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August 25 - Bradley Sings the Blues

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Milton Bradley went public yesterday with his views that his
teammate, 2B Jeff Kent, doesn't know how to deal with the black players he shares dugouts with.

And though too many
talking heads and blogsters are ready to string up
only Bradley, because of his rep as a troublemaker, I think Bradley prob'ly
has the better point in this exchange.

The clubhouse rhubarb started when Kent hit a double versus the
Marlins on Saturday in Miami -- and Kent expected Bradley to score from
first on the hit. Once both returned to the dugout, and the Dodgers had
take the lead for the win, Kent confronted Bradley about the perceived
lack of hustle. The two exchanged words, with Kent repeatedly calling
Bradley an "idiot." Though their dispute didn't come to blows the way Kent
tussled with Barry Bonds in
2002 in the Giants dugout when the two were teammates, the confrontation left Bradley sufficiently
shaken that he took it up with Dodgers manager Jim Tracy in a closed-door meeting after the game.

The basic disagreement now seems to be this: While Bradley sees his encounter with Kent as
evidence of the second baseman's usual hostility and presumption toward black players, Kent sees
his stand as one of leadership.

Which was it?

First, Jeff Kent is no leader, and never has been. He's belonged to six teams in his 13 seasons in the
Bigs, and has a rep for being prickly. Kent was kicked off his high school team for confronting his
coach, and ended up butting head! s with the coaching staff at Cal, too. He's made it his habit to get to
games on the late side, then hide in a corner locker with his headphones on, reading a magazine,
without interacting with his 'mates. When he finally sees fit to "lead" a teammate, prob'ly the most
persuasive thing to do wouldn't be to call him an idiot.

Also, it's important to point out that Milton Bradley was the
only black player for the Dodgers, which he
says he feels acutely. (Tracy recalled RHP Edwin Jackson, who is also black, back to the big leagues
on Aug. 23, making Jackson the second African-American on the field for L.A. -- well, at least every six
days or so.) Bradley mentioned the racially tinged locker room jokes that he usually doesn't take too
seriously, but clearly such banter has been bo! thering him. He told the press that some of the things
Kent has said "may be funny to him (Kent) and maybe Jeff Foxworthy," but Bradley wasn't so amused.
Who would be, as the only African-American playing on a primarily white and Latino club and with Jeff
Kent, who allegedly indulges more than is prudent in such joshing? (Alert Dodger fan Rob at 6-4-2
points out that
Kent has a rep for  this sort of thing; OutSports provides details.)

Third, though Kent defends himself from charges of racial insensitivity by pulling out his Berkeley
creds, the fact is that Kent has always portrayed himself as something of a redneck ball player from
the old school. This pose, his on-field accomplishments, and his willingness to talk to the media
have put him in good with sportswriters -- which means he has never felt the heat of their displeasure
the way those players have who've butted heads with him. Salon.com's Joan Walsh eloquently said
as much and more in a 2002 column entitled "
If Jeff Kent were Black." (You'll have to endure a Salon
ad, but it's worth it.) Although Kent has
long been known as an insensitive jerk and a major-league
butt head, he still gets the kid-glove treatment from the sporting press. Even now, media types are
suggesting Bradley has "played the race card," and that race is likely not a factor in his and Kent's
feud.

Though Bradley hasn't detailed specific incidents of Kent or anyone else engaging in off-color locker
room jabber, and prob'ly won't, we all know it goes on. I recall working in the newsroom at ESPN, a
fairly integrated workplace, and hearing some of the white guys greet a black colleague by saying,
"Hey, Bro!" or "What up, homey?" Such talk does not meet the benchmark for overtly racist speech, but
it often does highlight the differences among the people present. And even if this and other joshing
aren't meant to cause discomfort -- indeed, are frequently intended as gestures of acceptance -- such
clowning usually serves only to make those in its sights feel even more anomalous than they already
feel.

Further, if you think the pressure's not on Milton Bradley
specifically this season, you've got another
think coming. The center fielder returned to L.A. for his second season in Dodger Blue, the first
having been marred by on-field temper tantrums for which he was required to attend anger
management therapy. Though Bradley has been a model citizen in 2005, one gets the feeling the
press would pounce the first chance they got to remind him and us of his past indiscretions. To make
things worse, Bradley spent all of June and most of July on the DL with a ligament tear in his right
ring finger, and lately has been bothered by an irritated patellar tendon. All this, plus the Dodgers are
on the verge of setting a futility mark for the
worst record after a 12-2 start.

No doubt the pressure of losing has gotten to Kent as well, though ESPN.com's Ray Ratto calls him
not much more than a "
gifted clock puncher." Nonetheless, one gets the feeling a showdown
between Bradley and Kent had been brewing for quite a while, and clearly Bradley's been giving it
more thought than Kent: Bradley seems to understand the underpinings of all that's happened, while
Kent has just been defensive.

Maybe Bradley's been a little more thoughtful about the scene with Kent and what led up to it than
anyone's giving him credit for.

NBCSports.com writer
Michael Ventre and DodgerBlues.com express the usual easy criticism in
chastising Bradley for taking his complaints outside the clubhouse. In some cases, I'll grant that
publicizing one's beefs with teammates, management or whoever is not the most prudent course of
action. One name speak volumes on the negative outcomes of such a decision: Terrell Owens. But
what if by going public, Bradley accomplishes something that could not have been achieved in going
through the proper channels?

Remember, the first thing Bradley did following his spat with Kent was meet with his manager, Jim
Tracy. We don't know what words were spoken in that meeting, whether Tracy said he'd talk to Kent or
if he just provided an outlet for Bradley's vent. But we did get some idea in Tracy's response to the
media today about how he views his players' dust-up -- he thinks both are "vicious competitors," and
that
Kent's flare-ups aren't discriminating. Tracy further indicated he would sit down with the two at
some point and hash things out.

But would this detente put an end to the "Jeff Foxworthy"-worthy locker room
banter that so amuses Kent and possibly other players,! but only alienates
Bradley? Clearly, Jim Tracy doesn't think Kent has the problem dealing with
black players that Bradley sees. And if Tracy doesn't see this, then would he
address it? Prob'ly not. And when the problem is not attended to, will it
continue? More than likely.

Essentially, what Bradley did in going public was face the problem head-on,
to make everyone, particularly Kent, think about what sorts of things get said
in the clubhouse in the name of camaraderie and playful ribbing. Things
that aren't so funny once you see them in a different light. And guess what?
Bradley may have pulled this off without having to confront Kent or anyone else mano-a-mano.
Sounds like successful anger management to me.

So what ends up happening? Bradley and Kent meet with Tracy, and make nice. The questionable
locker-room repartee gets a second thought, and then it's swallowed instead of shared. And Milton
Bradley never loses his cool.

Isn't that what real leadership looks like?
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