Marcos Bretón

Very small ball: S.F. Giants play racist damage control, and we’re still not buying it

Marcos Bretón talks about Giants owner on the Ethan Bearman Show

Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón talks about Giants owner Charles B. Johnson's legacy of supporting controversial politicians, including U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.
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Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón talks about Giants owner Charles B. Johnson's legacy of supporting controversial politicians, including U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Watching the San Francisco Giants’ brass fumbling and dissembling through a PR nightmare of its own making was depressing.

The Giants principal owner, billionaire businessman Charles Johnson, started it all by financially supporting Cindy Hyde-Smith, a racist U.S. Senator from Mississippi. When Johnson’s financial support of Hyde-Smith came to light, when it all blew up, the Giants did not live up to their name.

On Monday, they were the Smalls. They responded to sincere concern and outrage from fans and community members with puny deflections, deceptions and double talk.

A disappointing public statement issued by day-to-day boss Larry Baer basically said, “Hey, we have 30 owners and we can’t control them. And! And! And! We’re cool! We’ve been cool for years. We give to charity and stuff.” All that was missing was that line from the “Wizard of Oz:” “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

In this farce, that role was played by Johnson. What Baer tried to conceal behind the “we have 30 owners” dodge was that Mr Johnson is not just any owner. He owns the biggest piece of the Giants. He’s not just one of 30. Financially, he’s the man.

Not man enough to speak for himself, of course. Johnson had his lawyer pull out that old, reliable chestnut that old white dudes produce when they get caught doing something racist.


“To say Charlie Johnson in any shape, form or manner has a racist bone in his as silly as it gets,” Joe Cotchett told a group of reporters gathered in his Burlingame office.

Yes, what Cotchett provided was the usual indignation from the lawyer representing the rich guy who has made a habit lately of giving money to racist causes or people.

Google the video of Cotchett in spewing white privilege when simple decency was required.

Now, on Tuesday Johnson asked for the money to be returned. Through Cotchett, he issued this statement: “I was not aware of the controversy surrounding Hyde-Smith when I made the donation. I strongly condemn any form of racism and I have asked for my contribution to be returned.”

A little late, and only after his actions caused an uproar of condemnation. I don’t care whether Johnson has a “racist bone in his body.” I care about his checks helping fund racist people and causes, and he should have known that was what he was doing.

Last month, Jonson donated to a super PAC, Black Americans for the President’s Agenda. That’s quite a little title for a phony group, isn’t it? I mean, President Donald Trump got 8 percent of the black vote in 2016. Legitimate opinion polls said 3 percent of black voters approved of him in August. He has spent the last several weeks calling into question the intelligence of African American women in media and politics. He built his political career promoting the lie that Barack Obama, the first African American President, was illegitimate because he was born in a foreign country.

So yeah, I can see where Johnson would be eager to give to Black Americans for the President’s Agenda because, you know, that agenda is so sincere.

As it turns out, the group aired a racist radio ad during an Arkansas congressional race.

And then Johnson gave to Hyde-Smith after she made national headlines by joking that she admired a Mississippi rancher so much, she would attend a public hanging if he asked her.

Yes, that’s a very funny line given the history of public hangings and lynchings terrorizing black people in her state. The threat of lynchings and the symbol of a noose hanging from a tree was especially effective around election time, when the noose told black people that they had better know their place – or else.

A group of Bay Area civil rights leaders led the protest against Johnson and the Giants on Monday. This was striking. Lawyer John Burris, the Rev. James Smith and the Rev. Amos Brown are older gentleman. For them, a noose, a joke about lynching, and racist radio ads are not abstract.

These men are old enough to remember Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American lad lynched in Mississippi in 1955. He was accused of being sassy to a white woman. His murder was brutal, his killers were acquitted. I was born seven years later and all my life, the legacy of hatred in the South was framed as evil – at least in the schools I attended in Northern California.

Suddenly candidates such as Hyde-Smith can spend her legislative career pandering to Mississippi’s Confederate history. Suddenly, white nationalists feel emboldened to demonstrate in public. Trump is tougher on famous black women than the KKK.

Appointed U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., answers a question during a televised Mississippi U.S. Senate debate with Democrat Mike Espy in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Rogelio V. Solis AP

As our civil rights leaders age, as some of them pass, their collective memories fade and die with them – and a new generation shrugs as the language and symbolism of racial oppression are wielded by politicians trolling for votes while whistling Dixie.

The same can be said for Holocaust survivors, as they grow old and frail and, knowing what they barely survived, watch in horror as Neo-Nazis parade through our towns, congregate in the digital space, and grow stronger. So many seem to have forgotten what our nation and world endured in the middle and latter half of the last century. They haven’t.

larry baer.JPG
Larry Baer, President and CEO of the San Francisco Giants. Jan. 17, 2012 in Sacramento, California Renee C. Byer

What does this have to do with Johnson and the Giants? Well, this: Despite Baer’s suggestions to the contrary, what’s objectionable about Johnson has nothing to do with simple political differences.

If this were just about a difference of philosophy relating to the Affordable Care Act or Social Security or taxes or foreign policy, this Johnson fiasco would not be a story.

No, this about the principal owner of the San Francisco Giants donating money to aid candidates seeking to divide people by race. And after two years of Trump condemning dark-skinned people for political profit, some of us are saying, enough is enough.

This isn’t about agreeing to disagree over sincerely held political and policy differences. This is about some of us saying, we will not tolerate the promotion of hateful ideas or people in our politics any longer. What Hyde-Smith promotes and stands for are not OK. Racist ads in congressional races in Arkansas are not OK.

And until or unless the Giants come correct on this issue – until the organization repudiates Johnson by name, or Johnson tells his lawyer to shut up and he personally disavows his political choices, or the Giants get rid of Johnson altogether – some of us are not going to patronize the Giants as a business any longer.

I’m not giving Johnson any of my money. Period. I’m fully aware that some of my friends in the Bay Area media just roll their eyes about this whole story.

It’s abstract to them, they want to talk sports. I get it. But get this: Hyde-Smiith will probably win Tuesday in a runoff election for her U.S. Senate seat.

Why? Because linking arms with Trump and playing games with racial oppression are straight out of the Trump playbook and win elections in red states like Mississippi.

Your San Francisco Giants owner supported what used to pass for unacceptable, his lawyer’s claims of ignorance notwithstanding. What does that mean? Johnson and the Giants and some of their fans are not nearly as cool as they think they are.

During the MS senate debate on Nov. 20, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith apologized to those that were offended by her public hanging remarks and said her words were “twisted." Mike Espy said, “no one twisted your comments because [your] comments were live.”

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