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The unbearable whiteness of CBC's reporting on Blue Jays beer tosser Ken Pagan

Blue Jays game. Photo: lechuckster/flickr

In the six-"chapter" CBC feature "Throwing it all away," readers are reminded who Toronto Blue Jays fan Ken Pagan is, or perhaps, who he claims he isn't: "a drunk beer tosser brought down by Twitter." Positioned in the story as a victim of one foolish act that resulted in a social media manhunt, Pagan expresses the aftermath of his actions and feeling robbed of his life's greatest pleasures: watching professional baseball and working in journalism.

The story's aim was to document the chain of events -- including online public shaming, loss of employment at Postmedia, and a prolonged court case -- that comes after doing something very stupid, very drunk, and, very public. Unfortunately, the story strikes out.

My first eyeroll occurred when the writer, I assume a white man, described Pagan's eyes in the photo used by police to identify the suspect, saying they were "averted like a schoolboy girding himself for a harsh reprimand." The reader is being coaxed into feeling that Pagan's actions were childish and stupid, not violent (perhaps because the beer can didn't actually come into contact with the then-Baltimore outfielder, Hyun Soo Kim). Yet throwing an object at another person is violent. "It was an impulse," Pagan admits in the story. A violent impulse.

But the reader already knows what they are getting into, since the writer's conclusion came in part one of the story -- "this is no hooligan" -- and must endure tidy character references from his friend, brother, girlfriend, and mother predictably stating Pagan is good and his actions were out of character. Apparently, it is hard to believe good people can do bad things. The story goes on to show how unfathomable it is that sometimes when good people do bad things, it can lead to unfair consequences. This outcome can be shocking for privileged white folk: to get caught, lose your privilege, and be unfairly punished (and by "unfairly," I'm talking about the public shaming and loss of a career; in court, Pagan was generously granted a discharge).

But what I find most jarring is that the Pagan feature reinforces how absurdly white Canadian media is, particularly the CBC, in thinking that profiling a drunk white man who threw a beer can at a baseball player and actually has to live with the shame is worthy of a 5,000-word feature.

And if Ken Pagan is no hooligan, why are we not seeing more critical longreads about a growing problem of actual sports hooligans?

A fact that is sorely missing in the piece is that during the same game Pagan chucked the beer can, racial slurs were being directed at Baltimore Orioles' Black players, coaching staff, and Hyun Soo Kim, telling the latter to "go back to your country, Kim." Yet the writer and editor made an effort to erase the game's racial epithets from the story, glossing over how Pagan's actions were interpreted by some as being racially motivated.

Given that Pagan's beer can, rather than racial slurs, fired up baseball fans, online trolls, Toronto Mayor John Tory, Stephen King's Twitter account, the Toronto police, and the Blue Jays, it was no wonder CBC continued to invest in a clickbait story that victimizes the guilty white subject and seeks out a sympathetic white audience. The story also upholds an idealized national identity: Canadians are welcoming, polite, and immune to racism. The incident is presented as an isolated one, despite the author mentioning that Toronto already had "a reputation as a hostile environment for opposing baseball teams." Yet the story does not provide examples of how Toronto has gained a mean reputation over the years and concludes that what "embarrassed Toronto" is a tossed beer can, not racist slurs. This assumption is insulting, as it dismisses the experience and feelings of people of colour.

What stories are worthy of a whopping 5,000 words by white mainstream media is clear. A white man dealing with the aftermath of throwing a beer can at a baseball player is considered an exceptional story, while racism directed at Black athletes in the field (and also on the rink, track, and court) has become unremarkable.

It is not uncommon to stumble across news items about Black athletes like Adam Jones, P.K. Subban, and Serena Williams, who have countlessly been served with racist comments and slurs, online and in person, not to mention countless stories about lesser-known soccer and hockey players in Europe who have bananas hurledat them when they play. Clearly, more work needs to be done to change this behaviour.

The space Pagan's long-winded story takes up is too much. It shows us a news outlet that is choosing to dedicate space (and the readers' precious attention span) to humanize an aggressive white fan rather than to write more constantly and critically about the dehumanization of POC, particularly Black athletes.

And we've seen this dehumanization of POC in sports before, most recently last year when news outlets finally started regularly reporting on Indigenous voices calling out sports organizations' ugly history of profiting off of racist Indigenous names and symbols, a conversation that has been happening in Indigenous communities and academic circles for years. While we are still waiting for the banning of offensive logos and mascots to actually happen across all sports teams, the stories about this issue are beginning to thin out in mainstream media.

This past May, Baltimore Orioles all-star centre fielder Adam Jones, also a victim of the racial slurs at the beer-can Blue Jays game, had peanuts thrown at him and once again was berated with slurs at the notoriously racist Fenway Park in Boston. In interviews, Jones made it clear that although the peanut incident was the worst act of racism he experienced in his career, it was hardly an anomaly, and the player has called for more affirmative actions and harsher consequences to deal with racism at games, suggesting, "What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium, they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand." Jones argued that throwing fans out of the stadium is only "a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he's done."

While Pagan is temporarily banned from attending MLB games, his loss of employment in journalism certainly shows us that he has financially paid for what he has done. But the CBC article also reveals that Canadians are being forced to pay for a pity party held in honour of Pagan, reinforcing white innocence while ignoring legitimate experiences of racism from people of colour.

Erin Kobayashi is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @leighkiyoko. This article was first published on Torontoist and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo: lechuckster/flickr

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