Joe Maddon and hometown loom large in PBS documentary on culture war

January 30, 2018

By Phil Thompson | Chicago Tribune

You want to talk “identity politics”? Joe Maddon remembers how Hazleton, Pa., has long been an example of America’s struggles with diversity, only when he was growing up the conflicts in his hometown were between the Italians, the Irish and the Poles.



“Believe me, I was either a hunk, a wop, a dago,” the Cubs manager says in an interview for the PBS documentary “American Creed.” The hourlong film, the brainchild of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and historian David M. Kennedy, examines America’s cultural and political divides and premieres Feb. 27 at 8 p.m.

In many ways, Hazleton has epitomized the culture clash over immigration, which likely made Maddon and his town fertile territory for the documentary. As the city’s Latino population boomed in the 2000s, opposition to the newcomers grew with it. In 2006, Hazleton became the first locality in the nation to pass a ban against hiring or renting to illegal immigrants. The law was struck down in federal courts and the city was ordered to pay nearly $1.4 million to civil rights attorneys, though national notoriety over the legal battle helped propel the law’s chief champion, former Mayor Lou Barletta, to Congress.

Before the Road’s End Pub and Club on Broad Street closed in 2010, a sign underneath statues of “The Blues Brothers” Jake and Elwood read “ALL Legals Served.”

Maddon co-founded the Hazleton Integration Project in 2011 to help bridge cultural divisions in the community through baseball and other activities, classes and social events.

“There’s so much misinformation going on here. You gotta quell the madness at some point. You gotta put your foot on its neck,” Maddon says in “American Creed.” “That’s why we did what we did.

“You want to make kids friends fast? Put them on the same team with the same common goal, and I promise you, color of skin, language barriers, what you like to eat, that goes away just like that. … The moment we trust each other, at that point we can build something.”

plthompson@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_phil_thompson