Hank Aaron received hate mail as he closed in on and eventually broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record in 1974. Forty years later, the baseball great has drawn a new round of controversy for recent racially-charged remarks.
In a recent USA Today interview, Aaron, 80, now a senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves, seemed to compare Republican opposition to President Obama to the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.
“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 told the newspaper. “We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
The comments caused an uproar directed at both Aaron and the Braves organization. Aaron has a reputation of speaking his mind and does not shy away from race conversations. According to The Washington Post, when Seattle Seahawks football player Richard Sherman was labeled a “thug” for a post-game rant earlier this year, Aaron reached out to him on Twitter to offer his support.
“Hang in there & keep playing as well as you did Sunday,” Aaron wrote. “Excellent job—you have my support.”
USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale, who is White, authored the piece in which Aaron made the comment and came to the slugger’s defense, claiming that Aaron was misunderstood and was trying to explain that racism is still alive today.
“Never in our 50-minute conversation did Aaron suggest anyone critical of President Obama is racist,” Nightengale wrote. “Never did he compare the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan…Simply, Aaron stated that we are fooling ourselves if we don’t believe racism exists in our country.”
Ironically, the incident ironically coincided with Jackie Robinson Day on April 15, an annual event in which all Major League Baseball teams honor the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.