Racists are still around today, only they're wearing different clothes.
That was the sentiment shared by baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in an interview Tuesday, likening Republican politicians opposing measures by President Barack Obama to the Ku Klux Klan.
Speaking to USA Today on the 40th anniversary of his breaking Babe Ruth's home run record, the 80-year-old Aaron said America today is "not that far removed" from the racial intolerance of the mid-20th century.
"We can talk about baseball. Talk about politics," Aaron said. "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.
"The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts."
Aaron, 80, added that, "We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements," when it comes to race relations, "but we still have a long ways to go in the country."
Aaron was honored before the Braves game against the New York Mets on Tuesday night with a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of his 715th home run, hit on April 8, 1974, off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing to give him the major league record.
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Aaron recalled the record pursuit as being joyless given the state of race relations in America at the time. Along the way, he received hate mail and death threats from whites angry to see a black man about to eclipse baseball's most hallowed record. He has saved every one of the letters.
According to USA Today, one of them reads: "You are [not] going to break this record established by the great Babe Ruth if I can help it. Whites are far more superior than jungle bunnies. My gun is watching your every black move."
"I was being thrown to the wolves," Aaron told USA Today. "Even though I did something great, nobody wanted to be a part of it. I was so isolated. I couldn't share it. For many years, even after Jackie Robinson, baseball was so segregated, really. You just didn't expect us to have a chance to do anything. Baseball was meant for the lily-white."
Aaron said he saved all of the hateful letters, "to remind myself that we are not that far removed from when I was chasing the record. If you think that, you are fooling yourself."
As an example, Aaron cited the decrease in U.S.-born black baseball players as evidence of modern-day structural racism. Last season, just 7.7 percent of MLB players were black.
"When I first started playing, you had a lot of black players in the major leagues," Aaron said. "Now, you don’t have any. So what progress have we made? You try to understand, but we’re going backward."