story on this guy. I decided to do the story, but now that I have interviewed him, I uncovered some things I wasn't happy about. At one point in the interview, I was told after the league was founded they joined an association called "Little boys baseball." He told me the eight founders of the league choose that association, because it was all white. "We didn't want to get involved with any association that was intergrating," is the explanation I got. He went on to say they had a "World Series of their own, but with only white players." Another item he was proud of was that teams from the local city made the all-white World Series final twice.
    Besides being sickened by what I heard, I also realized I had better think about this long and hard before I write the article. This guy is pretty revered in our area, I had heard so many good things about him, but now I obviously have a much different opinion of him. Do I mention the reason why and destroy a town's hero? Do I cut him some slack, considering this was 1957, years before the civil rights movement changed some people's thinking in this country.
    I have never had to deal with anything like this before. Do I leave that point out and simply state what association they chose to join and not give the reason why?
    How would you handle this? Have you ever dealt with anything similar before?
  2. expendable

    expendable Well-Known Member

    What a pcikle. I think I would just do what Lisa Simpson did with Jebbidiah Springfield. You might get into a no-win battle.
  3. Flying Headbutt

    Flying Headbutt Moderator Staff Member

    If the people want a story on the guy, give them what they want.
  4. outofplace

    outofplace Well-Known Member

    First of all, talk to your boss before you even sit down to write, whether it be the SE or ME. You need an opinion from somebody who understands the situation. More importantly, you need to know if they will have your back if you do write the story.

    I say write it, but be VERY careful to make sure every reference to race is a direct quote. No paraphrasing. Make him say the controversial stuff or leave it out entirely.

    Try for a balance, too. Talk about his contributions as well as the attitudes that you don't like. Don't bury the racial attitudes, but don't make them the focus of the entire story, either. It's only one part of who this guy is.
  5. Clever username

    Clever username Active Member

    What state are you in (not that it really matters)? Brown v. Board was in 1954. Just because those were the times doesn't mean it was right.

    There's always the option of just writing what he said and let the guy hang himself.
  6. ColbertNation

    ColbertNation Member

    The eggshells can be plentiful here. This is really up to the SE or ME. It depends on how they want to portray this guy. Yeah, he's not the most enlightened guy out there, but from what you said, it's not like he came out and said he hates Black people. Printing what he gave you might bring undue criticism to you and him both. Tread lightly and be fair.
  7. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Good advice.
  8. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    My advice...go back to the source, and be truthful. Explain to him what he's done, and, whether he wants to expound on it. Not retract. Not clarify. But expound.

    What's more, if you feel like telling him it's shameful, what he did, you tell him. It is. No laws create or break down or sever our conscience. He knew. Now he can explain it, or give a mea culpa.

    Your story is that a man who's been involved with little league for 50 years once ran a "no coloreds allowed" restaurant of a league. Time doesn't wash the stain. Let him repent on the record, or rationalize and slink away a foolish, proud white man.
  9. Before you conduct a followup interview or write the first paragraph, talk to your SE and ME. It's their call. They need to be involved in this story from the get go.
  10. sartrean

    sartrean Member

    I'm not sure I understand, so forgive me if this response is way off base. I'm not sure of the context of this guy's statements. Also, is the league still all-white? Certainly not.

    In almost all of the South, going back 50 years is going back to a time when everything was segregated. There were distinct black sides of town and distinct white sides of towns, big towns. Blacks on the white side of town where there only as laborers of some sort or another, and when they moved about the town, blacks would have to cross to the other side of the street when meeting whites walking toward them.

    Blacks could not initiate whites in conversation, but had to wait to be spoke to. That's how rigid the Southern caste system was back then.

    It's nothing new, unless you're in the Midwest like Minnesota or Illinois or more northern than that.

    So with that in mind, it sounds like you have your story that this guy is getting honored, and you could write a sidebar or larger feature in the larger context of the caste system that penetrated every level of society back in that era. It even involved little league baseball.

    Many Southerners forget how things were back then, so it's good to remind them every once in a while. While segregation still exists here covertly, people of all races move about more or less freely in our society today; it would appear very foreign to most Southerners today to experience such a deeply segregated society of yesteryear.

    In any event, I think you have a good story. I've been searching in my neck of the woods for a while now for some former players of an all-black league. See, in my county it's now 75% white because it's suburbia -- the result of late-70s "white-flight." Back 50 years ago, this county had a similar population-size, yet it was 89% black.

    It would rock readers' world to know that the current city park system, where little johnny and little suzy play baseball and softball to their heart's content, was established by an all-black athletic club that sprang about in the 1920s, emblematic of the rise in the black middle class.
  11. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    You probably need to do a follow up interview after talking to your top editors.

    Obviously, viewed from 2007 what this guy did is awful. However, here is another possibility - he was just being honest with you. If he had said something like "well, we just wanted to get some kids from the area to play and we wanted something where we could have more control", that would certainly be more palatable, but it probably wouldn't be honest.

    Also, you need to provide some perspective. By perspective, I don't mean an excuse or apology. What is the situation today? How does he feel about that? Maybe he is still a bigot, but maybe he has accepted the situation.

    A lot of 2007 things don't look good from a 1957 perspective, just as a lot of 1957 things don't look good from a 2007 perspective.
  12. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I'd have to agree with talking to the SE or the ME on this issue. I also recommend asking him if he feels the same way now that he did in 1957. I still remember hearing that former Gov. Orval Faubus getting votes from black voters in 1986 despite his racist stance back then...

    Some of us do things other people later consider reprehensible. That fact in itself isn't necessarily a problem. If we don't learn from our mistakes or we don't regret things we should, that's where the problem lies.
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