The Chicago Cubs fans as racist meme has been played, replayed, and played out. So I’m not trying to bait you into another (angry) discussion. Suffice it to say, it’s fair to conclude that there are bad apples everywhere, and, for whatever reason, things seem to be magnified in Chicago. But there is something new and interesting to add to the discourse.
When the issue has arisen in the past, typically after an African American player leaves the Cubs, there has always been a contingent of folks who weren’t quite sure what to make of the claims that players had received racial hate mail, or been subjected to racial taunts from the fans in the stands. It’s not that folks explicitly disbelieved guys like Milton Bradley, Jacque Jones, LaTroy Hawkins and Dusty Baker (I’m sure they received the mail/taunts they say they received), but because they all left on less than good terms, it would be understandable if their comments came with an added layer discontent. That’s not quite a euphemistic way of saying they exaggerated, by the way. I’m just saying it was hard to know exactly what happened.
That’s why it’s interesting to hear now from an African American player who was uniformly beloved in Chicago: Derrek Lee. Now with the Orioles, Lee recently confirmed that he was aware that some of his teammates were receiving racist hate mail while with the Cubs.
“I know the city and the passion they have for the team,” Lee said, per ESPN, first describing the pressure the fans put on Cubs players. “I thought it was too much on certain guys. I didn’t think it was right. But for the most part it was their passion. That’s why guys love playing in this city because you know you are going to play in front of great fans.”
Lee went on to explain that it was difficult watching specific teammates go through not only added pressure from the fans, but also something much more insidious.
“I never had any [hate mail],” Lee told ESPN of the claims that certain players received racist hate mail. “But I saw it. That wasn’t all right. If a guy is not playing well, go ahead and boo him but don’t make it personal. These were men with families and children who were hearing and seeing these things. No one wants to do badly in the field. And especially not to have racial insults or hate mail sent to you because of it. I never got any, and I am somewhat surprised I didn’t.”
The question then, if there are a number of racist Cubs fans out there with plenty of pens and stamps, why didn’t Lee receive any hate mail? He went through his share of slumps with the team, though, on the balance, he played well more often than he played poorly. I’m not sure we’ll ever fully know and understand the answer.
One thing is for sure – Derrek Lee was, and remains, a class act, whose recollection is beyond impugning. If Lee says it happened, it happened.
And that sucks.