Discussion: Rooting For The Uniform?

Yesterday’s Bobby Jenks – Oney Guillen brouhaha spurred some discussion about Jenks’ character, and brought a 2005 ESPN article about Jenks and his upbringing to my attention. The article suggests that Jenks is lacking in terms of intelligence, and that he is a “backwoods” guy with a drinking problem. The following anecdote caught my eye:

His ex-agent says Bobby Jenks used to call him D.J., short for Dirty Jew.

The agent says Bobby would say it casually on phone messages — “Call me back, D.J.” — and while Bobby denies it, it’s a window into the mystery of a backwoods pitcher.

The relationship between agent Matt Sosnick and Jenks seemingly did not end well, such that I cannot take anything said in the aftermath of their split entirely at face value. However, assuming for a moment that Sosnick is telling the truth, the anecdote raises an interesting point. I wanted Jenks on the Yankees, and I am not sure how I would have felt, as a Jew, after reading the ESPN story if he was in pinstripes. So the question that I have is, how much leeway do you give as a fan to players who have questionable beliefs or have committed morally troublesome acts?

I tend to root for the uniform, and would have no overwhelming qualms about rooting for known cheaters and even criminals should the league rule the player fit to play. I want the Yankees to win, and if they adjudge the player to be a necessary piece in achieving that goal, I can swallow my misgivings and root for the laundry rather than the individual. I am sure that over the years, I have at some point supported racists and anti-Semites, albeit unbeknownst to me. Furthermore, it is often misguided to assume that we can determine the beliefs and value system of a player from a few quotes obtained through the media.

I can understand the competing perspective as well. Although we can claim that we are rooting for what the players do on the field rather than for their personalties, it is often difficult to separate the two. I can imagine that rooting for Michael Vick has made some animal-loving Eagles fans very uncomfortable, despite the fact that he is supposedly remorseful and rehabilitated. When you root for someone, you do not get to define how those cheers are interpreted, such that cheers for Michael Vick the football player are inevitably cheers for Michael Vick the person. In the case of bigotry such as that which Jenks is accused of, I can see how this reality that you are rooting for the individual would make many fans squeamish. Unlike in a case of criminal activity, where there is a legal system that can properly mete out justice for certain actions, bigotry is handled in the court of public opinion. Cheering for Jenks allows him to go “unpunished” in that realm, and in fact celebrates him where he should probably be chastised.

And so I am torn as to how I would have reacted to hearing this story about Jenks if he was a Yankee, and it has made me question my tendency to root for the laundry. Now that he is on the Red Sox, this story just gives me more reason to boo him, but him signing in New York would have complicated matters. I likely would have ended up swallowing my issues and rooting for him while he was with the club, but I am far from certain about that.

How about you? Do you blindly root for the uniform?

29 thoughts on “Discussion: Rooting For The Uniform?

  1. scott

    I could not have rooted for Jenks if it turns out he is an anti-semite. Nor can I root for Vick. To me these transgressions are far worse than anything A-rod, Clemens, etc. have done.

    • Definitely agree with that. The fact that it is worse complicates matters. I have no problem rooting for users.

  2. oldpep

    I agree. Any form of bigotry would make it impossible to root for a player, no matter what laundry they wore.

    • Maybe it would matter to me if he ever acted on the bigotry in a tangible manner. I find this very tough.

  3. jon

    I could not have rooted for Jenks if it turns out he is an anti-semite. Nor can I root for Vick. To me these transgressions are far worse than anything A-rod, Clemens, etc. have done.  

    And yet the President would go out of his way to thank the Eagles for giving Vick another chance.

    • I find the Vick thing to be a bit different, as I suggested in the post. He faced criminal sanction for what he did. Once the law declared him vindicated, I think that changes the calculus.

      • scott

        I have a special place in my heart for animals and a special enmity for those like Vick.

  4. Clint

    Watching Jenks blow a lead against us this year will be THAT much more special now :)

  5. Matt O

    How bigotry is worse than cheating? Where is that in the Ten Commandments? I’m w/ Roy Oswalt, if you’re taking steroids, you’re stealing. Stealing playing time, $ from other players, places in the record books. Stealing has to be at least as bad as bigotry, no?

    • scott

      I think there is a big open question if taking steroids is stealing. The worse that can be said with any measure of definiteness is that it is against the law. If steroids help an athlete heal faster, for example -i.e. Pettite, I’m not sure why it’s more illegal than Cortisone – which is also a steroid, only further confusing maters.

      I believe A-Rod would be a good hitter with/or without steroids, and so he stole no one’s playing time and thus we are left with money and record books. If the worst a person does in life is cheat to appear higher in a record book, then that doesn’t seem so bad. So we are left with the fact that A-Rod probably got more money from Texas or NY than he should have. Except, when did he start taking steriods, in Texas? If so, the Texas contract wasn’t influenced, and by the time the Yankee extension was negotiated, well, I doubt his steroid use influenced much.

      The above example is obviously that, an example, of how confusing reality can make moral absolutes.

      Comparing one flaw/sin/etc. to another depends on an individual’s moral system, so I expect there to be many different answers. In my personal view bigotry is high up there. In full disclosure, I am Jewish, and have experienced hatred and prejudice, and my moral balancing is influenced by this.

      • Matt O

        Full disclosure…I’m white and grew up in a town that was white, but was a minority at the college I attended my freshman year. I played sports at both levels and have seen bigotry and cheating from multiple angles. I guess I always saw ignorance as the root cause of bigotry or racism. Cheaters knew exactly as what they were doing. While completely inappropriate, I guess always gave a pass the people who voiced racist thoughts.
        But you are right, it all comes back to your own moral system.

      • Kevin Ocala, Fl

        I think your ignoring the fact that once players start using PED’s, (and make no mistake, long-term usage is very dangerous) players that would never have considered them are “forced” into taking them so that they can keep their jobs. The effect filters down into colleges and high schools. I’ve been weight training since the ’70′s and I have seen rampant use since that time, guys shooting up combos and cycles of roids that would amaze most readers. And most of these guys were just getting big to get laid (ok, so there is a point). Unfortunately, the physical and psychological effects of these drugs are probably, long-term, worse than crack. I know, I’ve seen it. So this is an issue that is much, much bigger than record books or even breaking the law. This is an issue of instituting a “Culture” of PEDs in sports (and other forms of entertainment) that by it’s nature is causing athletes, stars and wannabes, to use or fail. Anyone remember how quiet the media was when FloJo died of a heart attack in her thirties? Well start paying attention as early-middle aged athletes start punching their tickets….

    • I think most would agree, but you are right. It is subjective.

  6. Damian

    I watch baseball nearly every day during the season and as a Yankee fan I inevitably grow attached to the players I like. Maybe it helps that most of the Yankees seem like nice guys–Cano, Swisher, Granderson, CC, Mo especially. It’s hard for me to predict how I would feel if I heard that a guy like Swisher or Pettitte had, for instance, used bad racial slurs and were exposed in the media for it. I would definitely feel disappointed and wonder why, but I think with the level of my involvement with the team being what it is, I would still root for them to succeed. Maybe that’s just a consequence of my belief that people can change. Being a racist or an anti-semite or something like that isn’t necessarily as permanent as, say, having a certain blood type; it’s something that a person can reassess and correct if it needs correcting. If John Rocker were a Yankee, and if he were good, it would be plenty hard to accept him and I’m sure I would be harder on him than I would be on other guys, but I think I would still root for him.

  7. That’s fair. As I’ve noted, this is all very subjective.

  8. jason

    The irony is that I refer to Bobby Jenks as “FDB” (Fat, Dumb, Bobby).

    This is an interesting discussion. Presumably, a reasonable, sane, individual would not openly root for a player that’s bigotted against the particular group the individual belongs to. Also, most reasonable individuals, not belonging to that group, may be loathe to root for such a person. If Jenks instead had used a pejorative term to refer to a black person, it would be hard to imagine a black Red Sox fan (assuming there are black Red Sox fans) rooting for him and many reasonable non-blacks likewise would not root for him. Then again, sports fans are not always reasonable, are they?

    What about going to see a Mel Gibson movie, for example? On the one hand, Braveheart is awesome. On the other, What Women Want reeks. On yet the other hand, the guy is a raving lunatic and an anti-Semite. As many have already pointed out, this is very subjective. The “right” answer *may* be that we should not root for laundry containing a player who is an open bigot. But the reality is that as sports fans, we can’t help ourselves.

    I wonder if Theo Epstein looked into this?

    • Moshe Mandel

      But the reality is that as sports fans, we can’t help ourselves.

      Well said.

  9. OldYanksFan

    The fact that he used the term ‘DJ’ casually, to his agents face, is not just bigotry, but an amazing lact of intelligence and consciousness.

  10. Jorge

    I would have had a hard time rooting for Jenks as a Yankee, as I would have a hard time rooting for a guy like Brett Myers. Both are pretty classless.

    Michael Vick served his debt to society and has taken honest steps to do right. As someone who grew up around people who condoned things like cockfighting (even though I find either practice awful), I understand the cultural issues involved. I hold no ill will towards Vick and find him to be the only likable thing about that team right now.

  11. Dave

    Funny, it was Yankee fans who wanted Jenks. Cashman and the FO never seemed interested in him. I am sure this was well known around baseball. I guess Theo Esptein doesn’t mind a guy who probably thinks he is a “dirty jew” on his team if he can get guys out.

    But this would have been a huge deal in NY IF the media got a hold of it. And since we are hearing a lot about Mr. Jenks now, they probably would have. What will they say in Boston? I always thought there was a strong Jewish community there.

  12. MJ

    Open question for Moshe: I know you to be a Knicks fan. How did you feel after Allan Houston and Charlie Ward made their statements about Jesus being killed by Jews (or something to that effect)? I don’t know how old you are or if you remember that but, to the extent that you do remember that, how did it affect your Knicks fandom?

    My own thought is that we root for the laundry in all cases but that we can dislike one of our own, even while he’s on our team. I know many Yankee fans hate A-Rod, despite loving the Yankees. I personally hate Joba Chamberlain for my own reasons despite the fact that I’m as die-hard a Yankees fan as there is.

    I imagine that if Jenks were on the Yankees you’d simply choose to not root for him because he offends you in some personal way. It’s pretty normal and common, I’d say.

    • Moshe Mandel

      I’ve long grappled with the Houston and Ward thing. I’ve come to the conclusion that their statements had more to do with particular religious beliefs than blatant bigotry. I could understand if people saw that as parsing something that was insensitive to try and justify it. So to answer your question, I did not stop rooting for them.

      • MJ

        To each his own. I found Ward and Houston’s comments to be borne of ignorance rather than bigotry or hatred but ignorance, in my book, is never a good enough excuse.

        I stopped rooting for them on the spot but, in fairness, I never really liked them all that much to begin with.

  13. Matt Imbrogno

    I’ve been trying to put my thoughts together for a response to this post for a while and I just can’t get anything too coherent out there. Generally, I consider myself a root for the laundry kind of guyI. As a sports fan, I try to separate the on and off field. I come to verbal blows with my family about this one all of the time in re: Tiger Woods. My father, mother, and sister refuse to root for the guy because of his extra marital affairs and what not. I couldn’t care less about him putting on another green because I care about what he does on the golf course. The same goes for Alex Rodriguez and the countless other athletes that are unfaithful. But, those offenses are relatively minor, no?

    A guy like Jenks (if he said what he supposedly said), even though I’m not Jewish, offends the hell out of me. In that case, I would probably still root for him on the field, while understanding if others could not. I wouldn’t want any part of him off the field and I would think that he’s not a good person, but as long as he was on the mound for my team, I’d support him. Part of me thinks it’s wrong that I think that way. After all, character counts more than performance on a baseball field, right?

    In my life, I’ve never really had much of a conflict with athletes on teams I support doing horrible things while on said team/actively playing (at least none that I can remember), save for A.J. Price and his laptop stealing. Perhaps I’m “lucky” in a way to have a lack of experience in this “field.” But when I transport myself to the hypothetical, I’m still not sure how to act. My girlfriend lives about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia, on the Jersey side. All of her relatives and friends are Eagles fans (don’t worry, people; I made her a Giants fan) and while I haven’t done anything scientific, about half of them root for Michael Vick and half of them don’t. Putting myself in there shoes, I’m still not sure where I would fit. Maybe it would be just like the hypothetical Jenks situation: I would root for him on the field, but then completely disregard him as a good human being off of it.

    At the end of this relatively incoherent rambling, I guess I can say with confidence that I do root for the laundry.

    • bronxbrain

      Thanks for your posting, Moshe, and for your thoughtful response, Matt (and others). Like other contributors to this thread, I root for my favorite uniforms (Yankees, Giants, Knicks), regardless of who wears them. I try to avoid reading about the personal beliefs about the players on those teams, because I can’t stand the cognitive dissonance of loving a player whose views I abhor. I’m glad that Luke Scott doesn’t play for the Yankees.

      But some matters rise above political differences. Flat-out bigotry, for me, is unforgivable. Had John Rocker ever made it onto the Yankees, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t ever root for him. Knowing what I (perhaps) now know about Jenks, I couldn’t ever root for him. Same for his ex-manager. I disagree with the person above who insisted that cheating (PEDs, etc.) is worse than bigotry. I can’t forgive somebody who hates, and, if any current or future Yankee is a bigot, than I hope I don’t find out about it.

  14. Frank

    The Red Sox also ressurrected Ronan Tynan’s career after his anti-semetic remarks got him banished from Yankee Stadium. Maybe Jenks and Tynan can locker together and start a Mel Gibson movie night in the Sox clubhouse.

  15. Kevin Ocala, Fl

    Moshe, you raise a lot of interesting points. The following link outlines a story that had me flabergasted when it “broke”, both because of what Bonds had to say, and the lack of “legs” that it had with the media. The editorial tone of the article I have no comment on, I’m just posting this as food for thought. http://www.intellectualconservative.com/article4402.html

  16. EJ Fagan

    I do my best to keep any off-field stuff out of baseball. To me, they’re just playing a game. Athletes are just normal people who play a sport really well, and there’s no reason to expect them to be any more morally pure than the rest of us. As long as they show up and don’t act like assholes on the field, I honestly don’t think about anything else.

  17. Matt O

    It is inexcusable to prevent someone from getting a mortgage, pass someone over for a job or punch someone in the face for the color of their skin, their sex, sexuality or religious beliefs. But an ignorant person doing some name calling is no big deal once you’re beyond middle school. If Matt Sosnick was that offended by Jenk’s comments, he could have dropped him as a client immediately (ignoring a contract I’d think would be void if Sosnick wished). But it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened. So Sosnick is either not remembering it correctly or he made the conscience decision to provide services to a person who degraded him. This particular case of bigotry sounds like it’s a victimless crime to me.

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