I was wrong.
While baseball’s hot stove has been fairly chilly for a while, there’s been a bit more buzz lately as we approach spring training. On Friday evening, utilityman Enrique Hernández agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with the Red Sox. It’s a nice signing for Boston, a righty hitter with pop who mashes in favorable platoon situations, and can plug in anywhere on the field. This isn’t about Hernández as a ballplayer, though.
Hernández has been in the major leagues since 2014, so it’s not like he’s a new name, and it’s not like discussion about how his nickname — pronounced kee-kay — should be typed out is new, either. But it came up again on Friday when Jon Heyman reported on the Mets being interested in the 29-year-old from Puerto Rico.
So, not for the first time, I expressed frustration that there’s a ballplayer whose nickname, when typed out — even though I know how it’s pronounced — reads as a slur, one that I’ve been subjected to.
There are, after all, other people named Enrique who use the Quique spelling for their nickname, like the recent FC Barcelona manager Quique Setién and Argentine ESPN commentator and former international defender Quique Wolff.
But I was wrong. Especially on the day of Henry Aaron’s death, I was wrong to cast forth a name change like this, given the long history of white journalists taking away the agency of Latino and Black players by putting nicknames on them like Bob Clemente, Richie Allen, and even Hank Aaron, for whom accepting being called Hank did not mean that he “ignored racism.”
It is absolutely Hernández’s choice what to be called, and the responsibility of those who write his nickname to use the accent mark. And the appropriate parties to be angry with for Hernández’s Twitter and Instagram handles not having the accent mark are Twitter and Instagram for being anglocentric in their platforms.
This is where, even though I’m wrong, I’m also right, and the way I know I’m right is from all the people who replied to my tweet with some version of a question about why I’d put it on Hernández to change the spelling of his nickname, and how would I feel if I went overseas and found that my name could be interpreted as offensive to some people.
I absolutely would change. I would ask to be called something that isn’t a slur, that isn’t close to being interpreted as a slur, that isn’t going to hit someone’s eye and make them go, “whoa, is that a slur, no, wait, there’s an accent mark, okay.” I’d go by my middle name, or ask people to spell it differently, or use a nickname. And that’s talking about my actual given name, not even a nickname that I could easily ask people to spell differently when writing about me.
So, I’ll continue to do what I’ve done throughout Hernández’s career, which is to refer to him in print as Enrique, especially because I know that I’m not the only person who sees his nickname, even with the accent, and gets taken aback every time. It’s the same reason that I don’t use the nickname of the team that Aaron played for, which is that I don’t want people who read my words to stop in their tracks for something that reads as offensive.
I appreciate that I was wrong and why I was wrong. I just hope that the reasons I’m right can be appreciated, too.