Maybe it’s just that the article is missing some information. But Wikipedia says that Dennis Haybsert was offered athletic scholarships because he is 6’5″. Surely there’s more to it than that. Still, it does illustrate the assumption that tall people will be interested in sports—probably there’s racism involved there, too, but not just. My partner is an inch taller than Haysbert and gets the assumption that he plays basketball—which he hates—because of his height, and I have a white female friend who gets the same thing from people. She also finds it frustrating. So I really hope that Wikipedia is missing out on a few details.
In fact, though, what Haysbert has always wanted to do is act. From the time he was ten. As a high school student, he said he wanted to be on the cover of Ebony—and TV Guide. He has gotten both of those wishes. He has been acting since the late ’70s, both on TV and in the movies, and while he’s played athletes, there’s nothing I see in his career that makes it seems as though he even went in for sports as a sideline to his acting.
I’m not going to say that Major League is a perfect film, even beyond the whole Charlie Sheen thing. In fact, Pedro Cerrano as a character has a few issues. On the other hand, you know, the movie sides with him—a black man who came to the US from Cuba for freedom to practice voodoo—over the white Christian, who is explicitly shown to be a hypocrite in several prominent ways. Yes, he fills the role of Scary Black Man in a lot of ways, a contrast to the Wesley Snipes character of Willie Mays Hayes, but he’s also shown actually putting more thought into his beliefs than most religious characters?
And, of course, he’s simply amazing in the Douglas Sirk pastiche Far From Heaven. While my heart belongs to all those childhood viewings of Major League, the fact remains that Raymond Deagan is the more complicated, nuanced character. Obviously. The film does require a bit of a Sidney Poitier role—you have to be fully aware that the objection to him is his race—but Haysbert plays the role with grace and dignity, and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if you fall in love with his character yourself.
I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to realize that the Allstate Guy was Cerrano. Possibly it’s the lack of accent. Possibly it’s how often he appears separate from others, so you don’t entirely see how tall he is. But he does have a deep, warm, trustworthy voice; small wonder he’s also been called upon to contribute that voice to various projects, including Static Shock, a show I’d love to revisit in its entirety. Maybe he and Keith David should voice brothers in something, and we’d have both their wonderful voices.