BUSAN, South Korea — It’s been an interesting 24 hours for Lotte Giants pitcher Shane Youman. The 33-year-old starting pitcher from New Iberia, Louisiana unsuspectedly was at the center of controversy yesterday, when Hanwha Eagles’ slugger Kim Tae-kyun was asked during an appearance on an Internet baseball radio broadcast about difficulties batting with the Giants’ ace on the mound.
The star Korean slugger replied:
The Lotte Giants’ Youman is the most difficult player to play against. His face is too black, so it is hard to bat because his white teeth and the ball confuses me when he smiles on the mound. So, I suffered a lot.’
He then went on to add, There’s no particularly difficult pitcher, but when I play against Youman, I screw up because of his white teeth.
An eruption of negative comments ensued on Korean baseball forums as Korean netizens charged Kim with making racist statements. The outpouring from fans caused both Kim and the Eagles to immediately issue personal apologies to Youman.
In an exclusive e-mail interview with Haps, Youman gives his take on the comments, the controversy and to baseball life for an African-American journeyman in Korea.
What was your reaction when you first heard Kim’s comments about you? Has there been any time when you felt your race or nationality played a role in how you were treated during your time playing here?
After hearing about Kim Tae-kyun from my translator initially I laughed, and said it was OK, not a problem, people make mistakes. After I thought about it for a bit, I became a little upset, which is the initial reaction from someone who hears about something that’s potentially racist towards them. No matter your ethnic background, you will either feel hurt, anger, or both when it comes to racism towards you.
As far as being here in Korea, I’ve never felt that my race or nationality has played a role in how I’ve been treated. Then again, I’d never know, because I don’t speak Korean (lol).
Korean netizens were very vocal in your defense, calling Kim’s comments racist. What is your feeling on their response to Kim’s remarks about facing you from the batter’s box?
Knowing that fans and friends here have been very vocal in defending me is very appreciated. However, after more pondering, I really feel that he made a big mistake, perhaps trying to be funny not thinking about the consequences of his words. Only Kim Tae-kyun knows. I feel that the majority of the folks here in Korea may not fully understand what racism is, or what can come off as being racist, because most people here haven’t fully experienced it, or probably don’t know anyone that has. Kim Tae-kyun I feel is part of that majority. I will again say that, I really do appreciate the natives of Korea, and others who are in support of me in this situation.
What kind of reaction do you think would have happened had this occurred to a minority player in the US?
I’m sure in the US it would be much of the same type of reaction, but perhaps a little more, because people in the states are more aware of what racism, or being racist really is.
How did the team handle the situation, and how do you think the media handled it?
As far as the team goes, no one has really said anything to me about this issue. That was really surprising to me, being that I’m part of the Lotte brand. Who knows as to why they haven’t spoken to me yet.
The Giants will host the Eagles here in Busan this weekend. Any idea on how your meeting with Kim will go?
How ironic is it that we will host Hanwha this weekend. I’m sure things will heat up a bit with the Lotte fans (gotta love ‘em). I will remain focused on my job, but we both know this incident will be something in the back of my mind. I’m just going to be interested to hear the reception Kim Tae-kyun gets not only in his first at-bat, but throughout the entire series.
Enough about the controversy, what’s your outlook for the team looking ahead to the rest of the season?
Now, with our team, I truly feel we’re a better team than most people thought we’d be, and do have a chance at the playoffs. We just have to consistently played solid ball all around, and make sure we do the fundamental things in order to win ball games.