Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
A Denver Post sportswriter lost his job Monday after tweeting that he was “uncomfortable” with Japanese driver Takuma Sato winning the Indianapolis 500.
“Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend,” Terry Frei wrote, after Sato became the first Japanese and Asian driver to win the Indy 500 on Sunday.
Frei deleted the tweet after being met with waves of criticism accusing him of being racist, but it was too little, too late. The Denver Post issued the following statement: “We apologize for the disrespectful and unacceptable tweet that was sent by one of our reporters. Terry Frei is no longer an employee of The Denver Post. It’s our policy not to comment further on personnel issues.
“The tweet doesn’t represent what we believe nor what we stand for. We hope you will accept our profound apologies.”
Frei apologized via Twitter to both Sato and The Denver Post: “I fouled up. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said when I said it. I should have known better and I regret it. I in no way meant to represent my employer and I apologize to The Denver Post.
“I apologize to Takuma Sato. I made a stupid reference, during an emotional weekend, to one of the nations that we fought in World War II — and, in this case, the specific one my father fought against.”
However, Frei’s detailed explanation of his remark did not seem to help his case: “On Sunday, I was going down to Fort Logan National Cemetery to place flowers on the grave of and to salute my father, Jerry Frei, who spent the four-year gap between his sophomore and junior seasons at Wisconsin flying the F-5 unarmed version of the one-man P-38 fighter plane in the 26th Photo Squadron … He flew alone, or with a partner in a second plane, over Japanese targets in advance of the bombing runs.
“When Blake Olson of Channel 9 asked him about being unarmed, he laughed and said, “I had a pistol.’ He flew 67 missions, crossing the 300 combat hours threshold, and earned the World War II Air Medal three times.
“I have written much other material about American athletes in World War II. I researched and wrote quite graphically about the deaths of my father’s teammates, Dave Schreiner and Bob Baumann, in the Battle of Okinawa. I have the picture wallet containing photos of his family and girlfriend that Schreiner was carrying when he was killed. That is part of my perspective.
“I am sorry. I made a mistake, and I understand 72 years have passed since the end of World War II and I do regret people with whom I probably am closely aligned politically and philosophically have been so offended. To those people, I apologize … I know better, and I’m angry at myself because there was no constructive purpose in saying it and I should not have said it, especially because The Denver Post has been dragged into this.”
One critic responded, “Are you saying Takuma Sato killed Dave Schreiner in the Battle of Okinawa, and then won the Indy 500 on Memorial Day to mock him?”
Another questioned whether Frei would have made a similar statement if a German or Italian racer had won.
The You Offend Me, You Offend My Family blog had this to say: “I do have to give Frei credit for packing so much racism into one tweet – from the reference to Memorial Day and the implication that it should have been an ‘American’ who won and the subtle reminder that Japanese were our enemy to the regurgitation of the ‘Asians as bad drivers’ stereotype to the ‘nothing specifically personal’ line justifying the racist sentiment. Wow, that’s pretty impressive for 140 characters.”
Denver-based writer Gil Asakawa, who used to work with Frei at The Denver Post, told KUSA, “It was an honest reaction, and I think that’s what makes me the saddest. I don’t think of him as being racist. I think it was nationalist, in a way that kind of nationalism has become approved behavior in the United States today.”
Frei’s father and Asakawa’s father George, a Nisei who served in the Korean War, are buried at the same cemetery.
“It’s a cliché to say war is hell, but it is, and it’s hell for both sides,” Asakawa said. “I just think it’s sad to keep that kind of hatred in your soul. My dad didn’t have any problems with Koreans even though he fought Koreans … It would be interesting to see what Terry Frei would think of my dad … He fought for the United States … We need to remember that. That’s what this holiday is all about.”
Frei is the author of seven books, including the novel “Olympic Affair” about Colorado’s Glenn Morris, the 1936 Olympic decathlon champion; and “Third Down and War to Go,” about the 1942 football national champions Wisconsin Badgers and the players’ subsequent World War II heroism.