“It’s the ugly undercurrent with the Joba Chamberlain DUI story,” insists Newsday’s Anthony Rieber. And he’s not talking about the Yankee pitcher’s diploma from the Jim Leyritz Driving Academy, either.”
“The stereotype always goes back to the drunken Indian,” said Dalton Walker, a 26-year-old Native American journalist in Sioux Falls, S.D., who covered Joba at Nebraska and blogs about Native American athletes at www.reznetnews.org (“rez” is short for “reservation”).
“I knew it was coming,” Walker said. “Just because of that old stereotype about the drunken Native American. People are going to put that together, even if the story didn’t mention he was Native. It’s definitely not a reflection on Indian country. He just happened to be a Yankee baseball player who is Native American.”
Joba’s pitching exploits at Nebraska University and with the Yankees have brought pride to Native Americans everywhere, not just in his own tribe. Two days after Chamberlain was pulled over for speeding and cited for suspicion of drinking under the influence in Lincoln, Walker — who grew up on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota — posted a blog item under the headline “Joba’s Arrest: Pouring Alcohol on an Open Wound.”
“Once I heard about Joba driving under the influence,” Walker wrote, “I texted a friend that it pushed us 10 years back as Native people.”
Later in the blog post, Walker retracted that startling statement. But his initial reaction speaks volumes about how fragile the perception of the public image of Native Americans can be.
“I thought, ‘This is not good,’ ” Walker said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Nobody should be driving under the influence, but it’s going to hurt him because he’s a New York Yankee pitcher and he represents Native people along with who he is. And the stereotype always goes back to the drunken Indian, which is out there alive and well. If you don’t believe me, you can look at the comments by everyday people, everyday readers, on New York tabloid Web sites.”