A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Barbershop Guys Stand Up for Barry
OAKLAND, CA.—If it makes Barry Bonds feel any better, the guys at Lucky’s Barber Shop in downtown Oakland are pulling for him to put his hard times behind him and get back to busting baseballs.
It’s not that these are hard-core Giants’ fans, since they’re in Oakland. The fellas at Lucky’s simply believe Bonds isn’t such a bad guy, and that he is being bullied by the media, at least in part because he is black.
I dropped into Lucky’s to take a barber poll.
Barbershops are where issues are discussed, opinions expressed. I chose Lucky’s because the clientele is mostly African American, and I’m testing my sense that Barry Bonds’ various troubles have divided America along racial lines, to an extent.
This isn’t like in the O.J. case, which caused a distinct black-and-white polarization. But from what I hear, and from my e-mail, there is a racial element when it comes to forming an opinion on the beleaguered belter.
Every time I write something negative about Bonds, many of the angry e- mailers chalk up my (perceived) hate toward Barry to either or both of these factors:
I’m getting revenge on Bonds for his shabby treatment of me.
I’m attacking him because he’s black.
Typical e-mail: “You declare Bonds guilty on the basis of rumors, but you gave Mark McGwire a free pass even though they found stuff in his locker.”
Once I get past the indignation at being labeled a racist, I see where some of the criticism comes from.
Bonds is black, he is approaching a milestone held by the greatest white athlete ever (although some scholars now maintain that Babe Ruth was black), and he is being criticized/investigated/scrutinized by a predominately white media and by a conservative and white-ish federal government.
I could say, “Grow up, stop playing the race card,” but I’m aware racism does exist, and that most people who believe we now live in a color-blind society have probably never been stopped for Driving While Black.
Anyway, I went to Lucky’s to conduct a nonscientific poll of guys who aren’t Giants fans and therefore would figure to be nonemotional about Bonds.
To a man, they were fired up in their support of Bonds.
“It’s been overpublicized, honestly,” said barber Yondon Sterns, who labels himself a Bay Area sports fan. “It’s his personal business. I want to see him play baseball. … It’s constant, constant, beating him down, it’s ridiculous. … The whole thing now is to let him recuperate, to forgive. We all make mistakes.”
“Absolutely,” said customer Anthony Jones, a Dodgers fan. “I think it’s way overblown. ESPN put one reporter on him. It’s absolutely ridiculous. … I think they’re trying to get at him.”
Another customer, Lionel Anderson, said, “I hope he does it (breaks the home-run record). It’s exciting for him and for the Bay Area. It brings a lot of notoriety here, builds up everything. … It’s kind of sad to see his career take that whole negative spin. It’s like somebody out there is like, ‘We gotta hold him back.’ ”
I asked if Bonds is treated unfairly because he is black. None of the men discounted race as a factor.
“A double standard? I think it exists somewhat,” barber Charles Blades said. “If you’re going to be fair, you treat everybody equally, but in the world today, it doesn’t always work that way.”
Anderson: “I’d say yes and no. Yes, because there’s always going to be, at this point, the system, or the man, someone saying, ‘Look, he’s breaking a lot of barriers, can we do something to hold him back?’ But if it is a race thing, it’s hard to see.”
Anderson said that Bonds has compounded his troubles by not confessing his steroid sins: “He went from Olive Oyl to Popeye, he was doing something. .. . We know he was juiced, and a lot of other players. If you don’t admit it, they’re (the media) gonna keep digging. It’s like how your mother tells you that if you tell the truth, you won’t get in trouble. But you might get scolded.”
Jones said: “It’s always hard to discuss the race issue. Historically there has been bias against African American athletes. When it comes to (Bonds’) personal life and steroids, yeah, there is some racial issue, yes.”
“I don’t really know if it’s a race thing, but it could be,” said Keith Gamble, a customer. “I favor the brothers a little bit, I want Bonds to break the record. … But I liked (Jose) Canseco because he played for the A’s. When we (the A’s) were winning, we (the fans) didn’t care what they were taking.”
There you have it from Lucky’s. Sympathy and support for Bonds, even in what would seem to be enemy territory. A unanimous vote that the media should back off. A feeling that Bonds is under greater scrutiny because he is black. And, based on my observation, haircuts of great artistic merit.