The boss of the Cincinnati Reds, was fined...

MARGE SCHOTT,

February 08, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

MARGE SCHOTT, the boss of the Cincinnati Reds, was fined $25,000 last week for having used the word "nigger."

Many commentators say the fine was too little. It was, but you gotta like the trend line.

When Thurgood Marshall was in law school, he got a summer job at the Gibson Island Club, where his father was head steward.

Years later Marshall told this story, in exaggerated dialect for effect, to a friend: "There I was, workin' at the club, when in came a U.S. senator from out West -- a very crude fellah, a very vulgah individual -- with a bevy of beautiful women on his arm. "He takes a seat and yells over, 'Hey, nigger!' I didn't like the i-dea of his callin' me that, not one bit, but I go on over anyway, and he says, 'Nigger, I want service at this table! So I give him the service an' he is always callin' me nigger all during the meal an' ah'm likin' it less an less. But when he gets up to go, he leaves me a $20 tip."

The senator kept it up all summer. Then one night Marshall's father "hears this fellah callin me that and sees me runnin' over, so he calls me over and says, 'Thurgood, you are fired! You are a disgrace to the colored people!' "

At this point, Marshall's friend said, "Then Thurgood leaned toward me and said, 'Between you and me the lamp post, anytime you wanna call me nigger, just put your $20 down on the table. And you can keep on doin' it all day.' Then his eyes narrowed and his voice suddenly hardened and he said, 'But the second you run out of them twenties, Robert, I'm gonna bust you in the nose!' "

Twenty bucks to $25,000 -- we're heading in the right direction.

***

One defense of Marge Schott was "everybody says it." Bud Selig of the Milwaukee Brewers dealt with that this way: "I'm startled and dismayed when people say that's part of an overall pattern in baseball. I've been around the game 24 years, and I've never heard it."

What is remarkable about that statement today is that it is so believable. I don't recall hearing the word uttered but once in privacy and never in public in the past 24 years. I know I've never heard it at 501 N. Calvert St.

I would be startled to learn that the Gibson Island Club today would tolerate a member or guest behaving as that Western senator did. In fact, I would be startled to learn that a white politician from anywhere would utter the word in public.

The real problem with Marge Schott: she lives in a world that is long gone with the wind. Nearly 30 years ago, a Capitol switchboard operator inadvertently plugged me into a conversation between two Southern senators. One used the N-word over and over in the most derogatory way. He owed his election to public race baiting. His constituency was to the right of Marge. But when my editor made me ask his permission to quote verbatim the conversation I had illegally recorded, the senator said, "Not a chance!"

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