Are Cubs fans racist?
Another racist t-shirt has popped up outside Wrigley Field, which raises the question: Are Cubs fans racist? Or is it just the street vendors outside Wrigley? Or maybe the t-shirt makers? And do these folks know it's 2009 and not 1949?
This newest version shows the outline of a man cutting grass and says "Pujols mows my lawn." Another one says "Zambrano mows my lawn," which is odd to see outside Wrigley; vendors, I suppose, were hoping to sell it to Cardinals fans this past weekend. There's also one targeting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen that says "Ozzie mows Wrigley Field."
That one first hit the streets last month, and while some reporters questioned whether it was racist, Ozzie largely deflated the issue by having fun with it. He bought one of the t-shirts and wore it when the Sox visited Wrigley.
"I might cut lawns, but I don't stand in the rain selling T-shirts," he said. That's kinda funny, but let's be clear: the shirts are racist. They play on stereotypes - that Hispanics do yard work and other menial jobs - and they are targated only at members of that group. On the Pujols and Zambrano ones the man is wearing a sombrero, just so there's no confusion. Hispanics wear big, funny hats and cut our grass... ha, ha, ha!
All of this comes on the heels of the infamous Fukodome t-shirt peddled outside Wrigley, where a squinty-eyed Cub says "Horry Kow."
I've seen this on a handful of fans over the last year but apparently it's no longer available because the Cubs went after the maker for using a logo and not getting it licensed. I don't think they'll be able to do the same with the lawn mowing ones. There's no logo on it, and the vendors have no connection to the team.
Anyway, until I see a t-shirt that says Chase Utley or Joe Mauer mows my lawn you won't be able to convince me they're not racist. But does that mean Cubs fans are racist? I don't think so. Certainly the crowd at Wrigley Field is overwhelmingly white, and the fan base would never be described as racially diverse. But that can be said about many teams. Take a look at the crowd at the All-Star Game on Tuesday and see how racially diverse it is.
There have been incidents over the years: A few years back a black columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about being called "Aunt Jemima" outside Wrigley by some young whites; and LaTroy Hawkins said he received racist hate mail while pitching for the Cubs.
That's very troubling and disappointing, but I don't think it's at all indicative of Cubs fans as a whole. I've been going to games at Wrigley for 20 years and can't recall ever having heard a racial epithet hurled at any player. The bleacher bums were famous for standing at attention and saluting Gary 'Sarge' Matthews when he played for the Cubs in the early '80s, and for bowing to right fielder Andre Dawson. The Cubs have had two black managers, Don Baylor and Dusty Baker, which is two more than most Major League Baseball teams.
When Baker arrived and led the Cubs to the cusp of the World Series in 2003 a popular t-shirt around town read: 'In Dusty we trusty.' Of course, two years later these same fans despised Baker and were happy to see him go. That hatred always seemed out-sized to me and made me wonder if a white manager would have received the same treatment.
Oh well, race relations in the United States have always been complex. To those who would say that I'm overreacting to a silly t-shirt and being too politically correct, I'd argue otherwise. I'm not suggesting we arrest the vendors and build a bonfire with the shirts. I'm just calling it as I see it (and I'll leave discussion of the 'Green Gay Fudge Packers' t-shirt - see the top photo - for another day).
And there's one other thing Cubs fans have going for them: On Sunday night, with Pujols in the house, I didn't see a single fan wearing one of the t-shirts. Let's hope it stays that way and the shirts quietly fade away.