If you’re bored by the pablum that passes for conversation on sports broadcasts — if, like me, you’re long past fed up with all the cliches and predictable jock jocularity — I urge you to watch (if you haven’t already done so) Reggie Jackson’s soul-baring soliloquy.

It was a breath of fresh air to hear a baseball great speak so painfully, live on national TV, about the racism he suffered as a young player during the 1960s — two decades after Jackie Robinson, and well within many of our lifetimes.

Left unspoken was this self-evident truth: When the convicted felon currently seeking the presidency vows to “make American great again,” he’s stoking nostalgia for white racist greatness.

Last week, Major League Baseball hosted its first-ever game at the historic Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, in honor of the late Willie Mays and other Negro League players. Fox Sports televised it. Reggie Jackson, who played for Birmingham’s minor league team on his way to The Show, joined the panel of talking heads. Alex Rodriguez teed up Reggie with this rote question: “How emotional is it for you to come back to a place where you played with one of the greatest teams around?”

If you watch sports, what usually happens next is that the respondent will say something like, “How right you are, it’s so emotional to be back to Birmingham, what a great team we had and how great it was that I had the opportunity to play here…” and blah blah for another 30 seconds. Instead, here’s what Reggie said during the next three minutes — an eternity in TV-time:

“(Back then) I walked into restaurants and they would point at me and said, ‘N—-r can’t eat here.’ I would go to a hotel and they said, ‘N—-r can’t stay here.’ We went to (team owner) Charlie Finley’s country club for a welcome-home dinner, and they pointed me out with the N-word and said, ‘He can’t come in here,’” Jackson said.

“Had it not been for my white friends, I never would’ve made it,” Jackson added. “I was too physically violent, I was ready to physically fight someone, I would’ve gotten killed, I would’ve beat someone’s ass, you woulda saw me in an oak tree somewhere.”

Rest assured, nobody on the panel or in the Fox front office saw that answer coming.

I’m duty bound to say Reggie mis-remembered a few things. He said at one point he played in Birmingham one year after local Klan members bombed a Black church and killed four little girls; actually, he played there in 1967, four years after the bombing. He said nobody was ever indicted for the bombing; actually, a number of Klansmen were tried and convicted in 1977, 2001, and 2002. And he said that Birmingham lost its minor league team for awhile starting in 1963; actually, the team disbanded in 1961. But racism was indeed the reason. The entire league, known as the Southern Association, broke up in 1961 because it refused to integrate. Birmingham returned to the field with an integrated team, in a new league, in 1964.

Regardless, it was refreshing to hear a Hall of Famer pierce the pablum. And I have to wonder whether that kind of straight talk can even be taught anymore in MAGA enclaves like Florida and Texas, where white snowflakes have decreed the full history of white racism is too delicate a topic for budding intellects.

At least 14 states have enacted restrictions on what teachers can say; reportedly, these laws are “leading many teachers to simply mention important figures in Black history without getting into the racism they faced.” And during the past year, lawmakers in 30 states have floated new bills to stymie classroom talk.

Denialism is a powerful impulse, but we can’t confront racism today if we whitewash not just history but the sins of living memory.

So bravo to Reggie for performing a public service and reminding us — to borrow a quote from William Faulkner — that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com

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