Bob Gibson, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s and ’70s, was one of the best pitchers of his time.
Mr. Gibson played a key role in leading the Cardinals to World Series victories in 1964, over the New York Yankees, and in 1967, over the Boston Red Sox.
While the Cardinals came up short against the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 Series, that was also the year that Mr. Gibson posted an awe-inspiring 1.12 earned run average for the season.
The domination of batters by Mr. Gibson and other pitchers in that time led Major League Baseball to make changes, including lowering the pitching mound by five inches, to give batters more of a chance. The changes became known as the “Gibson rules.”
When Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst chose Mr. Gibson to pitch in the 1967 and 1968 World Series, he didn’t make his decision based on the inspiration that Mr. Gibson, who is African American, would provide to Black children.
He chose Mr. Gibson because he won games (and scared the hell out of opposing batters in the process).
The stellar career of Mr. Gibson, who went into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, is worth recalling at this tempestuous moment in our nation’s history.
Bob Gibson was fiercely competitive. He aspired to excellence. He had no qualms about hitting a batter who he felt was crowding the plate, regardless of that batter’s skin color.
Though he faced the prejudice that Blacks faced and continue to face in our nation, he was a man who could take pride in his individual success.
Last week at a meeting of the Falmouth School Committee, the mother of two mixed-race children said she hopes plans are being made for better “representation” of diversity among school staff and curriculum next year.
Black, brown and minority students are often the only nonwhite children in the classrooms, she said, adding they have no teachers who look like them and they are not represented in books, the media or learning materials.
She spoke of her son, who just finished 1st grade at North Falmouth Elementary School. The only other Black person that her son sees when he goes to school, she said, is the janitor.
Examining the curriculum to make sure it doesn’t exclude minorities would provide better education to all students. One would hope that that had been done decades ago.
And diverse employment brings value to any organization. People of different backgrounds can bring different perspectives that contribute to better outcomes.
Further, all things being equal with teacher qualifications, if there are students of color in a school district and not many teachers of color, it makes sense to hire a teacher candidate of color over a white teacher. The teacher of color would understand what students of color might be going through; the students would find someone who can empathize with what they’re experiencing.
But anything beyond that is a bridge too far.
At the end of the day, any students who know what’s best for them will want the best teacher they can get, regardless of what that teacher looks like or their background or anything else.
And the best teachers will want to impart knowledge to their students, regardless of the same.
The best teaching, in fact, arguably occurs when people of different backgrounds—a teacher, a student—connect on the same area of facts or knowledge. Both teacher and student realize that the knowledge transcends their own individual selves and backgrounds, that the knowledge is there for anyone to pursue and possess and that, as fellow human beings, they can share that search.
Still, as the United States prepares to celebrate its 244th birthday tomorrow, diversity is in fashion.
There have been other fashions. Fifty years ago, “relevance” was all the rage. College students were angry about having to spend time learning about ancient Greece and Rome when obviously there were far more-pressing issues going on in the world around them.
In the 1980s, greed became good. Ideals were forgotten. Advocacy for civil rights was set aside for condos and cocktails. And so on.
To recognize that the United States is diverse, and growing more so, is appropriate. So too is to recognize that people of color, especially Blacks, have been and continue to be treated differently than white people. The killing of George Floyd, lasting nearly nine minutes on video, has brought that home, and crystallized a long-overdue recognition that resulted in nationwide protests and the need for serious police reform.
But when we talk about diversity, what are we talking about? Skin color? Gender? Sexual orientation?
What about those whites who don’t live in the urban centers along the coasts, left behind in the rusting cities of the Rust Belt and in the vanishing rural towns of the Midwest, the American citizens so briefly in vogue after Donald Trump’s upset shocked the world?
They’re in the same straits, if not worse, after being ignored by their ostensible presidential savior. What about geographic diversity, as one of them plaintively asked a writer from the New York Times? Will they be given a seat at the table?
Here’s the key to the United States, celebrating its birthday tomorrow: It doesn’t matter what we look like. It doesn’t matter who our ancestors are, or what countries they came from. It doesn’t matter what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms.
What matters is that the United States is an idea, and to what extent we are committed to that idea: that we are equal, that we are a nation of laws, that each of us is entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
To the extent that we fall short of the nation’s ideals is a call for us to take concrete actions to make them real: for us to rise or fall on our merits, to accrue no special advantage because of our skin color or ethnic background, to guarantee a basic level of safety and liberty for all American citizens, to level the playing field of opportunity.
Bob Gibson would expect nothing less.