Josh Donaldson calling Tim Anderson ‘Jackie Robinson’ is a problem regardless of intention

Thomas Carannante
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 13: Josh Donaldson #28 of the New York Yankees blocks third base as Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox tries to get back to the base at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 13: Josh Donaldson #28 of the New York Yankees blocks third base as Tim Anderson #7 of the Chicago White Sox tries to get back to the base at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /
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What seemed to be tensions brewing for baseball reasons between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox has now turned into a controversial racial issue that’s being investigated by Major League Baseball.

It all snowballed after Saturday’s game. Last Friday, Donaldson applied an aggressive tag on Anderson that seemed to be a bunch of nothing, but Anderson took exception and the benches cleared. On Saturday, the trash talking ensued and the benches cleared again, but now there’s a more serious discussion to be had.

77-year-old Tony La Russa was the first to allege Donaldson made a racist remark directed at Anderson, which caused the confrontation, but wouldn’t elaborate further. And not to give La Russa the “seal of approval” here, but a guy who’s been in MLB since 1963 should probably be trusted when he says something of that magnitude.

Anderson then spoke to the media, revealing Donaldson had referred to him as “Jackie Robinson.” Donaldson later admitted he called Anderson “Jackie,” and claimed it was a joke between the two for a few years, which really didn’t appear to be the case if Anderson took exception in the manner he did.

Back in 2019, Anderson referred to himself as “today’s Jackie Robinson” as he navigated what he considered to still be difficult racial obstacles that existed in today’s game. Whether you agree with that or not, you’re not Tim Anderson and you don’t know what he’s feeling as one of the few black men in MLB today.

Given that Anderson compared himself to Robinson as someone who’s responsible for changing the game and altering perception of black players in the sport, this jab is inherently racist in nature regardless of whether there was any malicious or direct intent.

If anything, this is a learning experience for many who might believe such digs aren’t meant to be so deep or seem light-hearted on the surface. It may or may not be explicit racism, but it’s implicit in the derision.

Yankees’ Josh Donaldson calling Tim Anderson “Jackie Robinson” is a problem

Some in opposition might not take Anderson seriously for comparing himself to Robinson, which is why we’ve seen this discussion move into a grey area of deciding whether Donaldson’s comment was racist or not — so let’s not even give that grey area any validation.

Anderson is not Robinson, you’re right. Robinson was one of the greatest players in the history of baseball. He de-segregated the sport. He stepped onto the field each and every day waiting to be called slur after slur, and fought through that unimaginable pain and abuse to persevere and have his number universally retired. His plight is comparable to none when you look at it through a historical lens.

But that doesn’t minimize what Anderson has experienced or currently experiences as someone who represents less than 8% of the players in the sport. And loosely throwing around the name “Jackie Robinson” as a joke can clearly be interpreted for the worse.

That’s Jackie Robinson we’re talking about. The man isn’t really a joke in any setting, regardless of context.

Now, just to respectfully smash any rebuttal here, you might say, “Hey, maybe Donaldson didn’t know Anderson made those specific references to Robinson and believed he was comparing himself to Robinson from a playing standpoint, which led him to joke about how he was comparing himself to the greatest black player to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.”

Still not OK. An insult or “joke” such as that indirectly trivializes Robinson’s contributions whether there’s intent or not, and it also promotes cheap mockery of black players (or celebrities) by lazily comparing them to others who came before them simply because they’re black. That may not have been Donaldson’s intention, which he admitted in the postgame, but he already sent the wrong message with the reference. And if this was the case, Donaldson should’ve read the entire story instead of just the headline that said “Anderson compares himself to Jackie Robinson.”

You see how this was crafted to be a trash-talking tactic because of the topic that’s high-profile in nature, but it was done in poor taste and possesses troubling racial undertones — again not for anyone other than Anderson to decide. That’s just the way it works.

Thankfully, Donaldson apologized and offered to meet with Anderson if the White Sox star agreed. He didn’t double down. He didn’t get overly defensive as many do in these situations when the word “racist” is being thrown around.

But regardless of his intent, there needs to be an understanding that this was wrong solely due to the troubling history black players endured in this sport. It inherently minimizes and mocks the experience of those players and people like Donaldson have never — and will never — experience in their lives.

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