|David Ortiz and Derek Jeter|
II Timothy 4:6-7
We want our athletes to be heroes. We want them to be good as well as great.
We know that there is no moral value in hitting a home run, or throwing a touchdown pass, or sinking a three pointer, but we cannot help ourselves.
When it comes to athletes, I am a profound skeptic. But I can’t help myself.
In spite of all the evidence, I want to believe that Ted Williams was a good person.
And I haven't yet gotten over my disappointment with Lance Armstrong.
Of course, there have been some athletes who have combined exceptional goodness with athletic greatness: Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Robert Gordon Orr come to mind. Al Kaline. Stan Musial. Roberto Clemente. And I would probably add Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Jerry West if they had not committed the unforgiveable sin of playing for the Lakers.
And somewhere in that constellation, I see David Ortiz.
He is not perfect. In 2009 a New York Times report said that he was one of 104 Major League players who tested positive for something in a 2003 drug check that was supposed to be confidential. His excuse is that he was careless in the use of a supplement.
But it’s hard not to love Big Papi. His career numbers are staggering. And it’s not just what he did, but when he did it. I am skeptical of calling someone a “clutch” hitter, but Ortiz may be the exception. Before Ortiz came to the Red Sox they had not won a World Series in more than eight decades. Since his arrival they have won three.
Major League Baseball has a rule against fraternizing with fans or with members of the opposing team. The rule, 3.09, reads in full:
“Players in uniform shall not address or mingle with spectators, nor sit in the stands before, during, or after a game. No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game. Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.”Big Papi pays no attention. He is friends with everyone and everyone loves him. He talks to the fans when he is on deck waiting to bat. When he gets on base, he is always smiling. And he is always talking to the players on the other team.
In an interview in Spanish with Jorge Ortiz of USA Today, he was asked to comment on the status of Latinos and immigrants in the United States, particularly in light of the current presidential campaign.
Ortiz, who became an American citizen in 2008, said that he does not normally comment on political issues and is not particularly knowledgeable about politics. But he said that Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall to seal off the southern border and have Mexico pay for it, and Trump’s statements about Mexico sending rapists and criminals to the USA, “didn’t sit well with me.”
“When you speak like that about us, it’s a slap in the face,” said Ortiz.
“I walk around sometimes, and I see Mexican people trying to earn a living in an honest way. And to hear somebody make those kinds of comments, it hits you. I think as Latin people we deserve better. Things have gotten much better in that regard. … As Latin people we deserve respect, no matter where you’re from. And especially our Mexican brothers, who come here willing to do all the dirty work.
“Latin people here in the United States are the spark plug of the country’s economy. Whoever opposes that is going to lose. And not just Latin people but immigrants. I’m talking about people who come from Africa, from Asia, other places. All those people come here with one goal, to realize the American dream, and you have to include them in our group.”It means something that David Ortiz, who is one of the most popular athletes in America and also one of the most well-known Latinos in America, would take the risk of speaking out.
In an instant, he put a face on the issue. And not just any face. A beloved face, larger than life.
I first heard about the interview on sports talk radio as I was driving home for lunch yesterday. And I was appalled by the comments.
The hosts spoke as if they were talking about a child. They noted that David admitted he really didn’t know very much about politics.
"Doesn’t he know we’re talking about illegal immigrants?" they asked. Donald Trump isn’t going to deport all immigrants, just the illegals. Trump didn’t say all Mexicans were rapists. David just doesn’t understand the issue. And it went on like that.
I guess if you are a very large black guy with an accent who smiles all the time and seems to love everybody it’s easy for people to think you are not very smart. Now we know why Bill Russell smiled so seldom.
For the record, I think David understands precisely what the issues are.
And you don’t need a Ph.D. in Political Science to feel a slap in the face.
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