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Fisking VISTA

Here is my promised “Fisking” of the statement by VISTA as printed in the Record.

Baseball Head Coach David Barnard’s comments regarding the fight between Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez and Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer over WMNB 100.1FM North Adams on Wednesday, Oct. 15 are utterly unacceptable.

Could VISTA have chosen a more confusing sentence to start off their statement with? As the articles in the Record and Transcript make clear, Barnard’s comments were about the (alleged) relationship between Latino culture and a series of baseball incidents, most of which involved pitcher/batter confrontations. The Martinez/Zimmer tussle was a result of (some of these) incidents, but really a side issue. Moreover, Barnard explicitly defended Martinez’s actions as reasonable (and not in any way related to Latino culture).

My guess is that the authors of the statement either didn’t see the incidents in question and/or don’t really understand the point (however flawed it might be) that Barnard was trying to make.

Barnard attributes Martinez’s actions during the Oct. 14 game to a cultural aspect, insofar claiming that Latinos are implicitly volatile and violently aggressive. His use of the word “territorial” connotates that Latino players (and Latino men in general) are uncouth, primitive and irrational, thereby implying these men cannot adhere to the standards of good sportsmanship.

As best I can tell, Barnard never used the words “volatile,”aggressive”, “uncouth,” “primitive,” or “irrational.” (However, I do not have access to his complete remarks.) Barnard does claim, implicitly, that a person’s culture influences how he behaves and that Latino culture influenced the behavior of Martinez and Manny Ramirez.

Coach Barnard reduces Latino machismo, a cultural concept of honor, into a cultural deficiency. Comments like these highlight the current state of underlying race relations on campus.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Barnard thinks: a) Latino culture influenced the actions of, at least, Martinez and Ramirez, and b) that there actions were not praiseworthy. It is not clear whether VISTA disagrees with a) or b) or both. All of us are influenced by our culture(s). Sometimes this influence is for the good but, at least once in a while, that influence is for the bad.

My guess is that VISTA denies that Latino culture has anything to do with the problematic behavior that Barnard cites. This is a perfectly defensible position, which they have, alas, done their best to obscure.

It is a sorry fact that a Williams faculty member who has authority and influence over students can push fallacies as facts.

It is a sorry fact that these Williams students seem unable to assemble a coherent argument. Assume for the sake of argument that Martinez and Ramirez behaved poorly. Did their behavior have anything to do with their cultural background? I certainly don’t know, but VISTA presents zero evidence that this is a fallacy.

I would be much more impressed with VISTA if they tried to demonstrate that Barnard was wrong. For example, if Latin players on average are less likely to be involved in these sorts of incidents, then it would seem that Latin culture, relative to other cultures, should not be blamed when Latin players are involved. In other words, if this is true, then Martinez and Ramirez behavior is more likely person-specific rather than culture-specific.

But VISTA presents no such evidence. Moreover, the tone of their statement implies that Latin culture is never the cause of any objectionable behavior.

During the radio segment Barnard was presented as a representative of this College, and just as any student or administrator, he must adhere to community standards. His remarks reflect poorly on Williams and stain its reputation as an institution committed to diversity and multiculturalism.

These are fighting words. By citing “community standards,” VISTA is claiming that Barnard’s remarks are beyond the pale and should be treated in the same way as, for example, Pritchard’s e-mail. Now, if Barnard were a tenured professor in, say, political science, this wouldn’t be that important. Unfortunately, as far as I know, he doesn’t have tenure, so, if enough students raised enough of a fuss, the College might very well fire him, or at least decline to renew his contract.

VISTA should make clear how someone might make the argument that Barnard makes (Latin culture played a role in Martinez and Ramirez’s less-than-perfect behavior) and stay within the community standards of Williams. An uncharitable reader is left to conclude that, in VISTA’s world, such an argument is, ipso facto, outside the bounds of community standards.

Although Williams is committed to diversity and multiculturalism (along with motherhood, apple pie and the color purple), it’s central commitment is to education and the intellectual life of the mind. Although diversity is an important aspect of these goals, it must take a back seat to free and untrammelled inquiry.

Latino students are deeply hurt and infuriated by these comments.

Although I have no doubt that this is true for some Latino students, it would be nice to see evidence about just how widespread these feeling are. I would be especially curious to know how many male Latino athletes at Williams found Barnard’s statements objectionable.

Coach Barnard has violated community standards and his racist remarks should not go unchecked. We feel that Coach Barnard should recognize the error of his statements and formally apologize to the community at large.

Whah, whah, whah.

Although I hate to tar all campus groups with the same brush, VISTA certainly provides an excellent example of the worst sort of shallow complaining. They provide neither a coherent description of Barnard’s remarks nor any evidence to rebut them. Their point seems to be that Barnard has offended them and that, by itself, means that he deserves punishment. Moreover, “recognize the error of his statements” is positively creepy in its demand for Cultural Revolution style self-criticism.

None of which is to say that Barnard isn’t, perhaps, also at fault here, but more on him tomorrow.