Is Discrimination Against Latinos Getting More Costly?

In a syndicated newspaper column headlined “A No-Hit Game for Me,” the “60 Minutes” show-stopper Andy Rooney was expressing his dislike for the current state of baseball. He wrote:

I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me. They’re apparently very good but they haven’t caught my interest.

Does that first sentence seem inherently incendiary to you? Your answer probably depends on your own background and heritage. There are in fact a lot of Rodriguezes in MLB, but Rooney was promptly charged with anti-Latino racism. The Times article on the subject, by Maria Aspan, said, however, that “Rooney’s editor did not think the comment touched Imus territory.”

Why not? There are probably a lot of reasons, including the fact that Imus trafficks in harder-edged putdowns than Rooney. But there’s also the question of how costly it is to discriminate against different groups of people.

In “Freakonomics,” we wrote a bit about discrimination on the TV game show “The Weakest Link.” The section was based on a Journal of Law and Economics paper by Levitt arguing that contestants didn’t seem to discriminate against blacks and women, but there was evidence of discrimination against Latinos and the elderly. Why? We make the case that discrimination against blacks and women over the past few decades became more socially unacceptable, and therefore more costly. Discrimination against the elderly and Latinos, meanwhile, is still relatively cheap, in that it is generally not penalized very harshly. When was the last time you heard of someone losing his talk show because he made fun of old people?

Based on the blowback to Rooney’s column, it looks like the cost of anti-Latino discrimination may be rising. It’s interesting to think what the response would have been if Rooney had complained that there are too many baseball players with names like Matsuzaka and Okajima. (I am guessing we wouldn’t have read about it at all.) Or, switching arenas for a minute, what if Rooney wrote a column about the history of Wall Street and said he liked Wall Street just fine until all the Goldmans and Blankfeins started running things? (I think we would have read about that one quite a bit, and Rooney might be packing up his CBS office.)

If indeed the Rooney story is evidence that discrimination against Latinos is getting more costly, here’s another recent example that may provide further evidence. The University of Texas journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez successfully lobbied PBS to include more Latino experiences in the forthcoming Ken Burns mega-series “The War,” charging that an early version gave short shrift to Latino-American participants.

One last and more significant question: will anyone read any anti-Latino sentiment into yesterday’s resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? Here’s a quote from President Bush: “It’s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud.” Would the outcome had been any different if Gonzales were white or black? Does the President believe that it was easier to drag a “Gonzales” through the mud than some other name?

For the record, there are an awful lot of MLB players named Gonzalez too, although unlike A.G., they spell their name with a “z” at the end, not an “s.”


Mark - NYC, Member RSN

Reading the whole essay, I do not think it was a very discriminatiry comment on the whole...mildy by insinuation. Given that, I think you can say the cost is moving higher faster than you think it is. On an aside, Rooney could have said he has at best casual interest in baseball but even the new age of Latinos players don't catch his fancy which is far more positive and proves there is some discrimination in his choice of language. I am not sure I agree on the Bush-Gonzales comment - it is a fairly popopular in politics to reference mud.

Justin

There was no instance of discrimination here. Rooney may have implied that he would discriminate against latinos if given the chance, but he's just stating an opinion about baseball. Nobody was oppressed, nobody got passed over for a job, nobody was even insulted (directly) a la Imus... discrimination is an action, not a mindset.

Calling this discrimination is an overreaction and does a disservice to real acts of discrimination because crying wolf leads to eye rolling.

Mack

I have a hard time seeing how this amounts to 'discrimination against' Latinos. It's terrible times when a cranky old man can't say what's on his mind because of the PC crowd.

'Discrimination against' is going to require some actual harm, some closing of doors, etc. Not some professional curmudgeon saying he doesn't follow baseball as much as he used to, whatever his reasons.

Toni

Was it just a little stereotypical to change the setting for your example of Jewish discrimination to the financial sector, and out of baseball? Maybe just a fluke, but it caught my eye. But I don't call it discrimination, any more than what Rooney said.

Mario Ruiz

Hola Stephen,

I am latino. I do not feel discriminated in any sense.

From time to time there are sentences like the one you point to and you can read with prejudices. This happen if you are sensitive.

Besides baseball players, there are other latinos in good places, like Hector Ruiz, who is running AMD. I am Ruiz I would not mind to get confused to him.

On the other side, I would not like to be confused with any bad people, I do not care what race is he.

If you treat people well, with courtesy and respect, you receive the same no matter where you come from.

Mario Ruiz
@ www.oursheet.com

Silvanus

Um... no to the Gonzalez remark. Alberto Gonzalez lied to Congress. There's no discrimination for that sort of crime. It's just stupid. And now Gonzo is paying the price for destroying the Justice Department of the United States by A) politicizing the administration of justice, and B) pushing away talent by creating a divisive, negative atmosphere due to point A.

As for Rooney's remark? Maybe the cost is going up- or maybe Rooney lost interest in baseball because there are few major leaguers he can empathize with being, you know, an old white guy. At least Rooney isn't being investigated for organizing dog fights, like some football players.

Don Chaffee

It's true though. There are a lot of Rodriguezes.

Tim L

Here's another brilliant example of how "civil rights advocates" cut off their noses to spite their face. This story will make headlines across the right-wing media as yet one more example of how "leftist" self-righteous "civil rights advocates" are destroying the fabric of public discourse. Rooney's harmless comment says more about his advanced age and lack of serious interest in baseball than about his attitude towards Latinos. (Can I say Latino? Please, I need a "civil rights leader" to help me express myself.) Get a life. Does anyone remember what real discrimination is anymore?

jim

I'm not Latino but I grew up in a Latino neighborhood. I do find Rooney's comments incendiary. First, they represent stereotype of a demeaning nature (all guys named Rodriguez to me). This equivalent of saying all Koreans are guys named Park to me or that all Germans are guys named Schwartz. It reflects an inability to see past skin color and cultural identity to observe individual differences. For someone of his stature and experience, he certainly could have expressed himself more politely. Like, for all the diversity in the game today, and all the talent, I still don't like it. That's not what he said though, he said they are all guys named Rodriguez.

Second, it is true that it not encroach on Imus territory, as he did not impugn their personal morals with a racy statement nor laugh at his sidekick's intensifying comments ("hard-core...")

Sometimes, it's important for curmudgeons to realize that their time has come and gone and their worldviews and mindsets are not longer in step with culture. I fear that time has come for Rooney.

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I think that the cost of discrimination depends directly on the importance that the discriminated group has in the economy.

Black people and women have a big importance in the economy, this is reflected in the charges they have on their enterprises. In this days it is no strange to meet a Black CEO or a woman candidate for president.

Instead, Old people have no longer a relative importance in the economy, because they don't have jobs, they represent a cost in the health sistem, etc.

Finally, Most of people think in lations as illegal immigrants, but as long as they hold more important positions in economy and politics (like Alberto Gonzalez)the cost is going to rise.

Laura Potts-Wirht

Whew.... I was relieved to see that others commenting on this article had a hard time seeing how Rooney's comment amounts to discrimination against Latinos. As I was reading the article I thought"What is he talking about?" I sensed no discrimination. A comparison would be if Rooney made a comment about a high number of players with the last name McKenzie when none had distinguished themselves like, say, Gehrig.... And, it is common for many in political office to have their names "drug through the mud".

I'm concerned when people seem to go out of their way to call someone on supposed discrimination when their time could be used for more constructive purposes or to address real problems.

alex m

I don't care for either Rooney or Bush but this article is trying to create something out of nothing... 'Quite sophomoric' is an apt description of what this attempt of rabble rousing amounts to.

Bob Fryer

I don't believe Rooney is displaying tones of racism. It seems as though Rooney is conveying how there used to be iconic names that would stick in the mind of anyone - casual fan or die hard supporter. Now perhaps he feels that when he reads a sports column, as a casual reader, the headline always names someone of latino descent. As is the case of most recent NY/NJ/CT papers he's right as Alex Rodriguez has domninated back-page after back-page. Anyone that reads sports articles more often than once-a-week would know this is not really the situation.

I do believe, however, that he's showing a great ignorance toward modern baseball. In my opinion, by his comments, he's doing a great disservice toward professional baseball and their efforts concerning integration within all of pro-sports over the past 50+ years. It's fantastic that baseball is representative of so many countries nowadays and continues to expand the world over.

But like post #4 mentioned - he's just a cranky old man and most likely mixed his "meds" or didn't get to watch his latest rerun of the Walton's.

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jonathan

It seems that every culture needs to make fun of things and things form into groups and so we make fun of groups. Every now and then our sensitivities about what's acceptable "fun" change. It used to be okay to be openly cruel about Poles, for example, and now you pretty much only hear Poles making dumb Polack jokes. Same with the Irish; I didn't even know a "Paddy Wagon" was an insult growing up because it was what everyone called what is apparently really a "police wagon."

When things change, the lines get argumentative. Rooney's remark was curmudgeonly, which is what he does for a living. He also doesn't like cellphones and probably prefers manual typewriters. Imus' comments were merely the last straw; his long history of being a jerk finally got too much attention and he lost his advertisers.

You see a lot of silliness. One famous example is the UPenn case where a foreign born student yelled out to some loud women that they were "water buffaloes," which in his culture meant loud, unruly and rude. The women were African-American and took it to be racist. That initiated the whole round of speech codes in which what was said was defined by the worst case or by what the hearer believed was said with no credit to the actual intent or meaning. Those quickly died because they were an over-reaction, but that's the process in which we define what's acceptable.

Gary Sheffield of the Tigers this season said the owners prefer Latin players because they're more controllable. Some Latin players agreed; they said the young players are scared and controllable because they generally don't speak English and are afraid they'll be sent home. Others disagreed, but it opened an interesting if stunted debate.

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P9

My name ends in -ez and I was not offended. But if he said "I went to see my new tailor today, named Peter. There was a time they were all named Schlomo or Hy" what would the reaction have been? The fact is there are a lot of ball players today whose name ends in -ez. Just like a lot of "mini marts" have someone named "Apu" or "Samir" or "Punjab" behind the counter and the LPGA and the WNBA have a large lesbian following, and more often than not the dude that drives your cab is an immigrant and so on. Stereotypes become stereotypes because a lot of times, stereotypes are true.

Stan Dudek

Rooney's comments are not discriminatory. I bet that he did his research and found that there are a lot of Latino names in baseball. Good for the Latinos. The comment may be slightly politically incorrect but PC has gone way to far. People who worry about such fine lines need to get themselves a life. Mario Ruiz is correct in his comment, just treat others with respect and don't worry about the small stuff.
I agree, baseball does seem boring this year. But that is probably more due to the economics of the game rather than the last names. Like him or not, thank goodness that at least Barry Bonds is doing something interesting.

Beerzie

I am a Latino and I think Rooney's remarks are racial but not racist. It's a shame that a glib (but fairly accurate) observation can set off such a ruckus. It seems to me that the cause of Latinos is better served fighting real discrimination.

Cliff

Regarding Alberto Gonzales, I would like to point out that many people in the Bush administration have had their name dragged through the mud and the Bush administration seems to be an equal opportunity reputation destroyer as far as cabinet members go.

Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Scooter Libby, Paul O'Neil. It's not like Alberto Gonzales was exactly singled out. I really feel bad for Colin Powell. He could have been president before this.

Plus consider that Alberto Gonzales got this job, not because he was particularly qualified, but because he is a Bush crony and all they care about is loyalty. He was Bush's personal attorney and kept getting put into position after position, cause he was Bush's friend. Attorney General wasn't given to him out of respect for his work or merit.

Charles

I think the point is not if something is racist, just the idea of it possibly being racist is enough today. I did not find the Imus racially charged at all, an insult to women yes, but "nappy headed" is a term that can be used for any race. The incident itself looked to be trumped up by Al Sharpton and not by the people that it was directed at. This was especially true when the first person to come forward at the basketball teams press conferance was a white player.

This is also much like the Rush Limbaugh comment that got him fired from ESPN. His comment about Donovan McNabb was not an insult to blacks, but rather an insult to the media for giving credit to a quarterback for being good and black, rather than highlighting a team that was good.

Now whether or not you believe these comments are racist, many people will voice their opinion both ways and I can see Rooney's comment along the same lines. The media will usually choose to sympathize with those that feel harmed in the situation and trump up business by sounding the horns of extreme racism. I love this post because it does bring up a good point, Latinos will not complain as much about comments that could or could not be taken in a racist manner. I think its a great thing not to be overly sensative.

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Mr. Jimenez

The Rooney comment just proves that everyone is just a little bit racist. It wasn't serious discrimination, just personal discrimination, which amounts to a bit of racism.

Which, especially in the elderly, is somewhat unavoidable. What he said just barely implied that he wasn't really interested in the Latino talent as much as he would be if they were white.

So should no one have said anything. It's worth noticing his racism, but saying anything would result in, well, what happened.

It was a bit of an overreaction, but I also think that public figures and media outlets have a responsibility to keep their personal feelings such as this one, personal.

Yes .. I know, free speech, but free racist speech is different. Expressing racism openly can spread something that we've agreed should die out.

Either way,
People are too emotional, on both sides of the argument.