Yesterday’s Bobby Jenks – Oney Guillen brouhaha spurred some discussion about Jenks’ character, and brought a 2005 ESPN article about Jenks and his upbringing to my attention. The article suggests that Jenks is lacking in terms of intelligence, and that he is a “backwoods” guy with a drinking problem. The following anecdote caught my eye:
His ex-agent says Bobby Jenks used to call him D.J., short for Dirty Jew.
The agent says Bobby would say it casually on phone messages — “Call me back, D.J.” — and while Bobby denies it, it’s a window into the mystery of a backwoods pitcher.
The relationship between agent Matt Sosnick and Jenks seemingly did not end well, such that I cannot take anything said in the aftermath of their split entirely at face value. However, assuming for a moment that Sosnick is telling the truth, the anecdote raises an interesting point. I wanted Jenks on the Yankees, and I am not sure how I would have felt, as a Jew, after reading the ESPN story if he was in pinstripes. So the question that I have is, how much leeway do you give as a fan to players who have questionable beliefs or have committed morally troublesome acts?
I tend to root for the uniform, and would have no overwhelming qualms about rooting for known cheaters and even criminals should the league rule the player fit to play. I want the Yankees to win, and if they adjudge the player to be a necessary piece in achieving that goal, I can swallow my misgivings and root for the laundry rather than the individual. I am sure that over the years, I have at some point supported racists and anti-Semites, albeit unbeknownst to me. Furthermore, it is often misguided to assume that we can determine the beliefs and value system of a player from a few quotes obtained through the media.
I can understand the competing perspective as well. Although we can claim that we are rooting for what the players do on the field rather than for their personalties, it is often difficult to separate the two. I can imagine that rooting for Michael Vick has made some animal-loving Eagles fans very uncomfortable, despite the fact that he is supposedly remorseful and rehabilitated. When you root for someone, you do not get to define how those cheers are interpreted, such that cheers for Michael Vick the football player are inevitably cheers for Michael Vick the person. In the case of bigotry such as that which Jenks is accused of, I can see how this reality that you are rooting for the individual would make many fans squeamish. Unlike in a case of criminal activity, where there is a legal system that can properly mete out justice for certain actions, bigotry is handled in the court of public opinion. Cheering for Jenks allows him to go “unpunished” in that realm, and in fact celebrates him where he should probably be chastised.
And so I am torn as to how I would have reacted to hearing this story about Jenks if he was a Yankee, and it has made me question my tendency to root for the laundry. Now that he is on the Red Sox, this story just gives me more reason to boo him, but him signing in New York would have complicated matters. I likely would have ended up swallowing my issues and rooting for him while he was with the club, but I am far from certain about that.
How about you? Do you blindly root for the uniform?