The Oakland Athletics fell short in their response to bench coach Ryan Christenson’s Nazi salute.
Following the Oakland Athletics 6-4 victory over the Texas Rangers, Oakland moved 2.5 games in front of the Houston Astros for first place in the American League West.
But that wasn’t what had people across the nation discussing the A’s. After the game, bench coach Ryan Christenson clearly raised his right hand in a Sieg Heil (the Nazi victory salute) on two separate occasions during the team’s elbow-bump line.
Both Christenson and the team issued statements following the game. Neither statement used the term anti-semitism or anti-Jewish.
The team acknowledged the “gesture looked like a Nazi salute” and added the following.
"“We do not support or condone this gesture or the racist sentiment behind it. This is incredibly offensive, especially in these times when we as a Club and so many others are working to expose and address racial inequities in our country.”"
Christenson admitted, “I made a mistake and will not deny it. Today in the dugout I greeted players with a gesture that was offensive.” He claimed to have been trying to adapt the team’s usual elbow bump that “unintentionally resulted in a racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in.”
"“I just blacked out, my mind wasn’t there and I spaced out. I’m sure it looks terrible. I did it but it was not intentional. I don’t know what more to say.”"
Of course, it’s worth asking if Christenson realized what he was doing was wrong after Hendriks told him, why did he do it again moments later?
Soon after the incident, Slusser tweeted out, “I’ve known Ryan Christenson for 24 years. Among other things, his best friend is Jewish. I cannot imagine he would ever intentionally throw up a Nazi salute.”
Slusser would soon take down the tweet and apologized for “my comments which suggested someone with a Jewish friend couldn’t possibly be racist.” However, it set the tone for many prominent Bay Area sports media figures who offered their support for Christenson.
On Friday, the A’s held a team meeting before players and coaches spoke with the press. Thus far, all comments have been unified in support of Christenson.
Yet, it’s hard to feel like these comments (from reporters, players, and coaches) are responding to a straw man. People are defending Christenson’s character and obfuscating focus from the act.
Even if as Kawakami says we, “presume people are not abominable from a 6-second clip,” Christenson emulated the Nazi salute.
If a player raised their middle finger to a cardboard cutout but said they didn’t mean to emulate flipping somebody off, wouldn’t they still deserve to be reprimanded?
The Sieg Heil is a direct reference to the atrocities of Nazi Germany perpetrated disproportionately against Jewish people. No one but Christenson knows whether he meant to emulate Nazis when he raised his right arm, but intent cannot be the only focus.
If Christenson believes in Nazi principles he doesn’t deserve a job in baseball. I would hope we can agree on that. But the conversation cannot end there.
"“I cannot stress how quickly someone at MLB [needs] to address this. Perpetuating the same antisemitism that I dealt with throughout my career.”"
The Oakland Athletics and the MLB must do better with their responses.
Allowing Christenson off with an apology normalizes doing offensive things, apologizing, coming up with an excuse, and avoiding punishment.
When Yulieski Gurriel made a racist gesture and called Yu Darvish a derogatory term for Asian people he received a five-game suspension.
The league was reasonably criticized by many Asian American advocacy groups for coming down too gently on Gurriel. But there was never a doubt that he needed to be reprimanded.
Players are fined for just basic disrespectful behavior like raising their middle finger to fans. No one ever argues they shouldn’t be.
Those in leadership should be held to a higher bar than players. Coaches are supposed to be the model for others to follow. Christenson deserves to be held to that standard.
Suspending Christenson isn’t calling him a Nazi. Suspending him shows that the organization will not tolerate displays of support for Nazis.
Whether intentional or not, Christenson did just that.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt allows him to keep his job without any further reports of malfeasance.
It doesn’t mean an apology is enough.