Hank Aaron on LeBron’s racial incident: ‘I understand’

Almost every day that Hank Aaron went to the ballpark between 1973 and 1974, he carried a heavy burden.

He was a black man, who started his career in the Negro Leagues, approaching Babe Ruth’s home run record. Some people didn’t like it.

He got death threats. He got sacks and sacks of racist letters.

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So if anyone knows the pressures that LeBron James, whose California home was vandalized with a racial slur this week, is going through, it is Hank Aaron.

In addressing the incident, James said: “No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough. And we’ve got a long way to go for us as a society, and for us as African-Americans, until we feel equal in America.”

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

One of the greatest baseball players in history has never met one of the greatest basketball players in history, but Aaron said the two superstars share a tragic link.

“I can understand what LeBron is saying, because I felt the same way that he does,” Aaron said Thursday. “As I got older I was able to deal with it a little bit better. But I would go home at night and say, ‘what did I do wrong?’ Even now, I am 82 and I think about some of the things that happened. I just wanted to play baseball.”

Support for James wasn’t universal, though.

Jason Whitlock at Fox Sports said, “I think it is a disrespectful inconvenience for LeBron James . He allegedly had the n-word spray-painted on his $20 million Brentwood home. He wasn't there. His family wasn't there. He heard about it."

According to the Sporting News, Whitlock said James was acting like a victim while speaking about the vandalism to reporters and claiming that being a black man in America is tough.

“Racism is an issue in America but is primarily an issue for the poor. It's not LeBron James' issue," said Whitlock. "He has removed himself from the damages and the ravages of real racism. He may have an occasional disrespectful interaction with someone, a disrespectful inconvenience."

Whitlock continued: “ The worst thing to be in America and anywhere on the planet is poor. Go do the numbers, go do the stats. If you're poor, regardless of color, you're catching hell in America and on this planet.”

James just played basketball Thursday night, opening up the NBA Finals with 28 points in a loss to Golden State.

Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a close confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., said black men like Aaron and James carry an extra burden because of their success.

“LeBron has to see that he is one of the most enviable men in the world,” Young said. “They hated on Muhammad Ali. They talked about Dr. King. They called him Martin Luther Coon. Being black is not his burden,” Young said. “It is being successful and being exceptional.”

In 1974, Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time homerun record and finished his career with 755 dingers.

Note: Comments for this article are being moderated by AJC editors.

Georgia is in the midst of a dramatic transformation in which minorities will become the majority in about 15 years. The AJC is covering that story in all of its manifestations -- digging deep for data that expose the trends and examining how our daily interactions affect one another.

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