Bob Brenly's du-rag comment is the type of venom Black people like Marcus Stroman have to live with every day

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5-min read

One of the things Black people who speak up about racism, as well as those who are trying to be anti-racist allies, hear often from others is that they're "tired" of all this talk about race. "Not everything is about race." "Why don't we ever talk about happy things like ice cream and rainbows?"

First, we can talk about what we want when we want, on whatever platform we're afforded.

But more importantly, if you're tired of reading or hearing about incidents of racism and bigotry, try to imagine for one minute — really, spend 60 seconds considering — how exhausting it is living with these kind of incidents.

Every day.

For some of you, it's far too easy to hear Arizona Diamondbacks color commentator and former manager Bob Brenly blithely take a coded-but-not-really-coded shot at New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman during Tuesday night's game and think it's no big deal.

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For some of us, it's just more exhaustive stupidity, another time when a non-white baseball player is reminded, again, that for many in the game he's not welcome.

With the cameras on Stroman in the bottom of the fourth inning as he prepared for another pitch, Brenly casually drops his non sequitur: "Pretty sure that's the same du-rag the great Tom Seaver used to wear when he pitched for the Mets."

Steve Berthiaume, Brenly's partner in the Bally Sports booth, wisely doesn't acknowledge Brenly's dog whistle and instead notes that Stroman, like all Mets players this season, is wearing a "41" patch on his jersey in honor of Seaver, who died last August.

Why? Why did Brenly feel the need to say what he did? What did he think it was adding to the broadcast? What possible intent could he have had with a comment like that?

Stroman's white du-rag wasn't flapping in the wind. It wasn't inhibiting his vision. It didn't become fully exposed because his baseball cap flew off as he was trying to track down a foul ball. 

You could see it, to be sure, but there wasn't any reason to highlight it in that moment, except to remind anyone watching that Stroman isn't a "typical" baseball player, not in Brenly's mind. That Stroman is not Tom Seaver, though really, very, very few baseball players are.

For the record, the du-rag is there to protect Stroman's hair underneath. He wears locks, and the frequent adjusting of a wool cap during the course of a game would damage the locks and potentially cause hair breakage. So the 30-year-old Gold Glove winner and All-Star wears the du-rag, an eminently familiar accessory to Black people.

Stroman got wind of the comment and retweeted numerous people, from those calling for Brenly to apologize to those saying he should be fired to people that called a spade a spade and said it was racist.

Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman doesn't need the likes of Bob Brenly reminding him of the challenges of being Black in baseball. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman doesn't need the likes of Bob Brenly reminding him of the challenges of being Black in baseball. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Stroman himself wrote, "Onward and upward...through all the adversity and racist undertones. The climb continues through it all!"

New York manager Luis Rojas told reporters on Wednesday Brenly's words were "completely inappropriate." Also Wednesday afternoon, a statement attributed to Brenly called the comment "a poor attempt at humor."

"I apologize to Marcus Stroman and have reached out directly to share those thoughts," the statement read. "I have had several conversations with the D-Backs and we agree that seeking sensitivity training is an important step so that I can continue to learn from my mistakes and be better in the future."

It's hard to believe this was just a poor case of judgment because this isn't the first time Brenly has questioned the choices of a minority player. In 2019, he said Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who is Dominican, would be able to run the bases better without the "bike chain" he wears on his neck. 

In some ways, Brenly also owes the family of Seaver an apology. Just as Stroman has been outspoken about racial injustice and the highly restrictive and targeted Georgia voting laws that led to MLB pulling this year's All-Star Game out of Atlanta, Seaver took a strong stance against the Vietnam War, which wasn't popular among baseball's conservative cognoscenti at the time. 

Stroman also tweeted a screenshot of a direct message he received on Instagram from an individual who called him the n-word twice and told him to kill himself. "I receive messages like this more often than y'all can comprehend," Stroman tweeted.

Again, try to imagine what it's like to deal with venom like that every day, how poisoning it would be to your psyche and spirit. That individual isn't criticizing Stroman's play. He's attacking his humanity, using the most vile word in the English language for emphasis. For every message Stroman may get from a young Black fan thrilled and inspired to see someone that looks like him succeeding, he's forced to see violence like that.

Stroman just wants to pitch, to use his talent, honed over a lifetime. He can use his status as a professional athlete to change and inspire.

He knows being a Black man in baseball is different. He carries that with him every day. He doesn't need the likes of Bob Brenly reminding him.

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