Homer Race

With Barry Bonds closing in on baseball's home run record, black-and-orange trumps black-and-white

Perhaps it's inevitable given this country's history, but steroid use isn't the only thing skewing perceptions of Barry Bonds' inevitable crowning as baseball's home run king: The specter of race hangs in the backround of this chase as well. Nationwide surveys of fans' attitudes toward Bonds show that white fans see Bonds' pursuit of the all-time home run record as tainted, possibly to the point of an asterisk, by steroid use; a majority of black fans see nothing wrong, use or no use, about Bonds' entrance into the land of 756 and beyond.

Enter UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus Harry Edwards.

A consultant to pro sports teams and a longtime commentator and critic of race relations in sports, Edwards is well aware of the apparent great racial divide among sports fans. The attitudes toward Bonds among black and white fans nationwide are what he calls a "mirror image" of each other: A recent Associated Press poll showed that while 55 percent of minority fans wanted Bonds to break Hank Aaron's record, only 34 percent of whites surveyed did. Edwards says that it's not surprising to find some "racial leakage" into white fans' perceptions of Bonds, nor does he think it's surprising to see what he calls a "black backlash" to the criticism of him. Come face to face with racism as an African-American, and you can readily see racism in a negative reaction to a black sports superstar.

But there is one thing, Edwards suggests, that trumps the race factor: homer-dom. (Not as in "home runs," but as in local fans seeing only the best in their hometown team.)

Edwards says that once you cross into the land of black-and-orange baseball caps, something changes. The racial chasm seems to narrow noticeably, if not altogether disappear, Edwards says. He didn't cite any specific polling data, but anyone who has been to a Giants home game or listened to KNBR knows he's right.

What's at work? Edwards suggests that "fandom" may drown out racial bias. If blacks and whites nationwide are identifying with color lines, Bay Area residents are holding true to the team colors. In other words, for many Giants fans the "us and them" is defined by who's sitting in the third-base dugout and who's spitting out sunflower seeds on the first-base side.

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