No video? Then no proof that what Adam Jones said happened at Fenway Park really did happen.
The Boston Red Sox took Jones at his word when the Baltimore Orioles outfielder said a racial slur was directed at him “a handful of times” during Monday night’s game. But on sports radio, the “no proof” argument quickly took hold. As Julie Mehegan noted in the Boston Herald, without pictures or witnesses willing to come forward and corroborate Jones’s account, some doubters insisted there was good reason to doubt.
With the rise of social media, the country is now accustomed to instant video documentation of assorted outrages, such as the United Airlines passenger being dragged off a plane when he refused to give up his seat. Seeing is believing, right?
Not always. Not when a black man is in the picture.
Consider this: In recent years, the country has seen many videos featuring police encounters that end with the death of a black man. Yet even with pictures — for instance, Eric Garner in a chokehold, muttering “I can’t breathe” — the circumstances are still second-guessed. The public wonders, what happened before that we just can’t see on the video clip? If the dead man in the video is black, the burden of proof is on the dead man to prove he meant no harm. Of course, he can’t do that if he’s dead. Meanwhile, the police use every scrap of doubt to justify their actions and avoid criminal charges.
I am not equating incidents involving police use of deadly force with an ugly word hurled at a baseball player in the middle of a game. There’s an obvious difference in scale and harm. What they may have in common, however, is the inclination of some white people to disbelieve what they are looking at or hearing when it involves a black person.
If we can’t imagine it happening to us, we can’t imagine it happening to anyone.
Some of that skepticism relates to personal life experience. A man can never really comprehend the sexism women encounter every day, from subtly patronizing behavior to blatant sexual harassment. Unless you are Italian-American, you won’t notice the Mafia references disguised as jokes that are directed your way. And, if you are not black, you can’t know what it’s like for someone who is. But in all those cases, we can listen and try to understand, rather than deny what is reality to that person.
“I’ve got great hearing . . . heard the n-word,” Jones said during a Tuesday press conference. “I get certain reactions when someone says something clever or says something really, really stupid and ignorant. Last night was not clever, it was really stupid and ignorant . . . so it caught my attention. By the time you look back, you can’t tell who says what or who’s doing what.” Jones was pressed on what inning it occurred and whether the language came from one fan or more. Other African-American players, including those who play for the Boston Red Sox, said they had also heard racially-insensitive or abusive language at Fenway before. But they didn’t say they heard it that night. So the doubters continue to doubt.
If Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi said slurs of any kind were hurled his way, would he need video and vouching from fellow players? Or would the first instinct be to believe him?
It’s a hypothetical for which there is no definitive answer. Maybe his story would also be doubted. Maybe there would be a demand for pictures and witnesses to prove that what he said happened really did happen. Or maybe it just takes more for a black man to be believed.