Baseball and sports are political.
That fact is inconvenient, but it’s true. I was tempted to write ‘Major League Baseball” and “professional” sports, but that falls way short. Even youth and amateur sports are rife with politics in ways both metaphorical and literal.
How many times as a kid did you hear a parent say “Oh, it’s so political!” when talking about which youth players made which teams? That may not be politics in the way we know it as adults, but it’s politics nonetheless.
Amateur sports, particularly the NCAA, are also tied up in legal battles, discussions of (lack of) pay for athletes, likeness rights, etc., not to mention the Olympics, a thinly veiled celebration of nationalism. Is it even veiled at all?
American professional sports and politics intersect at every possible, uh, intersection. MLB has an antitrust exemption. Just about every team in every sport tries to get some form of public money/assistance in building stadiums. Labor issues abound. Billions of dollars are at stake.
And when things happen, like the murder of George Floyd, players and teams are going to speak out…or should. They will do so to varying degrees of success and open themselves to criticism because of it. If that makes you uncomfortable…good. As Edwin Jackson said in this week’s (typically excellent) episode of R2C2, people need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
For too long, we’ve used sports as an apolitical refuge when it is absolutely, positively not that at all. The issues I listed above may have been swept under the rug, but they were there and festering. Ignoring issues, ignoring problems…that doesn’t make them go away; it makes them worse.
Many will say that they don’t tune into sports or follow athletes to hear their political opinions, but so damn what? Athletes are people just like us. We express our political opinions in a wide variety of ways and athletes should feel free to do the same.
CC Sabathia was easily one of my favorite players to root for during his time with the Yankees. Seeing him be vocal about race issues, attending protests, posting “Black Lives Matter,” all of that only makes me like him more. I wish he had felt comfortable enough to advocate more during his playing days, but I understand why he didn’t, considering the (political) atmosphere of baseball. That atmosphere told Torii Hunter not to make a big deal of being held at gunpoint by police in his own home. How many other players have kept or are keeping in similar stories?
That Hunter incident and the many things that the players in the R2C2 video remind us that these players are human. All of those men, to an extent, have the privilege of being supremely talented at baseball and much richer than any of us have ever been. Yet they still experience things many of us don’t have to because of the color of their skin. Their lives can and do mirror the lives of the people they’re protesting with and for, the people they’re supporting.
It’s not possible, of course, for players to speak out on every single issue, every single day. I also don’t mean to imply that an athlete’s opinion is any better than yours or mine just because it comes from an athlete. But athletes have a large platform and are capable of reaching a lot more people, generally speaking, than we are. When they feel the need to speak up, they should speak up.
When politics and sports collide–in ways beyond their already conjoined nature–athletes should feel free to speak up just as fans do. They should not shut up and play.