According to the nonprofit Cervantes Institute, there are more than 577 million Spanish speakers in the world today. There are an estimated 40 million in the United States alone, and within 10 years there will be more Spanish speakers here than in Spain itself.
Walk down streets throughout the Finger Lakes and you will likely hear someone speaking the language. You’ll hear it at stores, restaurants, parks, libraries, schools and athletic fields.
That last one in particular, you may have heard about over the last few days.
On Tuesday night, a fall Little League baseball game between Geneva and Waterloo turned sour after the umpire asked people not to speak Spanish.
In the first inning, the umpire in question allegedly asked the Geneva first-base coach not to speak Spanish to his players, who range in age from 8 to 10. Many of the kids on the Geneva team are of Hispanic heritage and have parents who speak the language at home. (In fact, around 11 percent of students in the Geneva City School District speak Spanish.)
Later, in an incident captured on video and circulated widely on social media, the umpire approached a group of Spanish-speaking parents who were behind the backstop.
“Can you guys do me a favor?” he asks politely.
“What’s up?” a parent replies.
“Speak English,” the ump says.
“Why?” asks the parent.
“Because I don’t know what you’re saying and it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
The parents were outraged, and the disagreement became heated and continued for several minutes past what the video shows. The young players, confused and upset, were pulled off the field. The game was canceled in the interest of safety, and law enforcement arrived on the scene.
Those who have viewed the video or who were at the field that day can judge for themselves whether what the umpire asked rose to the level of racism or discrimination, or whether it was just an act of ignorance — a bad decision — in a changing world. Others will see nothing wrong with what the umpire was requesting.
When the dust settled, dismayed coaches and league officials from both Waterloo and Geneva were left to sort through what had happened. They made the right decision to call off the game at the time, and they took the appropriate steps to call out the umpire’s actions and bring them to the highest levels of New York Little League.
As upsetting as it was for players and parents on both teams, it was also a definitive teaching moment, with the prime lesson being that some things are more important than baseball, and when an injustice is observed it sometimes requires speaking out, and passionately so.
This was not about the officials, the coaches or the parents from either Geneva or Waterloo but about one individual who made a poor choice that led to some pointed accusations.
Little League is supposed to be as much about building character as it is about building skills. Our hope is that the lessons of last week — primarily the need for mutual respect among people of all backgrounds, in sports and in life — will be remembered by the players on both teams as they grow to become the leaders of tomorrow.