Shaq and Jackie Robinson

So, in a “freestyle rap,” Shaquille O’Neal repeatedly asks Kobe Bryant, “Kobe how’s my (butt) taste?”

Shaq needn’t have asked. That’s where his head was when he devised this classless stunt.

I’m embarrassed that the first reaction of almost all of us was to laugh at this. Seriously, though, this is no way for a professional athlete to act. Discourse in sports has deteriorated enough without this kind of putrid performance.

But on a classier note, there was a little-mentioned ceremony at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on Wednesday, and rather than recap it myself, I’ll let someone do it who is far, far more qualified.

Dave Anderson of the New York Times:

When Jackie Robinson was on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1962, he requested that the voters among the Baseball Writers Association of America judge him only as a player. He didn’t want his social significance as the modern major leagues’ first black player to be considered. Vote for him — or don’t vote for him — on his merits as a player, as all the other Hall of Famers from Babe Ruth and Cy Young had been measured.

When he was elected, the words on his bronze plaque at Cooperstown reflected his wishes.

Those words began, “Leading N.L. Batter in 1949,” and followed with his fielding and stolen base statistics, and then “Most Valuable Player in 1949. Lifetime Batting Average .311,” before concluding with more fielding statistics.

Nice numbers. Hall of Fame numbers. But over his 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was more than numbers. Much more. To baseball and to America. And on Wednesday, a new plaque with new words was unveiled by his widow, Rachel Robinson, and their daughter Sharon at a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“A Player of Extraordinary Ability Renowned for His Electrifying Style of Play,” the words on the new plaque begin before reciting several of the same statistics. They then conclude, thankfully, with, “Displayed Tremendous Courage and Poise in 1947 When He Integrated the Modern Major Leagues in the Face of Intense Adversity.”

You can read the entire story at this link.

I don’t have a problem with trash talk. I sure don’t have a problem with athletes having fun with each other. And maybe, given the cultural background, that’s all Shaq was doing. But I don’t think so. I think given the timing and the substance, Shaq’s rap was vulgar and mean-spirited.

And it sure flies in stark contrast to great athletes of the past, who carried themselves with more dignity.

My problem with Shaq and so many other athletes is that they could be so much more. They could be such a good influence on so many. Instead, they choose to drag people down.

Including themselves.

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