Marge Schott's Next Move


February 06, 1993|By GLENN McNATT

Baseball said ''I'm sorry'' when it punished Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott with a one-year suspension for making racial slurs against blacks and Jews.

But saying sorry isn't enough if that means Ms. Schott and her fellow team owners now go back to business as usual.

Bad as was what Ms. Schott did, she is in the spotlight only because she was unlucky enough to get caught, not because such attitudes are that uncommon in baseball. Baseball's bigotry goes beyond Ms. Schott.

Fellow team owners who heard her make the ugly remarks she is alleged to have uttered repeatedly over the years made no protest at the time. There's no telling even whether Ms. Schott was the only team owner to use such language.

The point is that the Schott episode is indicative of a more generalized attitude in baseball. It has uncovered a pernicious strain of bigotry that in practice manifests itself in the virtual exclusion of blacks from higher management positions in the industry. Blacks may be fairly well represented in the player ranks. But there's still a ''glass ceiling'' beyond which they cannot rise. Team owners resort to all kinds of dodges and subterfuges to disguise their poor record in minority hiring.

Since baseball helps set the racial tone for other American businesses, this pattern of exclusion is disturbing in its implications not only for baseball but also for efforts to integrate the workplace throughout the economy.

Ironically, the Schott affair coincides with the the convulsion the Pentagon is undergoing over President Clinton's proposal to lift the ban on gays in the military. The military's policy of discriminating against gays has often been likened to policies in the past that discriminated against blacks.

Paradoxically, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell, who is black, is also one of the most vocal opponents of allowing gays in the military. Moreover, he insists that the military's discrimination against gays on account of their sexual orientation isn't comparable to discrimination against blacks on account of their color.

It's pure coincidence the Schott affair and the Pentagon's imbroglio over gays are occurring simultaneously. But the juxtaposition raises an interesting question as to whether the military prejudice against homosexuality is justified in a way that baseball's prejudice against blacks is not. Still, it's not necessary to answer that question in order to recognize that the exclusion of blacks from higher management in baseball is morally wrong and ethically indefensible.

Would any of the team owners who have no black executives in their operations contend, for example, that a man like General Powell, successful manager of Desert Storm, didn't have ''the necessaries'' to fill a front-office job?

Yet under the crooked rules by which the game is played today, even a man of General Powell's demonstrated talents and accomplishments automatically would be deemed ''unqualified'' for a management job in baseball -- solely on account of his color.

If nothing else, General Powell ought to have proved to just about everyone's satisfaction that blacks can be successful as managers. And yet the kind of color prejudice now institutionalized among Ms. Schott's colleagues almost certainly would have denied him advancement had he chosen to make his career in baseball rather than in the military.

That makes a mockery of the whole notion of fair play the national pastime is supposed to represent.

One would hope that Ms. Schott, having been held up to public ridicule for doing wrong, might now redeem herself by doing the right thing.

For starters, she could take the lead by bringing blacks into upper management positions on her own team once her suspension is lifted.

That would set a positive example for her fellow team owners as well as provide concrete evidence of her sincerity.

It's not enough for Ms. Schott to say ''I'm sorry'' if she does nothing to show that she has changed not only her attitudes but also her behavior as a businesswoman. And it's not enough for baseball's owners to content themselves with giving Ms. Schott a slap on the wrist, then going back to business as usual.

If that is the ultimate outcome of this controversy, it will be painfully apparent that both she and they have learned nothing from this whole tawdry affair.

Glenn McNatt writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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