“You're making way too much out of this.”
“Why can’t you just let it go?”
That was the reaction by many Wednesday after the Chicago Cubs banned a fan who used a racist symbol behind black broadcaster Doug Glanville. So, too, the reaction to people who questioned the swift return of Addison Russell, back with the Cubs less than a week after completing his 40-game suspension for domestic abuse.
Not that anyone should have been surprised. Any time – every time – there’s an incident of racism or sexism or misogyny or any other discrimination that stems from sexual orientation or religion, there are still too many people quick to, if not outright defend the action, excuse it or try to explain why it really wasn’t that bad.
Yet how are they to know?
When you’re in a position of privilege – and let’s be honest, that’s a designation reserved mostly for white, heterosexual men – you cannot fathom how hurtful and infuriating it is to hear or see something that diminishes you. Or something that’s intended to put you in your rightful place.
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What to you might seem innocuous is anything but to someone who has, for their entire life, faced stereotypes and had to fight to open doors and minds that society might as well have welded shut. What to you might seem like an overreaction is actually a demand for equality, both in not having to face the discrimination and hate in the first place and, when it does happen, to have the anger and outrage it sparks recognized and respected.
Take that fan’s gesture.
People were indignant that the Cubs could have deemed it to be anything but a joke, the fan’s opportunity to get a laugh out of his buddies by playing the “circle game” on television. Never mind that he was an adult, not a 13-year-old kid, or that he “just happened” to do it behind Glanville.
The people who defended the fan can be no more certain of his motives than those who believe he was flashing a white power symbol.
What we do know is how it made Glanville feel.
“They have displayed sensitivity as to how the implications of this would affect me as a person of color,” the former Cubs outfielder said in a statement, referring to the team and his current employer, the NBC affiliate in Chicago.
That should be the decider.
I can’t know what it feels like to be a person of color – or a member of the LGBTQ community or a Muslim, for that matter. So it is not my place, nor is it my right, to define discrimination for those who are or tell them what they have to tolerate. And no one else should, either.
A view of Wrigley Field. (Photo: Patrick Gorski, USA TODAY Sports)
I do, however, know what it’s like to be a woman in a society that still does not value us fully, and can understand why some are angry at the Cubs giving Russell what seems like an express pass to redemption. How the casual disregard so many sports teams continue to have for domestic violence makes us feel invisible, only worth acknowledging when we’re buying jerseys and tickets.
For too long, we've brushed off the opinions of Native Americans who don't like their names and images appropriated for nicknames. We've dismissed the prevalence of the racism and economic disparity that prompted the NFL protests. We've minimized the bigotry and hatefulness athletes of color experience everyday, including at their work places.
It might not be your reality, these episodes of discrimination and hate. But to insist it is not a reality is the height of arrogance and, quite frankly, ignorance.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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