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Will ESPN Tell Doug Glanville’s Story?

By Arturo R. García

Doug Glanville during his playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies. Image via Section215.com

An ESPN analyst is involved in what could be one of the most interesting stories of the year — depending, in part, on whether the network decides to cover it.

Doug Glanville is among the many former pro baseball players who contributes to the network’s Major League Baseball coverage. But he’s also penned columns for The New York Times and Time, on top of writing his own biography. But it’s his work this week for The Atlantic that has garnered attention.

Instead of covering his life on the baseball field, though, his column this week discussed his experience with a more commonplace aspect of life in America: racial profiling. Outside his own home.

This past February, Glanville wrote, he was clearing snow from the driveway of his Hartford, Connecticut home — located roughly 20 minutes from ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol — when he was approached by a police officer from West Hartford:

I noted the strangeness of his being in Hartford — an entirely separate town with its own police force — so I thought he needed help. He approached me with purpose, and then, without any introduction or explanation he asked, “So, you trying to make a few extra bucks, shoveling people’s driveways around here?”

All of my homeowner confidence suddenly seemed like an illusion.

It would have been all too easy to play the “Do you know who I am?” game. My late father was an immigrant from Trinidad who enrolled at Howard University at age 31 and went on to become a psychiatrist. My mother was an important education reformer from the South. I graduated from an Ivy League school with an engineering degree, only to get selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. I went on to play professionally for nearly 15 years, retiring into business then going on to write a book and a column for The New York Times. Today, I work at ESPN in another American dream job that lets me file my taxes under the description “baseball analyst.”

But I didn’t mention any of this to the officer. I tried to take his question at face value, explaining that the Old Tudor house behind me was my own. The more I talked, the more senseless it seemed that I was even answering the question. But I knew I wouldn’t be smiling anymore that day.

After a few minutes, he headed back to his vehicle. He offered no apology, just an empty encouragement to enjoy my shoveling. And then he was gone.

And it’s not like Glanville lives in a “rough” neighborhood, either; he states in the column that he lives near not only Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, but Gov. Dannel Malloy and one state senator. Hartford police soon confirmed that the West Hartford officer was outside his jurisdiction, something that was not mentioned in a statement released on Tuesday by the latter department.

Instead, West Hartford police said the officer was looking for a “Black male, in his 40′s, wearing a brown jacket and carrying a snow shovel,” who had allegedly broken the town’s ban on door-to-door soliciting by asking a homeowner if he could shovel snow from their driveway for a fee. That person was later located and given a verbal warning.

“While the officer’s actions in searching for the suspicious party were completely appropriate, we wish he had taken the extra time to introduce himself to Mr. Glanville and to explain the purpose of the question,” the West Hartford Police’s statement read. “We have discussed this with the officer and will work to remind all of our officers of the importance of good interpersonal skills and taking time, when practical, to explain their actions.”

Before sharing his story with ESPN or the Times, though, Glanville continued his conversation with West Hartford authorities:

In my case, the officer had not only spoken to me without respect but had crossed over into a city where West Hartford’s ordinance didn’t even apply.

But as we spoke, I found myself thinking of the people who have to deal with far more extreme versions of racial profiling on a regular basis and don’t have the ability to convene meetings at Town Hall. As an article in the April issue of The Atlantic points out, these practices have “side effects.” They may help police find illegal drugs and guns, but they also disenfranchise untold numbers of people, making them feel like suspects … all of the time.

In reaching out for understanding, I learned that there is a monumental wall separating these towns. It is built with the bricks of policy, barbed by racially charged anecdotes, and cemented by a fierce suburban protectionism that works to safeguard a certain way of life. The mayor of West Hartford assured me that he championed efforts to diversify his town, and the chief of police told me he is active in Connecticut’s statewide Racial and Ethnic Disparity Commission in the Criminal Justice System. (He also pointed me to a 2011 article he wrote for Police Chief Magazine, addressing many of the same issues I raised.) I hope their continued efforts can help traverse this class- and race-based barrier, which unfortunately grows even more impenetrable with experiences such as mine.

Glanville’s encounter points to intersections of not only sport and race, but class and profiling, and of law and stereotypes. But a quick check of ESPN’s online listings for him shows that the topic hasn’t been broached. If Glanville is up to it, here’s to hoping it spurs a more in-depth discussion on these issues on the network. Considering that the network covers athletes’ legal issues as thoroughly as it would the average ballgame — a positive, it should be said — Glanville already offers ESPN exactly the kind of person who can approach these issues with the kind of nuance they deserve. Even if, unfortunately, he can rely on his lived experience in doing so.

[Top image via Doug Glanville's official Facebook page]