At the start of the bottom of the third inning of last night’s Marlins-Cubs game, the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast cut to analyst Doug Glanville for an update. While Glanville was talking, a fan in a hoodie waved hello to the camera, flashed a peace sign, then made an upside-down OK hand gesture with his fingers.
Cubs president Crane Kenney released a statement this morning, condemning the “ignorant and repulsive behavior” and threatening to ban the fan for life. “Any derogatory conduct should be reported immediately to our ballpark staff. Any individual behaving in this manner will not only be removed from the ballpark, but will be permanently banned from Wrigley Field,” he said. Kenney also went on the radio today and said they somehow determined that the fan was using the gesture with malice:
“We reached the conclusion that it’s more likely than not that this person was using that hand signal as a racist way of interfering with everyone’s enjoyment of the game. That investigation has almost reached its conclusion. We’ll have more to say about that in a little bit. We’ll be taking action as a result.”
Glanville also released a statement, thanking the Cubs for their “sensitivity” on the matter.
I applaud the responsiveness of both the Chicago Cubs organization and NBC Sports in investigating this matter. They have reached out to me and are supportive of my role in the broadcast and continue to have a desire to uphold an inclusive environment at Wrigley Field. They have displayed sensitivity as to how the implications of this would affect me as a person of color.
Later on Wednesday, the Cubs released a follow-up statement officially banning the fan. They said they could not reach the fan by phone, but sent him a letter informing him that he would not be allowed at Wrigley Field “indefinitely.” The team added that they will not release the name of the fan to the public.
The hateful valence of that gesture is an open question, and while it’s well-established that it means “Okay” or is part of a game where you and your buddies punch each other, 4Chan trolls started a successful campaign to introduce it as a supposed symbol of white power. The goal was to make media types flip out over a meaningless gesture and then look dumb when everyone told them to stop demonizing people because the gesture’s merely part of the “circle game.” Kenney said the club wouldn’t buy the circle game excuse because of the specifics of the fan’s performance:
“Whether this person is going to ultimately say he intended it, that he was playing the circle game or some other stunt, the judgment to use that in connection with a respected reporter who happens to be African-American doing his job — and we love Doug and he does an amazing job for all of us — that connection ... coincidence is not going to fly here.”
Deadspin Staff Writer Lauren Theisen contributed to this report.