Fresno Griz­zlies must make things right af­ter AOC video mis­take

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE FRESNO BEE ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

The last thing the Fresno Griz­zlies wanted to do on Memo­rial Day was highly of­fend a mem­ber of Congress. But the team’s ill-ad­vised trib­ute to the hol­i­day did just that in a video that equated New York Demo­cratic con­gress­woman Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez to dic­ta­tors in North Korea and Cuba.

Team pres­i­dent Derek Franks spent the rest of the week apol­o­giz­ing and ex­plain­ing an em­ployee had erred in pulling down a video from YouTube. It was a newer ver­sion of one the team had used be­fore, wherein Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan speaks mov­ingly about Amer­i­can free­dom. When his voice in­tones about the “ene­mies of free­dom,” Oca­sio-Cortez’s photo was shown, in be­tween im­ages of North Korea strongman Kim Jung Un and Cuba’s long­time dic­ta­tor Fidel Cas­tro.

Turned out the video that the team had used be­fore had been up­dated with the im­ages, giv­ing it a dis­tinctly po­lit­i­cal slant. The Griz­zly staffer who pulled the video watched its first two min­utes. The of­fend­ing im­ages oc­curred af­ter the 3-minute mark.

Franks said the em­ployee was rep­ri­manded, but not fired, and that the per­son’s iden­tity would

not be dis­closed. That did not sat­isfy the hordes on Twit­ter who saw evil in­tent be­hind the video and called for some­one, any­one, to be ter­mi­nated. So did a Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist, writ­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als, the ma­jor league club for whom the Griz­zlies are the Triple A af­fil­i­ate.

Franks promised the team was tak­ing steps to cre­ate a new pro­to­col to en­sure such a mis­take is never made again. And that is what this con­tro­versy is about: a mis­take. To read more into it is sim­ply wrong.

But mis­takes, like er­rors on a base­ball field, have consequenc­es. In this case, two of the Griz­zlies’ spon­sors — Sun-Maid Grow­ers and Heineken In­ter­na­tional, which owns the Mex­i­can com­pany that makes Dos Equis and Te­cate beers — said they were cut­ting ties with the team. Other spon­sors — in­clud­ing The Bee, which has been a backer for more than 20 years — were still de­ter­min­ing what steps, if any, they might take.

Heineken said in its state­ment that the video did not re­flect its core val­ues. That is overused cor­po­rate speak that re­ally means the firm sim­ply wants to avoid con­tro­versy.

Whose val­ues did the video re­ally of­fend? The Griz­zlies’ own. The team be­gan in 1998, and over the years has con­sis­tently hon­ored Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples, its mil­i­tary mem­bers, and, by ex­ten­sion, its elected of­fi­cials. To think otherwise is to deny the truth of team his­tory.

Be­sides, the Griz­zlies are in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness. Their part of the fab­ric of Fresno life is to pro­vide a whole­some, safe, fun ex­pe­ri­ence for base­ball fans in the sum­mer months.

Turn­ing mi­nor league base­ball games into some­thing po­lit­i­cal is not in the play­book.

Some ques­tions have arisen about whether the video was a racial swipe at Oca­sio-Cortez’s His­panic back­ground. But the Griz­zlies have done much to cel­e­brate the San Joaquin Val­ley’s His­panic past and present. The team’s mar­ket­ing ge­nius cre­ated the Fresno Tacos — the iden­tity the team as­sumes ev­ery Tues­day at home games, which are known as Taco Tues­days as taco trucks park along the walk­ways around Chukchansi Sta­dium.

This year an­other al­ter­nate iden­tity is be­ing adopted —the Fresno Lowrid­ers, in homage to that as­pect of Latino cul­ture. The Griz­zlies His­panic out­reach ef­forts led to the in­tro­duc­tion of Copa de Diver­sión (Fun Cup) by Mi­nor League Base­ball this sea­son where clubs at all lev­els hold sea­son-long events de­signed to em­brace the His­panic/ Latino cul­ture and val­ues. Judg­ing from the healthy num­ber of His­panic fans who at­tend home games, the Griz­zlies have def­i­nitely con­nected to that part of the fan na­tion.

Go­ing for­ward, the Griz­zlies need to earn back a sta­di­um­sized help­ing of trust. For one thing, they should use their spe­cial po­si­tion in the com­mu­nity to speak out against hate speech. One idea: Have Griz­zly play­ers visit Fresno schools so play­ers can im­part lessons to lo­cal school­child­ren.

The team could also in­vite Oca­sio-Cortez to an ex­pens­e­s­paid trip to see a game — like the Fourth of July. She could throw out the first pitch, and take Griz­zly gear back to her Wash­ing­ton, D.C. of­fice. The ges­ture would be nice.

The team should be more trans­par­ent by ex­plain­ing just how the new vet­ting process will work. It could be as sim­ple as team man­age­ment watch­ing ev­ery sin­gle video all the way through be­fore play­ing any­thing on the cen­ter field video board.

A tru­ism in base­ball is that to­mor­row is an­other game. A lo­cal fan stopped by the Griz­zly ticket of­fice Thurs­day evening to get a group of tick­ets for kids from his child’s ele­men­tary school. The aroma of bar­be­cue wafted out of the sta­dium. Fans were buy­ing hats and shirts in the team store. The ther­mome­ter reached the high 80s. It was a warm spring night, soon to be sum­mer.

For the Griz­zlies, it was much the same, and yet it was not, all at the same time.

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