Hank Aaron (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Hank Aaron (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Baseball great Hank Aaron is catching hell for telling the truth. Actually, the Hall of Famer is catching hell from racists because he had the temerity to point out that racism still exists. Those who think otherwise are delusional and willfully ignorant of the racial state of play in the United States.

Aaron’s alleged offense occurred in a USA Today interview with sports reporter Bob Nightengale. Aaron explained why he still has the racist hate mail he received as he closed in on breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record 40 years ago last week.

“To remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record,” he said. “If you think that, you are fooling yourself. A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There’ s not a whole lot that has changed.

“We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go.

“The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”

“Never in our 50-minute conversation did Aaron suggest anyone critical of President Obama is racist. Never did he compare the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan,” Nightengale further points out in his story. “Simply, Aaron stated that we are fooling ourselves if we don’t believe racism exists in our country. It’s simply camouflaged now. And, yes, he feels sorry for his good friend, President Obama, and the frustrations he endures.”

The frustrations are many, but Obama spending years having his citizenship questioned by birthers stands out. It was a lie with racist underpinnings that flourished in the silence of a Republican Party all too eager to ride the wave of base enthusiasm it created. Don’t forget that before his implosion, Donald Trump was an early frontrunner for the 2012 presidential nomination thanks to his ugly embrace of the birther lie.

The racist reaction to Aaron’s comments flowing into USA Today and the Atlanta Braves offices prove Aaron’s point.

“Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)’” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).” . . .

Marion calls Aaron a “racist scumbag.” Ronald won’t attend another Braves game until Aaron is fired. Mark calls Aaron a “classless racist.’” David says that he will burn Aaron’s “I Had A Hammer” autobiography.

This is as enraging as it is disappointing. And sadly unsurprising.

Y’all know me. I’m an optimistic sort who sees nothing but sunny days ahead. I’m ever mindful that I am the beneficiary of the strides made by this nation to “live out the true meaning of its creed.” My faith in people and their capacity for kindness causes me to suspect nothing but pure motives in most people, even on issues freighted with race. I don’t freely or casually hurl the scarlet R at anyone or just any situation. Far too many times, I have seen how its improper and unwarranted application squelched conversation. How it added to the lack of trust sorely needed to get this nation to exorcise what President Clinton called in his second inaugural “America’s constant curse.”

But like Aaron, I don’t have the luxury of having blinders on. My inbox and voicemail ensure that reality is ever-present. I stopped reading the comments to my posts years ago because the racist (and homophobic) vitriol threatened to corrode my faith in Americans and America itself. So while we rightly revel in how far we have come as a nation on race, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking we are anywhere close to harmony.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj