Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Requirements of Friendship

By Thomas Kochman - 09.05.2009

The recent article on suspicions surrounding Dominican baseball players of opposing teams, Miguel Tejada and Tony Batista, back in 2001, putting personal friendship above loyalty to their own team  is a recurring theme also implied in the way the news media reported Sammy Sosa’s then record breaking 66th home run. “Batting for the second time in the game against his fellow Dominican and good friend, Jose Lima [italics added] Sosa drove the second pitch an estimated 462 feet, into the fourth level of the left-field stands at the Astrodome.”  The general question behind these suspicions is the extent to which personal friendship and loyalty, or loyalty to ethnic group and country, for Dominicans, and maybe Hispanics and members of other ethnic groups also, take precedence over respect for and adherence to established “rules” and the meaning of personal loyalty and friendship as practiced and understood within mainstream U.S.

The established view in mainstream U.S. culture is that adhering to the “rules of the game” or giving  loyalty to the team or company that hired you takes precedence over ethnic group loyalty, personal friendship, or even self-interest (personal commitment and loyalty to self and family).

In baseball, “free agency” and “no trade clauses” put this last idea to rest. However, it still lingers on in mainstream U.S. corporations where the message sent loud and clear is that if you have any hope of making it to the top level, you need to put commitment and loyalty to the company –for career diplomats or military personnel –to foreign or military service, respectively– over everything else.

Personal loyalty and friendship as practiced within mainstream U.S. culture is especially demanding and viewed often as something that you owe others rather than reciprocally, something that others also owe you. The one sided aspect of this view explains why mainstream people often resist the idea of hiring members of their family or friends based not only upon the belief that they will take advantage of the relationship and expect or demand consideration not available to others but that you, as their friend, are obliged to support or condone that even if that undermines work productivity or otherwise puts you at risk.

I learned about this as a distinctively U.S. cultural pattern many years ago as a senior member of the faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I initially resisted becoming friends with a recently hired junior member of the faculty because I knew that I would later have to evaluate him for tenure. In my eyes and perhaps to others friendship with him would have called my impartiality into question if I voted for tenure and personally impossible to maintain if I voted against it. Consequently, I took the safer route by keeping a respectful but clearly marked social distance. What I learned from him –he was Venezuelan– was that I should not resist his friendship simply because I might not be able later to vote in support of his tenure. This was for me a new cultural learning: one that also required “getting used to.”

Along these lines, one of the questions Anglos often ask when this example is cited in our Hispanic-Latino/Anglo program is “Would you be able to fire a friend?” We know it is an issue for Anglos and know of one instance where an Anglo friend quit his job rather than have to fire two friends, despite their shoddy work. The answer given by my Venezuelan colleague, was “Yes!” But, he added, that does mean one cannot still be supportive as a loyal friend: helping to find that person another position, or helping out financially or in other ways, if needed.

His view, shared by Hispanics and members of other ethnic groups generally, sees trust, personal loyalty and reciprocity that are the underpinnings of friendship as assets not liabilities. The view here is that not only will friends and family work harder for you; they will also have your back: making sure you are supported and protected. However, insofar as you may also have to give a friend bad news, it acknowledges that other things also matter and also have to be respected.

So what should we make of the suspicions surrounding the friendship or national allegiance of Dominican players? Will these override respect for the established “rules of the game?” And what might be done to forestall that possibility?

I was impressed by the comment in the article of the important role that his teammates played in the case of the Dominican player Miguel Tejada, in effect, saying, “We are your friends, too. What about also showing personal loyalty to us?” As fellow Oakland A’s teammate, Menechino, said, “Tejada is a very proud baseball player and Tejada wanted to win. . . . That I know for sure. But the only way to get to Tejada was through his teammates. He was pampered there, but when his teammates got on him, he took it to heart.”

One Response so far

Contrast the reaction to these reorts with the almost reverent manner in which I’ve heard a couple of baseball long-timers recount the story of Mickey Mantle’s last home rune in old Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

In the fall of 1968, in what was almost certain to be the Mick’s last at bat in Detroit, Denny McLain, who had already won his 30th game for the pennant winning Tigers that year, offered up a series of batting practice fastballs to Mantle. Mick eventually got one he liked, and hit it out, while McLain stood watching and applauding. The fact that this gimme home run may have affected the major league carreer home run rankings didn’t seem to bother these baseball veterans, who saw McLain’s act as one of generosity to an aging hero. I wonder if they would be as generous in their assessment of Tejada’s supposed gifts to his countryman.

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