December 15, 2011
Growing up as a child in a mixed-race household isn't something that Derek Jeter talks about often. But you had to figure that Barbara Walters would broach the topic with the New York Yankees star after selecting him as one of her most fascinating people of 2011.
Though Walters was clearly aiming for some waterworks or at least a teary eye from our most stoic of baseball stars, Jeter addressed the questions in a clear and measured manner — all while being a little more illuminating than usual.
"You'd go places and get stares," Jeter said. "If you were just with one of your parents, people would give you a double-take because something just didn't seem right ... You'd hear some things, whispers when you walk in, laughs ... It also taught you that there are people that were uneducated in terms of different races." [...]
"Was the N-word ever used?" Walters asked.
"It was, yeah," Jeter said. "Kids would say it; you'd hear it. It would bother you and annoy you, make you feel bad. [But] it also taught me a lot. It taught me how I didn't want to be, that I needed to learn about different people as opposed to just judging them."
One of the things I've always found interesting is that Jeter and Tiger Woods — arguably the two biggest sports stars of the last 20 years — both come from diverse backgrounds. And yet it was Woods who was charged with representing the multi-ethnic experience in sports a lion's share of the time. While a lot was made of Woods' background and the barriers he was breaking, the same was rarely said about Jeter.
A lot of that, of course, was due to the sport that Woods played, the way he was marketed by Nike and his father's grandiose statements that Tiger would bring the world together through golf. But with the benefit of hindsight, Jeter's dealings with discrimination are just as impressive, if not more so. Comfortable and confident in his own skin — no matter which color others might choose to see him as — Jeter was given the proper upbringing to deal with and process any comments that might come his way.
I hope the children and teenagers who are facing similar situations at school get to watch Jeter talk about dealing with this topic. While Jeter is often criticized for saying a lot without saying anything, I think he packed a big lesson into his short answers for Walters' questions.
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