Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record 40 years ago. (Dave Martin/Getty Images)
Numerous racist letters addressed to Baseball Hall of Fame player Hank Aaron were sent to the Atlanta Braves organization during the past week, according to USA Today.
The Braves have received hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls in the aftermath of an interview Aaron gave to USA Today, published last week, in which he said there is "not a whole lot that has changed" in the country in terms of race relations and inequality since he broke Babe Ruth's home run record 40 years ago. He told USA Today that he has kept old hate letters to remind himself of America's continued racial issues. In the interview, Aaron also defended President Obama and criticized his political opponents.
The response from some harkens back to racism Aaron experienced during his quest to break Ruth's home run record. Letters received by the Braves organization have featured racial slurs and hate-filled messages directed toward Aaron. From the USA Today story:
"Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)'' a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office and obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, "My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur)."
As USA Today writer Bob Nightengale points out, the racist response to Aaron's comments coincides with Jackie Robinson Day, which celebrates April 15, 1947 as the day when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
Though a number of media reports have stated Aaron compared President Obama's critics to the KKK, Nightengale denied that Aaron made such a link in their interview:
Never in our 50-minute conversation did Aaron suggest anyone critical of President Obama is racist. Never did he compare the Republican Party to the Klu Klux Klan.
Simply, Aaron stated that we are fooling ourselves if we don't believe that racism exists in our country. It's simply camouflaged now. And yes, he feels sorry for his good friend, President Obama, and the frustrations he endures.
Aaron has pushed to increase African-American participation in baseball, which has declined in recent years. Less than nine percent
of Major League Baseball players currently identify themselves as either African-American or black, a decline from an all-time high of 18.7 percent in 1981. The USA Today
story notes that MLB commissioner Bud Selig -- a friend of Aaron's -- has attempted to revive interest in the game among young African-Americans.