“Kike” Hernandez – And What If His Name Began With An “N”?

LA Dodgers utility player Enrique Hernandez chooses to use as his preferred nickname a disgusting religious slur, and no one cares.

Throughout “polite”, i.e. “white” society, the use of the “N” word is universally vilified, finding a place in today’s popular culture only among African-Americans who seem to have drawn a wide pass, in particular those who are entertainers, and among racists who as in the past use the term to leave no doubt about their bigotry and hatred.

Recently, popular comedian and political commentator Bill Maher, a fixture on late night television for over two decades, came under extreme fire for his use of the “N” word in a joke precipitated by an inadvertent straight line fed him by a republican US Senator. The


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comedian in him took over, and without thinking, Maher spoke the “joke”, and the word, and has spent more than a week being vilified and profusely apologizing.

Folks, there are other words that carry similar connotations that are just as racist, ignorant, mean spirited and bigoted out there, and there are some that apply to every racial, religious and cultural group. But as opposed to the use of the “N” word and knowledge of it’s effect on any and all African-Americans who may be victimized by the word, people are quick to ignore or minimize the use of some of these other words that are equally as offensive to other groups.

Such is the situation with the word “Kike”, a slur used in reference to Jewish people that was popular throughout the first half of the 20th century and that still finds its way into nazi, kkk and other anti-Semitic statements and writings. While the origin of the word is unclear, there is no doubt as to its use and intent. There is some documentation that the use of the word dates back to the 16th century and virulent anti-Semitic pope Clement VIII who issued an edict prohibiting study of the Jewish Talmud by invoking the term “caeca” which was Latin for “blind”, as in the “blind obstinacy of the Jews”. Another theory dates to mid-18th century England where there are references to the use of the term “Ike” or “Ikey” and eventually “Kike” as a derivation for the common Jewish name “Isaac”, turned into a common slur.

Linguists and historians such as Steven Birmingham and Leo Rosten have written about other ways in which the use of the term either developed or came into popular use. Rosten, in his epic work “The Joys of Yiddish”, wrote that the term’s use traces to the early 20th century and the immigration entry point of Ellis Island where illiterate Jews unable to sign their name and unwilling to use an “X” which they associated with the Christian cross would instead use a “Circle”, for which the Yiddish word is “Kikel”. Eventually, wrote Rosten, immigration officials began referring to anyone who signed with a circle as “Kikel” and eventually “Kike”.

Birmingham has written that the term was at one time used by Jews whose origin had been western and central Europe to distinguish themselves from eastern European, largely Russian, Jews, of whom they thought less of and from whom they sought to segregate themselves. Eventually, wrote Birmingham, the term was co-opted by non-Jews and gained widespread popularity as an anti-Semitic slur.

During the 2014-2015 off season, the LA Dodgers acquired utility infielder-outfielder Enrique Hernandez in a trade with the Miami Marlins. For three seasons now, Hernandez has been part of the Dodgers’ team, filling in at a variety of positions. It is not his play that is called into question, but rather his choice, followed by writers, announcers and players across baseball, to refer to him by the nickname “Kike”, pronounced Key-Kay” but unmistakenly spelled “Kike”. Pronounce it “Key-Kay” if you wish, but the word is KIKE


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and its use is just as disguising to millions of people as is the use of the “N” word. I have no personal knowledge of Hernandez and have no idea whether or not he understands the meaning of the term “Kike” and whether he is a decent person with no idea of the meaning of the term, or whether, however unlikely, he actually might be an anti-Semite who laughs to himself whenever the term is used. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and accept the idea that he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. BUT it is time for him and for others in baseball, especially broadcasters, TO understand and TO STOP using the nickname.

It has been especially painful to hear the term spoken by Jewish broadcasters around baseball, and they should be at the forefront of refraining from using the term themselves and for calling for a prohibition against the use of the term across baseball. Broadcasters such as the Dodgers’ Charlie Steiner, ESPN’s Dan Schulman and Karl Ravech and sportscasters such as KNBC4-TV in Los Angeles’ Fred Roggin should begin the effort. Actually, they SHOULD have said something and done something years ago, and it is to their discredit that they never did.


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