Jackson Chastises MLB for ‘Ill-Contrived Questions’ in Background Checks

AP, January 31, 2008

NEW YORK—Jesse Jackson criticized Major League Baseball on Thursday for sending investigators to the hometowns of umpires to ask neighbors questions that include whether the umpire belongs to the Ku Klux Klan.

“Major League Baseball has done a disservice to its progressive social history by equating southern whites with white supremacists,” Jackson said in a statement. “I am surprised the professional league which helped change social attitudes in all sports leagues about segregation, by championing Jackie Robinson, would make such a destructive move.”

World Umpires Association president John Hirschbeck and union spokesman Lamell McMorris said Wednesday that Tom Christopher, the Milwaukee-based supervisor of security and investigations in the commissioner’s office, had asked questions about Klan membership to neighbors of umpires Greg Gibson and Sam Holbrook, who reside in Kentucky.

In addition, Hirschbeck said similar questions had been asked of neighbors of umpire Ron Kulpa, who lives in suburban St. Louis.

“In a year with the injustice of Jena Six, nooses hung around the country and the Tiger Woods-Golfweek scandal, Major League Baseball’s false impersonations of friendships and ill-contrived questions further press sensitive racial stereotypes, with no basis for suspicion,” Jackson said. “They have essentially defamed their people in their own neighborhoods.”

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“To try to link our umpires to the Ku Klux Klan is highly offensive. It is essentially defaming the umpires in their communities by conducting a very strange and poorly executed investigation. It resembles kind of secret police in some kind of despotic nation.”

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“Once again, baseball’s favorite way of doing things: Ready, fire, aim,” Hirschbeck said. “It’s not a good way to start the season.”

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