Suspending Josh Donaldson was easy. Overcoming hate speech in baseball will be more difficult.


It really wasn’t a decision for Major League Baseball to suspend the New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson for his racial slurs directed at Tim Andersonfor twice calling Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson “Jackie” and inspiring a pair of bench clearance incidents between the clubs on Saturday.

The paper trade came Monday, when MLB imposed a one-game suspension on Donaldson, a mild punishment given the circumstances and context of league discipline.

The ramifications run much deeper, not just in the game’s deep-seated racial conflict, but also in the thinly veiled coded language that frames so much societal discourse – a spectrum that ranges from bullying to virulent racism.

The Donaldson case revealed two of the most painful aftershocks to emerge in the wake of the crackdown on racism, discrimination and sexual violence – that hurtful speech was just a ‘joke’ and one that the instigator didn’t was sorry only if he had offended the recipient.

For the uninitiated, Donaldson and Anderson faced off in a four-game series in Chicago on May 13, when Donaldson’s aggressive tag on Anderson knocked him off third base during an attempt to withdrawal. Anderson was the exception as his almost disinterested teammates jumped out of the dugout and jogged from the bullpen as order was quickly restored.

Chicago White Sox’s Tim Anderson, right, attempts to return to third base next to New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson during a May 13.

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The vagaries of the schedule, however, brought the individuals together a week later at Yankee Stadium, when Donaldson baited Anderson twice with “Jackie” greetings, an allusion to Anderson comparing his desire to diversify Major League Baseball with Robinson breaking his color barrier.

The quote with no context involved is much more widely circulated than the long profile that accompanied himand according to Donaldson, he would joke freely with Anderson about the shortstop’s ambitious comparison in later years.

This is where the case delves into narrative and personal interpretations, a process partially obscured by the fact that Donaldson is baseball’s titular agent provocateur, a slugger praised for playing with an “upside” but who often delights to wobble on it.

Donaldson, for sure, is an equal opportunity beef, be it a bat-chuck incident with Manny Machadoa “sticky” shouting match with White Sox ace Lucas Giolito or one howling match with John Gibbonswho was his manager at the time.

Still, a racially insensitive comment isn’t a game like a harsh tag or a heel turn by a high-spiked baddie in a baseball movie. And there should have been little ambiguity after the aggressive tag incident in Chicago: Whatever the Donaldson-Anderson story, the upcoming series would not be a time for “kidding.” Nor would this be the time to push the bear, wave and incite and, most likely, get into the opponent’s head.

Not by dropping a “Jackie”.

Michael Hill, executive vice president of field operations for MLB, said that “regardless of Mr. Donaldson’s intent, the comment he directed at Mr. Anderson was disrespectful and demonstrates a poor judgment, especially when considered in the context of their past interactions.

“Furthermore, Mr. Donaldson’s remark contributed to a bench clearance incident between the teams and warrants discipline.”

Donaldson, who was placed on the Yankees’ COVID-19 injured list, is appealing the suspension.

It may just be a procedural maneuver to allow him to serve time at the convenient time for his team. Either way, if equating a person of color with a notorious figure sharing their lineage doesn’t strike someone as racist, a remedial course in human relations is in order. And if Donaldson doesn’t/doesn’t realize that such a loaded greeting would be very different from a higher level replacement mark to play with a rival, he deserves some time to think about it a bit more.

More broadly, sections of society perhaps desensitized by too many “Pocahantas” cracks either never grasped this concept or chose to ignore it.

The “just kidding” mechanism was popularized by the worst white nationalist bad actors, who freely admit the militarized irony normalize their hateful beliefs or spread false information. Or make very serious accusations and launch seemingly serious conspiracy theories just to call oneself a “performance artist” to evade judicial review.

Donaldson later faltered in his media encounter when he said Anderson “obviously thought it was disrespectful. And look, if he did, I apologize. Although he didn’t was ever easy to strike a perfect tone in the midst of a media inquisition, it was clear to anyone at either club that Anderson was offended He had the chance to go beyond the response “I’m sorry if I offended you”, another well-worn phrase from the bully.

This is not to equate Donaldson with a number of hateful characters. We only know part of what’s in his heart, his “Jackie” misstep is just a darkened window into his soul, as is his gallop with colored teammates does not guarantee the composition of the bones of his body.

Yet in this exchange, only Anderson’s feelings matter. If he turned the other cheek after the previous cracks of “Jackie”, it does not mean that he is not entitled to anger when he hears it once too often. His grim postgame account was just a glimpse of the discrimination faced by millions of black people in the United States, and specifically the roughly 7% who survive a lot of ugliness on the way to join the shrunken but proud group playing in the big leagues.

Anderson and Donaldson grew up separated by just a few freeway hours from Alabama, Anderson in Tuscaloosa and Donaldson in Mobile and Pensacola, Florida. Both overcame significant challenges and trauma to excel in the game and play it at All-Star and MVP levels. That one can so misunderstand the other is an indictment of our progress, or lack thereof.

We can only hope that Donaldson emerges with a better understanding after a nasty incident that reminded us of our worst tendencies.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Josh Donaldson gets a slight suspension for remark to Tim Anderson