Pots & pans: Whites no longer have a monopoly on winning
A Japanese driver finished first at the Indy 500, but some people can’t accept that
Over the Memorial Day weekend, Takuma Sato, one of my people, won the Indianapolis 500. After the race, Sato, short like me, drank deeply of the white milk, a liquid victory lap and the traditional ambrosia of Indy winners.
A native of Japan, Sato races for the Andretti family, whose auto racing patriarch, Mario, immigrated from Italy after World War II and made his last name synonymous with American speed and power.
Terry Frei found the whole scene tough to swallow: “I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during the Memorial Day Weekend,” Frei wrote in a tweet.
Sato might be short like me, but he’s of Japanese descent, unlike Frei, the now-former sportswriter for The Denver Post, which fired him. To Frei’s way of thinking, Sato is from a country the United States fought during World War II (as it did the Andrettis’ Italy). Consequently, it’s hard for Frei, a veteran journalist with wide-ranging interests, to embrace Sato winning the great American race.
No matter Frei’s height and interests, his remarks made him appear small, his worldview narrow, parochial and exclusionary.
And yet, Frei’s remarks place him firmly in the tradition of those who have seen broad aspects of American society, from sports to elective politics, as a kind of invitational tournament with white people deciding who gets invited and under what circumstances.
It’s that tradition that Jack Johnson challenged and shattered when he became the first black man to win the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1908, setting off tremors in boxing and America that would not be stilled until Jess Willard beat him for the title in 1915.
More than 30 years later, Jackie Robinson continued the assault on artificial boundaries when he vaulted over Major League Baseball’s color barrier to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first black man to win our nation’s presidency, unleashing a whirlwind that continues to uproot and overturn assumptions about race and power in America up to this very moment.
What Frei and others with his mindset can’t understand or believe is that this is (or should be) the “open era” in sports and other aspects of society, here and abroad.
Sato can win Indy. Ichiro Suzuki, another native of Japan, can dazzle Major League Baseball with his hitting, fielding and baserunning. And Americans and other foreigners can compete and win in Japanese sumo wrestling.
Ultimately, Sato’s Indy victory and Frei’s reaction to it remind me that much of America continues to need what I think of as the “Little Joey Talk.” It’s the kind of lecture you’d give a child who confuses what he wants to happen with the way things are or should be.
For some reason, I can imagine the talk being delivered in President Donald Trump’s voice, perhaps via Twitter.
The talk goes like this: Little Joey or Little Terry. This is America. Everybody should get the chance to play. If everybody plays, anybody can win. And anybody who has a problem with that is a loser.