Aaron made his debut in Major League Baseball at the age of 20 in 1954, a mere seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. As such, Aaron's stellar play on the field was not well received by white America, many of whom were bitter that a black man was in a position to usurp the revered Ruth. But it was 40 years ago this past week (April 8, 1974 to be exact) that Aaron hit his 715th career home run, thus becoming the all time home run king (and in the minds of many, he still maintains that title in light of the Barry Bonds-PEDs allegations). Even though the Civil Rights Act had been passed a decade earlier, Aaron still received a lot of hateful correspondence and even death threats for daring to approach what was considered a sacred milestone.
Sadly, Aaron still has trouble embracing his accomplishment even today. In fact, he hung on to those awful letters that were sent to him back in his playing days.
"To remind myself," Aaron tells USA TODAY Sports, "that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. 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 implication here is that blacks are still oppressed similar to what he endured in his baseball career. Aaron went on to speak in generalities about baseball today and our society in general. He also went on to cherry pick certain incidents without providing any nuance (i.e. the Trayvon Martin shooting). Eventually Aaron broached the subject of the first black President this country has ever had (emphasis mine).
"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.
"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."
Of course Aaron is referring to the "hoods" of the Ku Klux Klan and goes on to imply that Republicans are using KKK type tactics to marginalize the President. It's an utterly asinine assertion to be sure but I believe I can ascertain where Aaron is coming from.
Having grown up in the segregated south, Aaron was all too familiar with the KKK. As he ascended in his successful baseball career, he was roundly criticized and reviled for achieving something that only whites had been able to accomplish. In regards to President Obama, Aaron sees sharp criticism levied towards him after accomplishing something that only whites had achieved in all of American history: being elected President of the United States. On that level, Aaron most definitely empathizes with Obama. But where Aaron's logic is flawed regarding the political realm is that if, say, John Edwards (a white man) were President, he would have likely put forth just as radically left (if not more so) of an agenda as Obama. As such, there's absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Republicans would have been just as critical of an Edwards (or Biden, or Gore) administration as they are the White House's current occupant.
Scott Ott, founder of the parody news outlet Scrappleface, summed up Aaron's viewpoint better than I ever could.
My white, ultra-conservative, Republican grandfather sat with me and my white little brothers in rapt attention awaiting the moment when Hank Aaron would break the home-run record — and rejoicing at that majestic swat.
On a November evening in 2008, I sat transfixed before the screen, tears on my pale cheeks as I watched Barack Obama receive the accolades of the cheering throng upon word that he had won the presidency. (Though I voted for his opponent, and vigorously disagree with virtually everything he has done since, I still think that was a great and important moment for our country.)
Now both men diminish themselves and their legacies by using the bigotry of a few to paint their political opponents--dismissing half of the country with a word, rather than engaging in a legitimate contest of ideas.
I will still treasure those peak moments, and attribute the rest to the fallen nature of man.
Perhaps one of the more outstanding excerpts of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech is his hope that his own children may one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. President Obama is most criticized for his usurping the separation of powers by ignoring laws he doesn't like or flippantly issuing executive orders. Obama is also slammed for a law that's made the health insurance industry more of a quagmire than ever as well as America no longer being viewed a superpower by the likes of Russia, Syria, Iran, etc. Seems to me issues such as those are reflective of a man's character (or lack thereof) as opposed to his skin color.