Happy Thursday, friends. Hopefully, we’re a day closer to real baseball. Recent developments do suggest so– but today, we’re not going to focus on that. That will come tomorrow. Today, I want to focus on the Yankees, MLB, and the ongoing social unrest. There’s a lot to say about the role that the Yankees, and Major League Baseball in general, have (or haven’t!) played in the ongoing public discussion, as you can imagine.
But before I get into all of that, let me just say (again) that I miss baseball a lot. For some reason, this particular game has been on my mind a lot over the past few days. Oh, how I want to see Giancarlo do this again soon:
That was a fun day. This is probably Giancarlo’s most memorable Yankee moment, and it was the high point of a stretch in which the slugger hit .301/.363/.581 with 27 home runs across 94 games. And some fans wonder if this guy is good. Sheesh. Anyway, on to the serious stuff.
1. (Some) Yankees Speak Out: The social unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis is sweeping across the nation. It was only a matter of time before the Yankees and their players joined the public discussion. Let’s start by looking at what some players have said:
- Individual Posts: James Paxton said he “beginning to realize his privilege and ignorance” in the wake of the protests. He was also joined by Giancarlo Stanton, who wrote “enough is enough” on Saturday (this was the earliest I saw any Yankee speak out).
- Blackout Tuesday: A number of Yankees participated in blackout Tuesday, a social media campaign designed to raise awareness of the movement. They include Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Mike Tauchman, and potentially others I’ve missed.
I may have missed other posts on Tuesday. To be honest, I didn’t look that hard. Posting the black square is nice, but it is not the same as taking a principled stand here. Say what you will about the substance of Paxton’s post, but I think it’s important (and unusual) to see a white Yankee player publicly talking about concepts like white privilege. It’s a start, albeit a very small one.
On the other hand, the silence of nearly everyone else on the team is deafening. I know that a lot of people get irritated when sports and politics intersect, but that argument doesn’t work for me. As the old rallying cry goes, “the personal is political.” That’s a good maxim generally, but it is especially true in sports, which are intertwined with American society. The very same inequities, power structures, and attitudes of our society writ large echo throughout sports – especially baseball, America’s pastime. That’s why there is a long and proud tradition of activism from athletes in American history. Bradford Davis dove into this and more yesterday over at the Daily News, so check him out, as always.
In other words, the failure of the Yankees to speak up here is very disappointing. The roster has featured a number of prominent black players in recent years. Those players were the teammates of most of the current team. Choosing to be silent – choosing not to condemn police brutality and choosing not to speak up in support of black teammates and colleagues right now – is speaking up in its own way. It’s not like players on other teams aren’t doing something. They are. It’s likely not enough, but it’s something. It’s frustrating and disappointing to see so little from the Yankees. But it’s not exactly surprising.
2. CC Sabathia Unchained: I bring all of this up because, well, CC Sabathia has not been quiet at all recently. The big man (and his wife, Amber) is really letting loose on Instagram lately. Check it out for yourself. Sabathia, one of baseball’s Black Aces, has always been outspoken, but it’s hard to remember him ever speaking up like this. Perhaps this is unfair – the current moment, for all its historical precedent, does feel unique – but am I alone in thinking Sabathia is more outspoken now than he would be if he was still playing? Torii Hunter’s candid recollection of his experience does not exactly lend confidence here. It is enough to make you wonder about CC.
One thing is for sure, though: Sabathia is not being shy right now. He is really using his platform to speak out. Amber commented on one post that the Sabathias “will no longer be silent to make you comfortable.” CC, in another post, said “your silence is killing us” and urged folks to “use their platform.”
This is not necessarily a shot at former teammates, of course. After all, a primary tenet of this entire movement is about speaking up and raising awareness. But it’s hard not to read these comments in the context of the Yankees’ overall silence, isn’t it? In any case, CC Sabathia has been one of my favorite players in the league for a long time. He was certainly my favorite Yankee. When the season resumes, I will miss rooting for him – but he continues to be a shining example of everything a New York Yankee should be, even in retirement.
3. The Yankees and their Public Statement: The Yankees themselves did release a statement, which I will post in its entirety here:
Moving! I’m inspired. Aren’t you? In all seriousness, how embarrassing. The Yankees could not be bothered to write even their own words here, let alone say “police brutality”, “George Floyd”, or even “black.” They couldn’t be bothered to write their own words despite representing a city whose black and brown population has been devastated (in multiple ways) by a pandemic. They chose not to write their own words despite the protests and rallies happening each and every day in the five boroughs. It is shameful. They ought to be embarrassed.
This does not even consider the fact that they choose to co-opt the message of a genuine civil rights icon in Nelson Mandela. If he was alive, there is no question Mandela’s words on this topic would be more pointed and forceful than the carefully selected quote the Yankees highlighted. (Just look at the statement a foundation in his name released today.) It is downright embarrassing and insulting to pretend otherwise. In fact, South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, led by Mandela, is useful historical context.
That movement was frequently brutalized by the South African police. The Sharpeville Massacre is the most prominent example, but there were countless others. Mandela himself spent decades in prison. I could go on and on, but there’s no point. Read about the anti-apartheid movement for five minutes and you’ll understand. I’m disappointed, frankly. The Yankees need to be better.
4. Other Teams & MLB: Other teams across the league have released statements of their own. Some were good. Most were bad. There was a fascinating roundtable discussion (subs req’d) this week over at The Athletic this week that I encourage all of you to read. It got into the various experiences of black baseball players and it helps provide overall context for all of this. It should be a must read for all baseball fans.
Speaking of must reads, Randy weighed in on MLB’s statement yesterday on Twitter. As always, Randy was succinct and thoughtful. Please give it a read and think about its message. Read it, take a breath, and then read it again.