I put this all after the cut because it is very, very long. (Trigger warning: Some discussion of sexual assault, nothing graphic. Also, this is a couple of months old.)
Reading some coverage from The Opening a while back, I came across the name Torii Hunter, Jr., and was kind of stunned. It wasn’t because he’s the son of one of the guys I grew up watching; that’s de rigeur at this point, with Ken Griffey and Wayne Gretzky’s sons making pledges last year and Fred Taylor’s kid being a fixture in recruiting talk since 2009. No, it was because I can do the math, and knew Hunter was only really old enough to have a recruit-aged kid if he was having them at 19.
It turns out that Hunter has four kids, and Junior isn’t the oldest: There’s Cameron, likely now 19; Darius, 17; Torii Jr., 16 or 17; and Monshadrik (he goes by “Money,” which is fantastic), 16 or 17. The latter three played for Prosper High in Prosper, Texas last fall, and seem to be fairly sought-after recruits.
And Darius McClinton-Hunter, the most sought-after, was arrested on a charge of sexual assault in May.
The story that broke on May 15 included the police’s side, which had McClinton-Hunter, another 17-year-old, and three juvenile boys taking part in a “sex club” that gave girls drugs and alcohol and forced them to have sex. It’s not clear what McClinton-Hunter actually did, however, and not just because this hasn’t gone to trial: His lawyer took all of two days to get the girl involved in the case to allegedly recant her allegations, and the Dallas Morning News pointed out some discrepancies between the arrest warrants and the building narrative.
But here is where I think the tragedy really lies: Torii Hunter’s money is going to get his son the “fairest” possible shake, and Torii Hunter’s money is definitely part of the reason his son ended up there in the first place, and Torii Hunter’s family’s money is part of why Torii did what he did. And Torii Hunter’s son sits somewhere at the nexus of the racism that endures in America, the riches that can inure one from it, and the ugly truth of rape.
Torii Hunter came from virtually nothing in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. His parents didn’t have air conditioning; he slept on a towel; he wrote to then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton to explain his plight when he couldn’t come up with the money necessary to be part of the 1992 U.S. Junior Olympic team, and got a check in return. But he was an athlete: Hunter was a first round pick in the 1993 MLB Draft, and snagged a $450,000 bonus from the Twins before starting his odyssey through the minors, and baseball was the sport he blossomed in last.
Sometime in 1992 or 1993, Cameron was born. He remained in Pine Bluff, where he graduated from high school in 2010 with Torii, Sr. in attendance. The elder Hunter chartered a private jet to Arkansas and missed a game to go to that graduation, and told the Los Angeles Times about it.
“It was worth it,” Hunter said. “I’ve been gone for 18 years of his life. I never got the chance to hang out with him. I missed a lot of his games.”
Hunter spent a lot of time on the road in the minors, not making his Twins debut until 1997 and not sticking in Minnesota until 1999. Hunter’s $450K bonus, however, likely made him among the richest players on any team he was on, considering the pitiful salaries minor leaguers earn, which often amount to poverty-level income. And Hunter had more kids in that time period: In 1997, he was married, to the mother of Torii, Jr., and Darius and Monshadrik had likely both been born.
It’s irresponsible and absurd to assert that the four women who bore Hunter’s four children did so in any part because they thought Hunter would provide for them; I’m not going to do that. But there’s no doubt that Hunter’s determination to make it and pursuit of cash had something to do with providing for his children and their mothers. A 2010 Flint Journal article implies both that Hunter was sending large sums of money to Darius’ mother and that she was worried enough about that being common knowledge in Pine Bluff that she decided to move to Michigan.
And they weren’t the only people who Hunter was supporting, even then. Hunter’s father, Theotis, was a drug addict — and had been for years. Torii’s story of a crack pipe falling out of a jacket in ninth grade being his introduction to his father going beyond alcohol and weed, which he’s told to multiple reporters, would mean his father’s crack addiction started no later than 1990; Torii briefly went to jail in 1994 over his father’s drug use — police saw his friend sleeping in his Ford Explorer, prompting the friend to brandish a registered gun; police subsequently asked to search the SUV (which Torii consented to, thinking it was clean) resulting in them finding Hunter’s father’s crack pipe. (Charges were later dropped.) Theotis Hunter has been to rehab repeatedly — “like 10 times,” according to Torii — and his son has apparently footed the bill.
Hunter told USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale in 2005 that he thought he had to make it to take care of his family.
“It’s been so tough to take, especially early on in my career,” Hunter says. “I put so much pressure on myself to get to the big leagues. I needed to make it just for my family. You talk about motivation.
“Even now, I may have a smile on my face all of the time, and people think that ‘Spiderman’ doesn’t have a care in the world. They may think I’m a hero on the field. But they don’t know what I’m going through. This is worse than anything you can imagine.”
And he has:
This is a proud man who bought homes for his three brothers in Dallas, is paying for his two younger brothers’ college education at North Texas State, and is having a home built for his mom and grandparents in Pine Bluff. He also donates time and money to underprivileged youth in the Twin Cities.
It hasn’t escaped his brother Taru’s notice.
“(Torii) has done so much for this family. He’s taken care of all of us, our mom, and all of the poverty.
Torii Hunter lifting his family out of poverty is, of course, commendable. He’s played a game he’s often lauded for enjoying very well for years and years, and will have made in excess of $130 million doing so after the 2012 season. The lack of stories about his four children from four mothers, a situation not too dissimilar from the ones that have made Shawn Kemp, Travis Henry, and Antonio Cromartie the repeated butt of jokes, suggests to me that he’s done right by all of them. But the itinerant life of a baseball player, maybe more than any other professional athlete, is not one conducive to being a fantastic parent, and whatever good Hunter has done for his sons with the money he has made is probably mitigated somewhat by the difficulty of parenting a child by yourself as a single mother.
And though we have no idea what kind of parent Hunter truly is, we know his parenting is now up for debate.
When young black men are accused of sexual assault or rape, the blame cannons roll out quickly. A letter to the DMN lambasted Hunter’s parenting; Debbie Schlussel, sort of a cut-rate Ann Coulter, skewered Hunter and made sure to get “one of his BabyMamas’ rapist sons” in the title (note to Torii Sr.: feel free to sue her); and the Yahoo! write-up of the story ended up on a white power website, sandwiched between a post on a Luftwaffe M40 helmet and a post titled “lies about Hitler.” (And that’s not the worst link I found discussing the case.)
Hunter’s been lauded, too, with MLB.com’s Barry Bloom finishing an article about Hunter heading home to support Darius with Torii’s “I’ve sacrificed a lot for baseball, but I’m not sacrificing my family” quote and the LAT giving him the chance to defend his son at the top of a notebook article.
I doubt that everything that happened in the Prosper High case was on the up-and-up and fully consensual, because a) I tend to believe women who bring sexual assault claims and b) it’s the rare sexual assault case that makes it to the arrest phase without an accuser being determined enough to go to the police, but there are enough gray areas here that this could drag out into a contentious, ugly affair for both parties no matter what the truth is.
But I don’t think it will be for Darius McClinton-Hunter; his attorney is one of the better criminal defense lawyers in Plano County, and if that attorney’s not good enough, his dad definitely has the money to hire another. Money will help the people involved in this case in Prosper (which is certainly prosperous), both the accuser and the accused, in ways that it will not help the accuser and accused in the 2010 gang rape of an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, a similarly small town with much poorer people.
It’s odd, then, that Hunter was saying that money was “neutral” in that 2005 USA TODAY article:
“My dad used to be my inspiration,” he says. “He was the reason I made it to the big leagues. I put so much pressure on myself just to make it. I thought, ‘If I make it, I’m going to have the money I need to get him help.’
“I came to realize that money can’t solve everything. Money can give you the means to be on the right track, but money can’t change a person. Money is neutral. It can’t make us a family again.”
And it’s similarly odd that Hunter was so ham-handed (and, frankly, probably racist) in making comments in 2010 about Latino players being “impostors” sought for their cheap price relative to black American players. Clearly, Hunter understands the value of money in some small way, and even if he doesn’t think money can change a person, he realizes it can change circumstances.
I think that a significant component of the influx of talented black athletes in American sports is due to the determination of many, many black men and women to change their circumstances with money derived from playing sports. The franchise of public education has been allowed to rot to a degree that leaves many poor children (disproportionately, this means black children) in the trap Biggie once outlined: Without the resources to successfully pursue (or even embark on) the traditional arc of educated middle-class American life, poor Americans, and perhaps especially black Americans, see either “slingin’ crack rock” or having “a wicked jump shot” (or comparable athletic talents) as the path out of poverty that is available to them despite a lack of conventional skills and education that is almost always less their fault than the curse of their socioeconomic status.
This is not a popular, well-advanced line of thinking, and not just because most sportswriting avoids nuanced discussions of race and class (except in terms of “classy” and “classless” acts by “class acts” and “thugs”) like the plague; Michael Johnson’s June comments about black athletes being better because of a “superior athletic gene” gifted by their slave ancestry, and comments like them, surface every so often to explain that same influx, and, for many, probably hold more sway. Though there may be enough of a sliver of a scintilla of a perception of truth to them for them to keep getting play, I doubt very much that the practice of slave breeding was done smartly enough or for long enough to produce more genetically athletic people, and would bet that whatever difference may have at one point existed has been diffused significantly by many generations of reproduction. (Interesting links on that particular topic are here and here.)
But the effect of that perception is the important thing: It extricates American society and millions fans from the arena of critically examining how athletes come to be successful, exculpates those who hold the racist idea that black athletes are simply genetically better, and makes it easy to forget how much money matters.
While I was shocked to learn that Torii Hunter had three recruit-aged sons, it was mostly because I had no idea of Hunter’s family life as of 9 p.m. on a Sunday night. I am not surprised to learn a pro athlete fathered three major recruits: Hunter passing down significant athletic gifts and placing his children on a rung of the ladder to success that is likely to make success easier probably helped a lot, just like Griffey and Gretzky and Joe “Bean” Bryant and Archie Manning did. (It has not escaped my notice that the three younger sons, the ones whose families were likely richer growing up, are the ones who are athletes, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cameron Hunter who is on the dean’s list and has been part of the debate team at Arkansas State is Hunter’s eldest son.)
Money is not neutral. Money helps. But the pursuit of it, for professional athletes, does not come without drawbacks.
In a late June LAT article, Torii Hunter seemed a little pensive about that.
“My dad was absent in my life. And I told myself I wasn’t going to do that with my kids,” said Hunter, who had only a single in the first 15 at-bats after his return, dropping his average to a season-low .235. “When something like this happens, I feel like if I was there, this wouldn’t happen.”
If and when justice is served in the case of Darius McClinton-Hunter, son of Torii and brother of “Money,” I hope we take a little more time to think about how things do happen. I can’t imagine Torii Hunter will.
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