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Weekly Alibi Skeletons in the Closet

By Sue Schuurman

MAY 26, 1998: 

25 Years Ago This Week

Nowadays white sports fans don't seem bothered by the fact that most of the best athletes in major league sports are African American. But in 1973, when Babe Ruth's hallowed home run record was about to be broken by Hank Aaron, over half of the "fan" mail Aaron received was derogatory and racist in nature. For decades, the Babe's record of 714 home runs was untouchable, and for some pathetic reason, the idea of a black man surpassing the nearly-sacred statistic was too threatening. As the following article attests, Aaron gracefully took it all in stride, chalking it up to being black in America.

Hank's Mail Full of Hate

HOUSTON (AP)--There's one good thing about going on the road for Atlanta Brave's home run slugger Hank Aaron--he doesn't have to open his mail.

Aaron, who is closing in on Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714, is getting a steady stream of hate mail--60 percent of it on the adverse side.

"If I was white, all America would be proud of me," Aaron said. "But I am black. There are some sick people in this world. Or else I wouldn't get the mail I do. These are sick people who thrive on trying to make other people miserable."

"I can't do anything about the mail," said Aaron. "I'd say that the ratio is 60-40, that 60 percent of it is of a racist nature. It's very offensive. They call me 'nigger' and every other bad word you can come up with."

The Braves have a full-time secretary in charge of Aaron's mail, which is increasing as he gets closer to the record. And Hank reads it all.

But why read such letters and postcards?

"That's a good question," he said. "I don't know why. Except I always have, from the very start of my career. You get a piece of mail and you have to read it. I want to look at my own mail. I want to read what people are writing ... what they think."

Aaron doesn't like the slurs he receives through the mail, but they won't deter him from his quest for the Babe's record.

"You can't ignore them," Aaron said. "They are here. But this is just the way things are for black people in America. It's something you battle all of your life." --compiled by Susan Schuurman

Source: Albuquerque Journal; May 19, 1973

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