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Yoga and Baseball: The Dichotomization of Culture Through Orientalism
Jake Crumpler | June 10, 2021
The effects of Orientalism as seen through the lens of the American pastime
For centuries, Western countries like the United States and Great Britain have subjugated Eastern countries, such as India and China, through conquest and cultural control. The power of these nations over each other has led to tremendous dissension that has yet to be mended. This power was executed through several avenues, but the most important roads relate to philosophy and culture. Western translation and religion enforced, and continue to enforce, Orientalism and the great divide between the Orient and the Occident. I would like to explore this statement by considering, among others, a few questions that pertain to this subject that will aid in the understanding of these ideas. First off, what effect does religion have on enforcing Orientalism, imperialism, and colonialism, and where is this manifested? Do translations play a major part in how Eastern thought is consumed? In what ways does this play out in the modern world? How can the divide between the East and the West be mended?
Before diving deep into the subjects of imperialism, Orientalism, and the forces that divide the East and the West, it is important to define and understand these terms and ideas. The West separated itself from the East through imperialism and colonialism. Imperialism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending the power and dominion of a nation especially by direct territorial acquisitions or by gaining indirect control over the political or economic life of other areas,” (Merriam-Webster). Colonialism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “control by one power over a dependent area or people,” and as, “a policy advocating or based on such control,” (Merriam-Webster). Dividing the world by conquering countries led the West to gain more than just imperial, colonial, and military power. The West gained a sort of racial power, in that it could now try to play savior or teacher for all of these countries they conquered. In doing this, the West not only erased cultures and ways of life by forcing them to conform to Western styles of life, but they could now portray the East as needing saving, being underdeveloped, or being, in general, less than the West. The West’s history of dominance over the East is an important concept that will continue to play an essential role in the exploration of other topics pertaining to the enforcement of Orientalism.
Imperialism and colonialism define the West’s path to power over the East, but do not describe the continued separation and divide between them that survives through the 21st Century. Edward Said, the man who coined the term Orientalism, defined it in his renowned book, Orientalism, stating that, “Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident.’ Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny, and so on,” (Said, 2) This is where the relationship between the East and West continues to disintegrate because Orientalism others anything non-Western. Said also points out that, “Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient--dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient,” (Said, 3). This definition is more succinct by Said and, most importantly, it implies the historical oppression the Occident has maintained over the Orient. Occidental authority has survived for more than two centuries and is most present in the religious dominance and conformity pertaining to the separation between the East and West.
Christianity has been the West’s most practiced religion, running for two centuries, which has led to the Church and its followers gaining more power as more people conform to the Western lifestyle. This has been apparent in the way Christianity and Catholicism have been used to not only naturalize imperialized and colonized countries to Western life, but also to gain power in the first place. While countries are dominated and acquired, their religions and cultures disappear and are replaced with Western religions and ideals. The additions to the congregation of Christian and Catholic followers strengthens the unification of those followers. The people believe that their numbers are rising because their religion is the “correct” one and their lifestyle is the “correct” and “preferred” lifestyle, ingraining the idea that the West is better than the East. As Christianity was popularized as the main religion of the West, it simultaneously produced the othering of any non-Christain religion resulting in further separation between the Orient and the Occident. Any religion that wasn’t Christianity became alienated by the West and, in turn, was looked down upon and dismissed. The unification of the West under a single religion, belief system, and lifestyle forced the alienation and separation of not only Eastern religion, but also of Eastern lifestyles and philosophies. Instead of broadening the horizons of the human population that would seem to incur from the increase in Eastern countries being acquired by imperialist and colonialist countries, Western thought was amalgamated under one common way of believing.
The popularity of one belief system in the West directly led to a major and nearly unsolvable problem. The problem that the West faced and continues to face, in terms of solving Orientalism, is the homogenization of thought, ideals, religion, and lifestyle. Homogenization is the process of becoming homogeneous while the definition of homogeneous is, “of the same or a similar kind of nature,” and, “of uniform structure or composition throughout,” (Merriam-Webster). This homogenization is a direct result of the original unification under a single religion. Religion maintains a major influence over the philosophies, ideals, and lifestyles of its followers, and when people are all influenced by the same ideas, their philosophies, ideals, and lifestyles are all similarly influenced. Therefore, the authority of Christianity and Catholicism over the West and conquered colonies forced its followers into one way of thinking, one way of seeing, and one way of being. Western religion essentially homogenized half of the world into one single homogeneous being, one giant mass of people who all believed and thought the same things and lived life in the same ways. Not only did this give this homogeneous being ultimate power over much of the world and give Christianity authority over this being, but it also acted as a barrier blocking any other religions, philosophies, or lifestyles from seeping in. The amalgamation of Western society acted as a barrier because anything different from the mass would not homogenize, forcing it outside the Western bubble. Halting other ways of thought from entering the West allowed for further alienation of the East as its lands and its philosophies became more and more foreign and different. This difference was even supported by the religion itself and not just its imperial power and influence over human thought.
In Bernard Cohn’s, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge, the ways in which Indian history was rewritten, its objects commodified, and its people exoticized are explored. Cohn noted that Britain had decided that, “knowledge of the history and practices of Indian states was seen as the most valuable form of knowledge on which to build the colonial state,” (Cohn, 5) and that, “India was seen by Europeans not only as exotic and bizarre but as a kind of lying museum of the European past,” (Cohn, 78). These quotes reflect the deep-rooted Orientalism in Western society and how long ago it began. It also reveals the purposeful alienation of India by the English and how it affected all of Europe’s views on India.
Most importantly, Cohn discussed the ways the Bible successfully influenced Europeans’ views of India as well. It was used to condition the West to see India as bizarre and exotic while simultaneously reinforcing the blockade of Eastern culture and the separation of the East from the West. Cohn stated, “The Bible and the medieval patristic literature offered another interpretation of the culture and religions of India for the European travelers: this was the home of traditional enemies of Christianity, Satan and his devils...To have found the devil and Satan in India was not strange and unusual to Europeans, as they knew they were there all along,” (Cohn, 78). Cohn echoes the ideas of Europeans being pre-conditioned through their religion and important texts to despise the Orient and view them as less-than or evil. Anyone not following the church and not homogenizing to the Western norms was considered to be different in a bad way. In other words (or Cohn’s), these people are all considered to be devils by birthplace alone and could never conform to Western life. This is but one example of the process that the West undertook to alienate the East and spread Orientalism.
It would be foolish to suggest that the othering of the Orient and the separation of the West from the East could strictly result from just the homogenization of religion alone. Yes, it played a major role and the ensuing homogenization of philosophy and lifestyle played an equally important role but another essential key to othering the Orient lay in the translation and portrayal of important Eastern texts and philosophies. This was done intentionally by translators attempting to other and exoticize the East while simultaneously spreading false information to readers by deliberately altering translations to fit prefixed stereotypes and ideas about Eastern life and texts. This similarly reflects how the Europeans rewrote Indian history and divided religion by hemisphere. Ovidio Carbonell Cortés of the University of Salamanca elaborated eloquently on these ideas in his essay titled “Orientalism in Translation: Familiarizing and Defamiliarizing Strategies”. This essay supports my previous ideas on the important role translations have played in enforcing Orientalism by exploring the way Oriental texts were exoticized through translation by Westerners.
Cortés begins by pointing out that, “So-called ‘primitive’, ‘exotic’ or ‘oriental’ texts provide some of the most illustrative examples of cultural bias that usually takes place in translation. It is already well known that the conditions of knowledge production, and therefore also the conditions of the translation process, are deeply inscribed with the politics, the strategies of power, and the mythology of stereotyping and representation of other cultures,” (Cortés, 63). His opening remarks reveal not only the effects translation can have on foreign texts, but also the Occidental authority over the way these texts are viewed. These remarks show the influence stereotyping has on translations and how these translations reinforce those stereotypes in their readers.
The rest of Cortés’ essay contains the processes by which Western translators were able to alter foreign texts to their benefit and to the detriment of the Orient. He explores Lawrence Venuti’s idea of “invisibility” which Venuti defines himself as, “[giving] the appearance that [the work] reflects the foreign writer’s personality or intention or the essential meaning of the foreign text - the appearance, in other words, that the translation is not in fact a translation, but the ‘original’,” (Cortés, 64). Here, Venuti attempts to put into a singular word the process of translating a text to the likings of the translator, with or without the intent, but resulting in the spreading of misinformation to readers. The readers believe the translation is a true and factually correct translation, when in reality it is a whole new story that contains racism and stereotyping and false information about life in the East. These translations ultimately allowed for false truths to permeate most of the West and those false truths allowed for the West to differentiate itself even further from the East by using these mistranslations as facts to back up the othering of the Orient. Cortés also pointed out that, “...at the turn of the 18th century...it was widely believed that Oriental literature had a tendency towards the use of overelaborate metaphors and bombastic expression due to the nature of the language, determined in the last instance by the character of these peoples. This character was conditioned, so it was thought, by physical circumstances such as the climate of Eastern lands,” (Cortés, 64) and he continues in the next paragraph, “Of course, a clear concept of social convention was inconceivable at the time, but we should note the survival of old stereotypes, as well as the fact that once Oriental literature was thought to be characterized by these features, the translated work had to reflect the same characteristics in the target language. Therefore, the reader expected the Oriental work to be characterized by these traits,” (Cortés, 64). Here, Cortés is pointing out that not only were Europeans predisposed to believe the elaborate stories told of the East, but Europeans also didn’t question the accuracy of the translations because of that same predisposition -- the predisposition that resulted from how the East had already been portrayed to them.
Westerners were conditioned to believe the false translations through previous alienation of the Orient, their philosophies, and their texts, and then these ideas were supported by false translations of Eastern texts that seemed to suggest that the Eastern author was representing the Orient the same way the West did. This connects back to the discussion surrounding the European alteration of Indian history and the Bible reinforcing views of the Orient by conditioning Western followers to compare and differentiate themselves from the East by considering anyone non-conformist as a devil. The Bible in itself is a translation and the people who interpret that translation and broadcast their interpretations to congregations are translating a translation. All of these steps of feeding the Bible through different people’s opinions and predispositions cause the real messages to be lost and allow for new false messages to be formed with the authority of this religious text still remaining. This results in the Bible being used to other the Orient and allows for Europeans to be conditioned to foreignize Eastern people and dismiss their philosophies. Oriental poetry, novels, religious texts, or philosophical texts were translated to reinforce predispositions and condition readers to dismiss and foreignize the East in this same way.
Cortés goes on to explore the process of defamiliarization which brings light to how the intentional exoticizing of Oriental texts was achieved. Cortés writes, “Whereas it may be said that ‘naturalness’ stands as the desirable distinction in the majority of translations into English...the fact that fluency, transparency or invisibility should acquire canonical status also determines that non-transparent translation somehow emphasize the ‘foreign’ character of the work translated and the different set of values it is assumed to convey. If fluency as a strategy gradually takes hold as a convenient way of incorporating, for example, classical texts in the corpus of Western knowledge, defamiliarization stands as a common practice when translating exotic texts. Their semiotic character is determined by the differences sought in order to distinguish these texts from canonical texts. The translator therefore orientalizes the ‘Oriental’ text, exoticizes those texts considered exotic, and renders archaic works purported to represent bygone and paradigmatic times…” (Cortés, 65). This lengthy quote reinforces the notions that foreign texts were marginalized with intent, negatively affecting the way Europeans viewed these texts.
Cortés elaborates further on the conception of defamiliarization by stating, “Defamiliarization or foreignization stands as an attempt to preserve the distinct qualities of the foreign or exotic text - these which make the text, precisely, ‘foreign’ or ‘exotic’-, but this preservation is in fact a rewriting,” (Cortés, 65). Cortés’ ideas about defamiliarization support my previously mentioned thoughts that these false translations are, in fact, not translations at all. They are new stories by themselves that are shaped by a translator’s predispositions about how the East should be portrayed in an attempt to foreignize the Orient. He continues with these ideas writing, “...the norm or convention when translating this type of text will be the alteration or dislocation of what would be considered normal in the language (poetic or other) of the target culture, so as to make it suitable to the convention of what this sort of text is expected to transmit. This is related, on one hand, to the image that the receiver culture has of the original culture and, on the other hand, to the experience of the translator who, conditioned by such an image, seeks to introduce distinctive features into his translation,” (Cortés, 65). This harkens back to the conditioning of European readers to expect differences in Eastern texts even though those differences were placed there intentionally by a Westerner to portray the East as different.
Cortés concludes his relevant thoughts on Orientalism in translation by noting that, “The predominant convention in the translation of Oriental poetry has incorporated many such effects in European versions. Obviously, these effects belong only to the target language and culture, as they result from their differences (real or imagined) from the source language and culture,” (Cortés 65). These final sentences crystallize the impact of creating and reinforcing major differences between cultures from the East and the West. The East was unaffected directly by these translations, but the ensuing views and treatment of the Orient by the Occident is what directly affected them.
Understanding the background of Orientalism and its links to religion and translation allows us to shift our focus towards the present. Yoga is a modern example of the way orientalism, homogenization, and translation can affect how Eastern cultures are viewed and appropriated in the West. By analyzing the alterations made to yoga during its appropriation process, the underpinnings of Orientalism become more clear. Søren Askegaard and Giana M. Eckhardt, in their research journal article titled, “Glocal Yoga: Re-appropriation of the Indian Consumptionscape”, explore the “...implications of this re-appropriation process for [the] understanding of marketplace globalization,” (Askegaard, 45). Understanding marketplace globalization isn’t necessary for the discussion surrounding Orientalism, but Askegaard and Eckhardt do bring up interesting points about the appropriation of yoga in the West.
First off, they define yoga as, “...a set of physical and mental practices which originated in India between 200 BC and AD 200,” (Askegaard, 47). They follow their definition with a background of Indian yoga. “In its original Indian version, ‘yoga was a philosophically grounded set of practices designed to facilitate spiritual enlightenment’. Yoga emerged from the Sanskritic cultural mould as well as from the three great Indian religious traditions: Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. From a classic perspective, yoga is designed to transcend ‘ignorance and train the embodied mind to experience Truth’ and is thus deeply entrenched in Hindu spiritualism. Yoga has been a dynamic practice, meaning there is tremendous variation in how it is practised,” (Askegaard, 47). This background can be used to compare the ways globalized yoga differentiates itself entirely from classical Indian yoga.
Askegaard and Eckhardt continue their research article by comparing globalized yoga to its predecessor. Here they write, “Yoga practice has been steadily spreading to the West for more than a century...it has inscribed itself in modern society’s quest for liberatory practices; in particular since the 1960s, where westerners on the ‘hippy trail’ discovered it in India and brought it back home. ‘Yoga in the western context was seen as a way to reconnect with the spiritual world, reduce stress, and regain health and freedom’,” (Askegaard, 47). These views suggest that Western yoga was completely separated from religion, breaking the deep-rooted ties Indian yoga had to its popular religions. “Here we find the fundamental insight into modern yoga: that it is much more about bodily languages than it is about a religious belief. Modern yoga as it is currently practised in the West...tends to have a focus on health and fitness,” (Askegaard, 47). They also point out that, “...yoga’s association with health and fitness is what is making it re-appealing to modern India,” (Askegaard, 48). All of this change and the spreading of yoga were not accepted by everyone. They note that, “...many prominent yogis of modern yoga in India are at pains to present yoga as a science, comparable to any western science, to resist the essentialist view of India as the seat of spiritual wealth,” (Askegaard, 48). The yogis' pain is representative of their disapproval of the appropriation, globalization, modernization, and popularization of yoga. Yet in more religious parts of the United States, yoga is not popular, is frowned upon, and is even feared by some.
In Alabama, a ban on yoga in public schools stood for almost thirty years until it was recently lifted in May of 2021. Bill Chappell of NPR reported on the bill that put a stop to the ban. This bill will now allow for yoga to be taught in public schools as an elective, but with certain limitations. Chappell opens his article by reflecting on the sentiments of people that backed the yoga ban, writing, “Christian conservatives who back the ban said yoga would open the door for people to be converted to Hinduism,” (Chappell). This line is jam-packed with talking points that refer back to the discussion surrounding Orientalism and is an ideal opening for this article. Not only does this line connect anti-yoga sentiment back to Chritstianity, but it also notes yoga's connection to Hinduism. Even more importantly (and outrageously), this quote would seem to suggest that being converted to Hinduism is an essentially bad thing. The deep-rooted Orientalism just screams out from the quote as it is clearly anti-Eastern philosophy and culture and is linked to the homogenization of religion.
Diving deeper into Chappell’s article, he denotes the limitations and exceptions that reside within the new bill. He writes, “While it erases a ban...it also imposes restrictions on how yoga should be taught. Students won’t be allowed to say, ‘Namaste,’ for instance. Meditation is not allowed. ‘Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited,’ the bill states. It also requires English names be used for all poses and exercises. And before any student tries a tree pose, they’ll need a parent’s permission slip,” (Chappell). The Occidental fear of the Orient is apparent here but completely unfounded. It is eerily similar to the discussion surrounding the Bible being used to alienate Eastern religion. The people and lawmakers of Alabama are conditioned to be afraid of yoga and the Orient in general because they do not follow Western and Christian philosophy. It is different and is therefore dangerous if not moderated and restricted. Although it isn’t explicitly noted in the article, except for in the first quote, I believe this phenomenon to be heavily tied to Christianity being so prevalent in Alabama.
According to a study done in 2014 by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American research center, Alabama maintains the second-highest rate of people attending religious services at least once per week at 51% of survey participants, trailing only Utah at 53% (Pew). This study did not reveal what kind of religious services these people attended but looking at the religious composition of adults in Alabama should shed more light. According to the Pew Research Center, we can see that 86% of Alabaman adults identify as Christian which is above the combined percentage across the U.S. of 70.6% (Pew). Following the notion that Christianity implemented fear of the Orient in the mind of its followers, it would suggest that a large portion of the population of Alabama would be subject to the corruption of the Christian church. This conditioned fear was most likely the leading cause of the implementation of the ban in the first place and only reinforced the fear that yoga was bad or evil because it was banned.
Conservatism can also be linked to Christianity, as 85% of conservatives identify as Christian (Pew). This might explain why, according to Chappell, “The pro-yoga legislation was opposed by conservative groups, including former state Chief Justice Roy Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law, and the Alabama chapter of the Eagle Forum, a conservative group that was founded by activist Phyllis Schlafly in 1972,” (Chappell). According to an article in The New York Times from September of 2016, Phyllis Schlafly was a leader and powerful voice of the conservatives, “...whose grass-roots campaigns against Communism, abortion, and the Equal Rights Amendment galvanized conservatives for almost two generations and helped reshape American politics…” (Martin). Schlafly was definitely influential on right-wing politics, but she did it by spreading hate and fighting against equal rights for minorities, whether that be racial or sexual. Her fights against minorities reveal that the Eagle Forum played a major part in alienating minorities and homogenizing Western lifestyles. This makes the follow-up quote by Chappell even more compelling.
Chappell quoted the Eagle Forum directly when he wrote, “‘Yoga is a practice of Hindu religion,’ the Eagle Forum of Alabama said in an email that urged maintaining the ban. It added, ‘Religious practice in the school’s constitutes a violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment as public schools cannot promote the practice or ideology of religion.’ The group also alleges that each yoga pose was designed not as an exercise but to ‘be an offering of worship’ to Hindu gods,” (Chappell). This email seems to be attempting to strike fear into its readers to get them to reconsider the evilness and detrimentality of yoga being introduced into public schools. Chappel also importantly points out that, “The Eagle Forum played a major role in the ban’s creation…[and] that in 1993, the yoga ban was one of several controversial policy shifts involving religion, including a school prayer bill. Alabama’s prayer law was later struck down...but the ban on yoga and other practices remained,” (Chappell). This quote from Chappell’s article reveals Schlafly’s and the Eagle Forum’s important role in the yoga ban and the inherent bias against Eastern culture in the Alabama legislature. The decision to lift a ban on Christian prayer in school, while simultaneously continuing to ban non-religious yoga (otherwise known as Western yoga), is outright supportive of the Eagle Forum, a clearly racist organization that aimed, whether consciously or not, to spread Orientalism across Alabama. Askegaard, Eckhardt, and Chappell each aided in explaining and exploring the proliferation of Western yoga followers, its separation from religion, and the controversy it spread in the U.S. Eastern practices and West-washed alterations of Oriental practices being alienated in the modern world are also apparent in Western sports.
Major League Baseball (MLB) has always been linked to inclusion and representation. Beginning with the debut of Jackie Robinson and the integration of the league in 1947, baseball has always been at the forefront of the conversation surrounding prejudice and representation. This theme continues today as Kim Ng was named the general manager of the Miami Marlins in 2020 making her the first female general manager of any team from one of the four major American male sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey). Ng also made history by becoming the first Asian-American general manager in the history of the MLB. Although baseball has always been one of the key players in making progress in the field of inclusion, there are many problems that go unresolved and point to a deep-rooted prejudice against non-American players.
The area where this prejudice is most apparent is in the treatment of players who don’t speak English and, even more so, among players who require a translator or interpreter. This type of prejudice made headlines recently as former Seattle Mariners CEO, Kevin Mather, sat down with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club on a Zoom call to discuss baseball operations. This conference immediately became newsworthy because of Mather’s comments on service time manipulation of younger players that would keep them underpaid for longer than they should be. This has been a major problem in the financial aspect of baseball but remains unrelated to our current discussion. The comments from Mather that stood out the most and that were the most egregious were his thoughts on foreign members of the Mariners.
Julio Rodríguez was one of the first players to get called out in a less than politically correct way by Mather and the hints of racism in his quotes are distasteful. Rodríguez is a young prospect who was among the players brought up during the discussion on service time manipulation, but Mather made further comments on the budding star. Mather made sure to point out that, “Julio Rodríguez has got a personality bigger than all of you combined… He is loud, his English is not tremendous,” (Fontana). How the proficiency of someone’s English speaking ability pertains to or affects their ability to hit a 100 mph fastball in the major leagues is beyond me, but Mather’s distaste for players with poor English is obvious.
Mather continued without undermining his ideas about Rodríguez when he discussed former Japanese-born Mariners’ pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma. Iwakuma has recently returned as a coach and mentor for the team causing Mather to share his thoughts during this meeting. He ignorantly said, “It frustrates me… For instance, we just rehired Iwakuma, he was a pitcher with us for a number of years. Wonderful human being, his English was terrible,” (Fontana). The first half of his quote reinforces the ideas he expressed about Rodríguez; that his opinions of people and players rely heavily on their ability to speak a Western language. He digs his hole deeper as he continued stating, “[Iwakuma] wanted to get back into the game, he came to us. We quite frankly want him as our Asian scout, interpreter, what’s going on with the Japanese league. He’s coming to spring training. And I’m going to say, I’m tired of paying his interpreter. When he was a player, we’d pay Iwakuma X, but we’d also have to pay $75,000 a year to have an interpreter with him. His English suddenly got better, his English got better when we told him that,” (Fontana). The second half of Mather’s thoughts on Iwakuma are even more detrimental but give us more insight into some of the underworkings of baseball finances and prejudices. This quote also puts the nail in the coffin of any chance that Mather doesn’t have any prejudice against non-English speaking players and staff. It is painfully obvious that he despises the idea that he can’t communicate directly with these players (not that he would have any reason to do so as the CEO) and insinuates that these players are just too lazy to learn English. He insinuates this idea by suggesting that Iwakuma chose to not practice or improve his English because he could just have a translator or interpreter paid for by the team. This idea is entirely off base because foreign players aren’t just dealing with a language barrier when they make the difficult decision to take their talents to the West. Not only do they have to conform and become accustomed to a completely new society and lifestyle, but they are also leaving their family behind and any sense of comfort they used to have. By signing with an MLB team, foreign players are othered right off the bat because of all of these conditions. The most important fact that Mather is missing here is that any foreign player is in a lose-lose situation here. If they don’t get a translator, they can slip up in a bad way in a press conference and get called out or just be criticized for their poor English in general, like Julio Rodríguez. If they do get a translator, players are criticized for being lazy and not attempting to learn English or not trying to become more acclimated to American society.
This is not just a front office problem though, as back in 2017, Boston Red Sox analyst, Jerry Remy, made comments similar to Mather’s when he opined about a different Japanese pitcher who required a translator. During the local Massachusetts broadcast in early June of 2017, Remy commented on the fact that New York Yankees starting pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, was allowed a translator during mound visits with the coaching staff or the catcher. “I don’t think that should be legal,” Remy said, referring to the translator at the mound, and continued later saying that Tanaka should, “learn baseball language,” (Phillips). This quote goes beyond the long-lasting rivalry between the Yankees and the Red Sox. These sentiments seem nearly identical to Mather’s as Remy proves his distaste for non-English speakers and states that all players and staff should conform to a common way of communication.
The hints of racism and anti-translation are apparent in Remy’s comments through his idea that a coach or a catcher should be allowed to visit the mound but someone who is there to translate, and not help at all in a baseball sense, should be illegal. A translator sits in the dugout just like the coaches and has access to all of the same baseball information as anyone else in the dugout, which would lead me to believe that bringing the translator out to the mound does not bring a competitive edge. Furthermore, translators have no reason to access the baseball side of information in the dugout because they are strictly there to help forge language barriers. Being against translators attending mound visits is not only racist, but it also puts foreign players at a disadvantage through their inability to communicate during these meetings.
Remy is not the only openly racist baseball analyst broadcasting games at the major league level. Former Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman, Mike Schmidt, who was a broadcaster for the team from 2014-2019, made racist comments on a talk-radio show the same day Remy suggested translators on the field should be illegal. On this talk show, Schmidt discussed an up-and-coming player in Venezuelan outfielder, Odúbel Herrera, and whether or not he could be a building block for the team moving forward. He decidedly said, “My honest answer to that would be no because of a couple things. First of all, it’s a language barrier. Because of that, I think he can’t be a guy that would sort of sit in a circle with four, five American players and talk about the game. Or try and learn about the game or discuss the inner workings of the game. Or come over to a guy and say, ‘Man, you gotta run that ball out.’ Just can’t be -- because of the language barrier -- that kind of player,” (Grossman). This is yet another example of people in baseball deciding someone’s worth or legitimacy based on their English proficiency. I’m unsure how Schmidt is able to surmise that Odubel isn’t able to speak with white teammates or that the language barrier could keep him from being a leader in a league with almost 50% non-white players. What I am sure of is that these comments are inherently racist and are what is holding the game back from being more popular amongst non-white fans and being more inclusive of non-white players.
It is also apparent that Schmidt’s disdain for foreign players goes beyond their English speaking ability. These comments are more of an attack on Herrera’s character than facts being stated about language barriers. His ideas can be considered an attack on Herrera’s character because his comments suggest that Herrera would be unwilling to “learn about the game” or attempt to inspire his teammates. Believing that Herrera is incapable of these actions is far from believing that he would have difficulty communicating with the white players. Additionally, why is it up to Herrera to conform to English instead of the white players learning Spanish? If Schmidt truly believes that Herrera is incapable or unwilling to learn more about baseball or become a leader, then there is more of a problem in the game than a language barrier.
These ideas are not just prevalent among old-school, former baseball players. Just two and a half months before that racist comment filled Tuesday in June 2017, former second baseman (but current at the time of his quote), Ian Kinsler, made headlines for his ideas about foreign teams during the World Baseball Classic (WBC). The WBC is a wonderful event similar to the Olympics in that it occurs every four years and players join teams representing their home countries. These countries include, but are not limited to the USA, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Israel, and so on. All of the countries that have a history of playing baseball are represented and players take these games very seriously as they play for their homeland. This event is great because not only do we get to see teams and players in a different light, but it is also a wonderful time for bringing the world together through sport.
Kinsler, a member of Team USA at the time, shared his opinions about the teams and players representing Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Kinsler attempted to represent the whole team when he said, “I hope kids watching the WBC can watch the way we play the game and appreciate the way we play the game as opposed to the way Puerto Rico plays or the Dominican plays,” (Parco). Kinsler seemingly pointed out that the right way to play is how Americans play and that he hopes that future generations aren’t influenced by foreign players. He also gives himself false support by suggesting that he’s speaking for the whole of Team USA through his use of “we”. He dug his hole deeper when he attempted to explain his reasoning behind these racist opinions. “That’s not taking anything away from them. That just isn’t the way we were raised. They were raised differently and to show emotion and passion when you play. We do show emotion; we do show passion. But we just do it in a different way,” (Parco). It is ridiculous to say that there is a right way to play a game, especially when that way of playing resulted in getting Team USA to the finals of the WBC just that one time in 2017. Emotion and passion have always been driving forces in making players enjoy sports and allowing fans to connect and feel these same things. This is why the MLB has fallen behind in popularity from leagues like the NBA or the NFL because players (and many old-school fans) are completely unwilling to embrace the future of the sport; Young, foreign players making the game more exciting and appealing by playing with unlimited passion and emotion. This goes back to Schmidt’s views on Herrera in that Kinsler has underlying opinions about non-Americans in general that affect his views of how they play the game.
Kinsler and Schmidt are protectors and defenders of the unwritten rules of baseball. These rules originally attempted to maintain civility and sportsmanship in the game but have evolved into a tool to alienate and criticize foreign players. The unwritten rules of baseball can be used in this manner because they are tied to the way baseball has been played historically: by white men. The unwritten rules are the rules of how to play the game and these rules were “written” by the white men that populated the majority of the teams’ rosters in the MLB. By popularizing the white way to play as the right way to play, anyone that didn’t homogenize was criticized for being different. This tactic is still utilized today to condemn non-white players for not following ancient rules that mute the excitement of the sport. Whether it be denouncing players for swinging in a 3 balls no strikes count and hitting a home run when the team is up big, or condemning players for flipping their bat after hitting a crucial game-winning home run, the unwritten rules are targeted at players that are different from white players. These players just so happen to be the most exciting players in all of baseball and without cherishing them, MLB is going to continue to have an Orientalism problem.
Ultimately, the racism and prejudice against non-English speakers in the MLB stem from Orientalism that is rooted in Western society. Western society is privy to racism and prejudice because of its deep-rooted homogenization of religion, culture, and lifestyle. Despite the bleakness of the state of Orientalism in the West, there is a solution to link the divide between the East and the West. The solution resides in broadening the range of philosophy and culture in the West by implementing Eastern philosophy and culture into Western lifestyles. This may not be easily done because of the conditioning of Westerners to side with Orientalism, but it is necessary for the abolishment of the divide between East and West. Not only would Western society benefit from looking at the world from an Eastern point of view, but the whole world would benefit.
Eastern and Western philosophy have been separated for so long that philosophy has stagnated. It is entirely possible that a marriage between all different kinds of philosophies could lead to a philosophical renaissance. A marriage between the East and the West and a philosophical revolution might be the only way to bring the world together and advance humanity from this age of hate. Western lifestyle is primed for the incorporation of Eastern culture because it finally seems like the dispersal of culture has finally begun. As evidenced by Alabama lifting its yoga ban after 30 long years, the popularization of Latino and East-Asian baseball players in the U.S., and the transition into a new political regime, change is happening nationwide on a massive scale. People are going to have to accept these changes, and while they’re at it, they should start accepting Eastern philosophy and culture.
In the end, Occidental translation and religion have played the largest role in enforcing, and continuing to enforce, Orientalism and the monstrous divide between the East and the West. The role translation and religion have on enforcing Orientalism is displayed through the unification of the West under a single religion, the ensuing homogenization of thought, and the reinforcement of Orientalism achieved through the Bible. It is also displayed through the effects of translations on Eastern texts, the appropriation and controversy of yoga in the U.S., and the racism and unwritten rules in the MLB. While Orientalism has a wide range of long-lasting effects, it can be eradicated through the unification of Eastern and Western philosophy and culture. This can only be accomplished if Westerners continue to accept new possibilities and new ways of being. The day when Orientalism is abolished and a new age of humanity arises is hopefully closer to the horizon than we think. When this day arrives, the diversity of philosophy and culture, rather than the homogenization of beliefs, will be celebrated.
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