On Saturday night, Brewers reliever Josh Hader pitched for the first time since his old tweets containing racist and homophobic language surfaced during last week’s All-Star Game. It turned out to be a terrific outing, but the thing that bothered many people was what happened before he took the mound: Hader received a standing ovation from a decent portion of the Milwaukee crowd at Miller Park.
It’s impossible to get inside the head of every fan who stood and cheered Hader, who hadn’t done anything necessarily good and deserving of applause but merely had apologized for having done something bad in the past. Some may have been expressing support for a seemingly repentant person, others just excited for the All-Star pitcher – who would strike out four and allow one hit in two scoreless innings – to help the Brewers win, which they did, their only one in the last nine games. And others, perhaps, were cheering for something worse.
Regardless, it was a bad look for Brewers fans and Milwaukee, which has been characterized in recent years as the most segregated city in America and the worst place to live in the country for black people. As an entity, crowds at sporting events can really only do two things, cheer or boo, so there’s not exactly much room for nuance. Still, when the source for the cheering or booing is publicly shared bigoted sentiments, cheering is the less-favorable choice. This piece and this one are good, reasonable reflections on the ovation for Hader.
On Monday, Ald. Khalif J. Rainey (7th District) chimed in, condemning the Miller Park response and drawing parallels to racial issues in other sports and among other local athletes.
"What occurred during Josh Hader’s first appearance since those tweets surfaced is most troubling," Rainey said in a statement. "Thousands of fans gave the pitcher a standing ovation. This frankly is an embarrassment to the world. The boisterous manner of standing to show support for Hader is nothing less than a dismissive stance against problems of race affecting an entire community: a community dealing with the effects of hypersegregation, economic disparity and police harassment.
"... I urge residents of Milwaukee, its suburbs and Wisconsin to think about their actions on these issues and the words they speak whether it’s at a fish fry, picnic or on social media. Let us honor the great sports legacy of Milwaukee by having the courage to acknowledge problems being felt in parts of the city and some of the structural problems working against those members of the community."
After the All-Star Game last week, Hader answered numerous questions from national reporters about the tweets and, since then, he’s spoken with his teammates about the comments, held a press conference with the local media and been required by Major League Baseball to attend sensitivity training and participate in diversity and inclusion initiatives.
In the days since his tweets came to light, the 24-year-old – while repeatedly mentioning they were posted seven years ago, when he was a teenager – has appeared shaken, humbled and genuinely contrite, apologizing and taking full responsibility for what he said. For their part, the Brewers released a statement in which general manager David Stearns rightly pointed out that "regardless of the timeline … his comments are inexcusable," somewhat quieting the all-too-easy excuse of youthful stupidity from the distant past – especially considering the tweets were from 2011, not 1911.
The player, his teammates, the organization and the league took proactive and mostly positive actions in the dispiriting wake of this ugliness. No matter their intent, the same can’t be said for everyone in the Miller Park crowd on Saturday night, however, and Milwaukee looked worse because of it.
Here is Rainey’s statement in its entirety:
Milwaukee has been blessed with a great sports legacy. As an upper-Midwestern city, in many instances, the rest of the world learns about Milwaukee through our sports teams, players and fans. Athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hank Aaron, who in the face of racism and discrimination, united fans of all ethnic backgrounds. But as I look around in 2018 I wonder how much progress has been made in the decades since those great names dominated their respective sports.
Earlier this year, we saw footage of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown, an African-American, harassed by police officers. I applaud the Bucks franchise for issuing a statement that took a courageous stance in recognizing this incident speaks to a larger problem related to race. "Unfortunately this isn't an isolated case. It shouldn’t require an incident involving a professional athlete to draw attention to the fact that vulnerable people in our communities have experienced similar, and even worse, treatment."
Just last week, we saw homophobic and racist tweets including "white power" surface from Brewers pitcher Josh Hader, a Caucasian man. The tweets preceded his time as a professional baseball player to when he was 17. In a statement, Brewers General Manager David Stearns calls the comments "inexcusable" but did not take the opportunity to acknowledge Hader’s comments are an example of a larger issue related to racism. "Those of us that have come to know Josh do not believe that these posts are representative of his beliefs. He has been a good teammate and contributor to the team in every way. We will continue to work through this issue with Josh as we prepare to resume games after the break."
What occurred during Josh Hader’s first appearance since those tweets surfaced is most troubling. Thousands of fans gave the pitcher a standing ovation. This frankly is an embarrassment to the world. The boisterous manner of standing to show support for Hader is nothing less than a dismissive stance against problems of race affecting an entire community: a community dealing with the effects of hypersegregation, economic disparity and police harassment.
The act of crowd members rising to their feet to cheer Hader ignores these very issues that NFL players seek to highlight while kneeling in silent protest during the national anthem. I am deeply concerned that President Trump continues to castigate those football players, recently recommending suspension for those who do not stand "at attention, hand on heart." Although it seems cynical, I cannot help but think it comes down to skin color.
The Hader incident at Miller Park highlights circumstances with which the Sterling Brown incident could transpire. I urge residents of Milwaukee, its suburbs and Wisconsin to think about their actions on these issues and the words they speak whether it’s at a fish fry, picnic or on social media. Let us honor the great sports legacy of Milwaukee by having the courage to acknowledge problems being felt in parts of the city and some of the structural problems working against those members of the community.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.