Roberto Clemente and the American exceptionalism

Subject: Sociology
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1891
Topics: American Culture, American Identity, Americanism

The narrative of American Exceptionalism portrays the United States as a uniquely virtuous nation, which qualifies it as an indispensable empire of liberty on the face of the earth. The situation explains why most prominent American leaders and Presidents have always ritualistic paeans to the Greatness of America. Most of the sentiments which recognize the Greatness of America and the narrative of American Exceptionalism have the presumptions that the values of America, its political systems, and histories are of unique worth and deserving of universal praise and admiration. There are significant pillars which support the narrative of American Exceptionalism and include the following. In the understanding of the Exceptionality of American Exceptionalism, America has the unique responsibility which makes the country take up special burdens different from those taken by other powers. Also, there is the pillar which holds that America is a symbol of virtue, and loves and preserves human rights, nurtures liberty, peace embraces rule of law. Remarkable success which results from political foresight, creativity, and extremely hard work is the third pillar of the narrative. Additionally, there is the belief that positive developments in the international arena owe their origin to the United States, and the U.S should take credit for such positive occurrences. Finally, there is the belief that God is on the side of America, and that he divinely ordained the U.S to lead the rest of the world.

In baseball memory, Roberto Clemente, the 1966 NL MVP who won a pair of World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and 1971, stands as a heralded figure. The smooth Puerto Rican slugger not only was committed to changing the perception of Latino athletes, but also the lives of people in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Clemente rightfully deserves a celebration as an athletic activist who helped to make US sport more equitable. His story has contributed to the narrative of American Exceptionalism. Indeed, the story of Roberto Clemente contributes to support all the five pillars of American Exceptionalism.

Roberto Clemente’s immense success in baseball has a strong connection with the American identity. Such strong connection with America roots as well as dream relates to the long-standing link between America and baseball to the period before integration of the mainland America and Puerto Rico. The “thread” of connection which connected the two nations lied in the baseball’s emphasis on application of intelligence and extra hard work and continual value of the past. In the spirit of American extreme hard work, Roberto Clemente exhibited energy and enthusiasm both in the plate and in life.  Throughout his career time in the field, Roberto Clemente exhibited immense skill at the plate, incredible range in his arm, exceptional speed. Also, in pursuit of his dream to please fans, he exercised immense passion and dedication in the game of baseball.  Although not fully integrated into the American culture of Exceptionalism in childhood due to being a Puerto Rican, Roberto Clemente lived an idyllic childhood, which made him achieve a great deal of success in baseball. Indeed, his childhood was characterized by hardship as he had to do odd jobs with great zeal in bod to support his family. So, Clemente’s childhood portrayed one of the pillars of American Exceptionalism which identifies America as being successful in several aspects as a result of extremely hard work and foresight.

Despite the extra hard work and exemplary performance by Roberto Clemente, the American sports media’s low rating of him can only serve to further the narrative of American Exceptionalism. Such enhancement occurs in the negative perspective since the American sports media did not notice much of “what it takes” to be the most valuable player (MVP) in him. Indeed, after surpassing performance by some of the previous most valuable players, it would have been prudent that he won the honor. For instance, the decision by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to award Dick Groat the honor of the most valuable player was only reinforced the American values prevalent at the time, and the narrative of American Exceptionalism. Dick, lacking the superb scores on the championship team was indeed undeserving of the title having average 0.325 batting average compared with Clemente who finished 0.09 points and went ahead to homer  Groat 16-2. In the vote taken by the American sports media, it was evident that other irrelevant considerations were taken into account other than the skills in the game.

There are significant insights into the vote taken media, which help in discerning the narrative of American Exceptionalism and how the story of Roberto Clemente helps to advance such narrative, albeit in the not so encouraging manner. The fact that the announcing article did not make special mention of the Groat’s game achievement statistics, but simply delved in other aspects such as leadership, his off-season employment is indicative of the factors external to the pitch which played a significant role in deciding the most valuable player title holder. The announcement made it clear that the insistence by Groat to play despite having the not fully healed wrist was a quality worth wording the title of the most valuable player. The author of the article in which the announcement featured went ahead to affirm that Groat won the title “the hard way”.  Indeed, success requires hard work and dedication, as is indeed ingrained in the American Exceptionalism narrative. However, with regard to the most valuable player title award, there was the element of “Exceptionality” of American Exceptionalism.

Being a fully American by Groat other than the Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente seem have played an important role to decide the title holder. By all standards and respects, Roberto Clemente proved to surpass Groat in the skills of the baseball game as well as the achievements. As such, the decision of judges seemed to have recognized the Exceptionality in both players, with “exceptional” Exceptionalism being conferred on Groat because he was more an American compared with the Puerto Rican Clemente. Accordingly, the media came out, in the view of the public’ to place value not on the tangible numbers but on the value of the past. Specifically, such value rested on the American nostalgia resident in the game of baseball. The situation speaks to the prevalence of a character of American baseball writers with regard to value assessment. With such overwhelming statistics in favor of Clemente’s skills and performance, it was incredible to score Groat at 22 against 1 for Clemente, and only indicates that the decision relied on highly intangible measures with qualitative rather than quantitative measures. So, Clemente’s experience in the game of baseball points to the perception of the “unquestionable” American leadership and foresight which must not be challenged anyway. Such a perception is one of the premises which support the American Exceptionalism narrative.

On a positive note,  Roberto Clemente promoted the American Exceptionalism narrative in the manner in which he proved successful in the midst of difficulties of the Cold War times and “unfriendly” American Sports media. The decision of the media to award Groat in the face of grave inconsistencies and public concerns contributed to setting the media against Roberto Clemente for his entire career. However, upon the integration of Puerto Rico, and in the entire career of Clement, he worked with great spirit, and advanced the narrative that America is the land of success and that positive developments in the global arena owe their origin to America. Throughout his life and career, Clemente proved that America remains a land of opportunity despite the difficulties which individuals might have to face in pursuit of such success. Despite the game of baseball being traditional an American affair and as such relates deeply with its identity, Roberto Clemente acted and proved an inspiration to both the Latino and black Americans who embodied the values of hard work and intelligence to prosper. Despite the fact that such Americans of foreign descent had to deeply had to embody the American “national pastime”,  the minority groups managed to “insert” their identity into a game which was traditionally and largely American, with immense success. Accordingly, Clemente led in the fight against cultural barrier; pointing to the strong will of the American Exceptionalism narrative and the belief that America remains a land of liberty, in which individuals can successfully pursue their goals, albeit with challenges.

Clemente did not only contribute to the narrative of American Exceptionalism in the baseball pitch but also in the out-of-pitch life and his involvement with the community. Both his life and career were an embodiment of American ethos due to his willingness to face adversity with immense courage and resolution that stunned the public. Essentially, Clemente went about his life and career with no attention to the media criticism, which he received quite often. Roberto Clemente’s life and career did not only help in the understanding of the American Exceptionalism narrative but also helped to introduce a growth perspective into the narrative. As explains, his career and baseball game exploits convinced the people of America to consider expanding the scope of American Exceptionalism narrative and understanding to include Americans of foreign descent.

Because of such massive success registered by Clemente in the face of challenges of the time relating to Cold War and American identity, even the once uncompromising American sports media managed to strike a middle ground in which the deeply rooted American identity with features of success reconciled with the elements of foreign success. As such, Roberto Clement was not only a force which reaffirmed the narrative of American success but also contributed to its growth.

Finally, Roberto Clemente’s life coupled with his baseball talents helped him to advance the American narrative of Exceptionalism in the manner of his commitment to charity work across the world. The narrative presents America as the indispensable token of hope for the globe in the aspects of liberty and humanitarian assistance. Outside of the pitch, Clemente proved the same line of thought by actively involving humanitarian assistance and charity programs, which helped to elevate the status of lives for the disadvantaged in different locations. Such examples of the programs for which Roberto Clemente was a Global Ambassador was the “Food for the Hungry, in which families living under $2 a day were giving food assistance in more than 20 countries in the developing world. The program was carried out by ARIZ in conjunction with PHOENIX.  An example of the country to which Clemente and fellow teammates was the Dominican Republic.

In conclusion, the popular celebration of Clemente presents him as an overly simplistic figure that ignores the productive ways in which he problematized the norms of American baseball culture. In his historical moment, Clemente not always was accepted or acclaimed. In fact, by insisting on the intelligence and humanity of Spanish-speaking peoples, he contested American Exceptionalism. He honored the experiences of people that dominant American culture often had rendered invisible or unimportant. He was not uncontroversial. Thus, a critical examination of the experiences of Clemente in his historical moment in context with the popular memory of Clemente after his early death allows for an interrogation of American Exceptionalism. Juxtaposing the life of Clement with the memory of Clemente will illuminate the ways in which the story of an athletic hero can confirm and challenge American Exceptionalism.

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