A slew of letters filled with racial epithets flooded the Atlanta Braves offices this week after baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron spoke out about racism and defended President Obama against his critics.
The Braves recieved hundreds of letters, e-mails and phone calls, USA TODAY reports, after Aaron spoke openly about the racially-charged vitriol he faced when he shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record 40 years ago, and how racism lingers today.
One email describes Aaron as “a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur).” The rant includes the epithet five times in four sentences, USA TODAY reports.
The letter ends: “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”
The hate mail comes as baseball fans this week celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, marking 67 years since Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
But racially-charged letters are nothing new for Aaron. He opened up in his 1991 autobiography, I Had a Hammer, describing the years he received hundreds of letters of hate mail. The season he cracked 715 homeruns brought out the worst backlash, he said.
“Two years, ’73 and ’74, were perhaps the roughest years I had in professional sports because of the hate mail,” Aaron told NBC’s Bob Costas in an interview that year. “I received something like 930,000-some pieces of mail that year.”
Aaron said he keeps the hate letters sent to him during the height of his career to serve as a reminder that racial issues today aren’t far off from what he faced when he made baseball history.
“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record,” he told USA TODAY last week. “If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’s not a whole lot that has changed.”
The 80-year-old baseball slugger paralleled the barriers he overcame to those President Obama continues to face as the nation’s first black president. What separates the two, Aaron said, was that in his day, he lived under the shadow of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a different story today.
“We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated,” Aaron said.
“The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts,” he added.