Boston is abuzz with reports that its center fielder endured racial epithets in a rehab appearance for the big league club’s Portland Sea Dogs affiliate. The alleged perpetrator turning out to be a local law-enforcement officer has propelled the story from the sports page to the front page.
But what, precisely, did the cop say to offend the slugger?
Carl Crawford, the struggling center fielder, didn’t say. “You got to understand I’m from Texas, and I’ve never had to go through that kind of stuff before,” Crawford noted. “It was kind of the first time it was just so much in your face like that. So, it is what it is.” But what is the “it” that is what it is?
The local media stayed mum for most of last week noting that the offensive word could be “interpreted as a slur.” In other words, the epithet didn’t start with “n.”
Dean Mazzerella, mayor of the city that employs the suspended policeman, will preside over next week’s disciplinary hearing. This hasn’t stopped him from reaching a verdict. “This shouldn’t happen anywhere,” the Leominster, Massachusetts mayor held. “Not any baseball park, not anywhere.” What shouldn’t happen anywhere?
The slur that won’t speak its name isn’t exactly an everyday word. The Leominster police officer who may lose his job allegedly called Carl Crawford a “Monday.”
Most Americans remain oblivious that one day in seven serves to demean nearly one in seven Americans. I queried a dozen locals. None had ever heard “Monday” used in this context. The revelation that the workweek kickoff is an ethic taunt puts so much in perspective.
It turns out that the Los Angeles Dodgers, led then by general manager Al Campanis, regularly insulted African-Americans on its public address system from 1977 through 1984 without notice. Like Crawford, the recipient of the insult was also a centerfielder: Rick Monday.
Who knew that professional do-gooder Bob Geldof, while posing as the savior of Africa, really hated Africans? The Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” reached number one in the UK during a four-week hate-fest in the summer of 1979. Geldof repeatedly sings how he doesn’t like black people, who, in the song, go by the code word “Mondays.” When Geldof’s befuddled band mates insist, “Tell me why,” he never does.
Aggrieved people prone to take offense will usually find a reason to do so. Still, one shouldn’t overlook the ingenuity of racists in transforming benign terms into encrypted invective—until their targets crack the code. One thinks of the strange transformation of “Canadian” from a description of our northern neighbors to insider jargon for African American, i.e., “The Canadians are overrunning this neighborhood” or “Let’s get off at the next stop. Those Canadians make me nervous.” File under: stuff white people say.
That’s the context in which comedian Russell Peters put “Monday” during a 2008 appearance on Def Comedy Jam — the Internet’s locus classicus for the slur. Though reading racism into “Monday” may seem a stretch, coming up with an alternative explanation for what the anti-fan meant by using that word as a jeer also perplexes.
Boston’s unique climate as a hub of both liberalism and urban racial strife makes gainsaying the allegations of the African-American athlete ill-advised. Unlike the Boston Celtics, the city’s baseball team posts an embarrassing record of racial snobbery. The last major league team to integrate black players, the Boston Red Sox, passed on Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and every other great African-American player until signing Pumpsie Green (Career: .246 BA, 13 HR, 74 RBI) in 1959. When Robinson worked out at Fenway Park in 1945, a team officially allegedly heckled the future Hall of Famer with a word historically more jarring than “Monday.” And as a park vendor from 1988 to 1994, I sold concessions among what seemed an all-white workforce until the sudden, conspicuous hiring of numerous Jackie Robinsons of the vending profession.
Carl Crawford isn’t Jackie Robinson. In year two of a seven-year, $142 million contract, Carl Crawford isn’t even Coco Crisp. After batting .255, hitting 11 home runs, and driving in just 56 runs last season, Crawford’s encore has been a prolonged visit to the disabled list for the first half of the 2012 season.
Should saying the word “Monday” be a firing offense, particularly when uttered off-hours in another state? Hitting less than one home run per $2 million should be. But the rules of baseball contracts and political correctness don’t always follow the laws of nature.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author, most recently, of Blue-Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America.