Thoughts on the Yankees, MLB, and Social Unrest

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:

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.

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18 Comments

  1. vc_11

    I’m fine with Bobby expressing his feelings, but I’m a little disturbed by A) criticizing people for not speaking out on social media and B) criticizing what the Yankees say in their statement.

    It gets into dangerous territory when you begin hovering over people’s speech like this and he shouldn’t be surprised if he gets pushback.

    • The Original Drew

      Pushback from who exactly?

      So he’s not allowed to be critical of the Yankees for not taking a hard stance denouncing the systematic racism and police brutality problem in this country?

      • Mick

        Someone said “You’re not allowed to be critical of systemic racism”? 🤔

  2. Mungo

    MLB and the MLBPA are being criticized because they haven’t been able to come to an agreement, while the NBA has and the NHL will shortly. While I would love to have the uncertainty of the season clarified, it’s also not fair to compare MLB to the NBA and the NHL. Those sports have already monetized a good portion of their seasons. If MLB was 2/3rds through they’d have a much easier time figuring out a path to the postseason. It’s not apples to apples.

    That said, I remain quite confident we will have a 2020 season. The question is how many games. It will end up being more than 50.

    • Coronaveddardus

      They said today the league wants 48 games. They keep going backwards! First it was 81 then 50 and now 48. Why not just have a 32 team one game playoff? If they can’t even play 81 games they might as well not play at all. And the Sox are laughing at us. Their trade of Mookie doesn’t hurt them now and all of our players get a year older and waste their prime years. And I hate hearing well we’ll lose money if we play more games. You already have billions of dollars! I don’t have any confidence in these greedy slimeballs to do anything right.

  3. This Year

    Please stick to baseball. EVERYONE condemns what happened to Mr. Floyd. The cops have been charged with 2d degree murder. There is no cover up. They will be tried. Is it not possible to make a distinction between peaceful protests and looting and rioting? Apparently so. So nuance is not allowed. So when all of the retail outlets abandon the inner city because the property will not be protected, whom does that hurt? And you are disappointed with the “silence”. I guess that means not posting what everyone must agree with. So when Drew Brees, who has given millions to inner city projects in NO, says he cannot support disrespecting the flag because of his relatives who fought in WWII, and he gets brutalized on toxic social media, forcing him to grovel and apologize for, well, no reason, does he get credit for not being silent? Or does being silent only mean the players are not saying what you agree with?

    • The Original Drew

      The point is sticking so far into your skull that you missed it completely.

  4. Coronaveddardus

    I like when players and others speak out, Bobby, and I’m with Drew Brees and umpire Rob Drake. I just think we need to start playing ballgames again and forget all this other crap, just like we used to do for the last 50 years. The virus is gone, the NBA is starting back up and baseball needs to follow suit. That’ll give us a nice little distraction and no change will come of this just like the good ol’ days. And then we can all sleep a little easier at night, unless you’re black of course.

  5. Paulie&Jorgie

    I am so grateful to you for your moral clarity and directness. Racism, including police brutality and racial profiling, affects my neighbors, it affects baseball players I love, it affects this city I love. They’re our NY Yankees. We’ve got to make this a city that is safe and empowering for Black New Yorkers. And everyone’s got to be a part of that. Thank you for saying what needed to be said.

  6. Mick

    Love your writing, love your website, but I can do without the injection of the news into sports. We see the tragic video and disturbing news nonstop, every single day. Now that it seeps into a baseball site, all it makes me want to do is shut it off like the news. We are being bombarded by it. Yes there is injustice and I will do my part to fight it. Do I need to be reminded of the horrors of injustice as I eat a burger, get a pair of shoes or look for Yankee news?

    • The Original Drew

      Why is it always that the “stick to sports” crowd always fail to realize that politics are ingrained in the fabric of sports. It sucks and exhausting to have to sit watch what is happening in the country on a daily basis, but trying to ignore it is how we got into this problem to begin with. Also imagine how African Americans feel at this moment. We owe it to them to continue to have this conversation until there is real change.

      Anyway, there is no Yankees news right now. If you haven’t heard that haven’t played baseball at all this season. It’s not like the blog just stopped cover the team and turned it into a political blog.

      • Mick

        Politics are ingrained in the fabric of sports? How so? I seem to remember watching the Yankees for years without politics and current events being an issue, except for 9/11 and maybe some other incidents.

        Also, why is MLB silent on every other injustice? Is it because it’s not appropriate to discuss societal injustice in a baseball league? Remember when the Pulse night club in Orlando got shot up by an ISIS terrorist or when there was an uptick of antisemitism in NY and other cities? How about all the pain and suffering caused by communism? Many people are tortured, wrongly imprisoned and killed in China and Venezuela. Where were you or anyone in baseball saying we owe it to those communities in the US to stop everything to make a change? Imagine how all of those people and communities by the inaction of baseball fans?

        I don’t remember MLB or baseball sites pushing fans to have conservations about change or justice in those terrible instances and I’m sure everyone wanted change and justice. It’s just that there is a place and time for it.

        Baseball is a sport, an escape. I’m sure most fans care about society’s issues, it’s just that they don’t want to be browbeaten about it as they try to see who wins a game or has a great farm system.

        • The Original Drew

          The national anthem is played before every single game, God Bless America every single game. The Yankees honor a military member each game. MLB constantly honors the troops and constantly beat them off so many times during the season, then are panting and begging MLB to stop saying “that’s enough son nothing else is coming out”. That is plenty political.

          As far as the Yankees commenting on other national tragedies and honoring those whoa are striving for change:

          https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/yankees-rockies-honor-victims-orlando-nightclub-shooting-article-1.2682935

          https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1607148-united-we-stand-thoughts-on-the-new-york-yankees-tribute-to-boston

          https://www.mlb.com/yankees/press-release/yankees-announce-yankees-honor-row-initiative-to-highlight-community-g-272952144

          And that took me off of 5 seconds to find on google.

          Can they be absolutely doing more? Can’t we all be doing more on matters of our fellow humans, absolutely.

          And baseball absolutely pushes fans to have those conservations. There are pride nights, they have Jackie Robinson day every year and many other events that are in honor of and to celebrate different communities and being accepting of each other. Are they half assed and miss the point most of the time, sure but that isn’t what you’re arguing.

          • Mick

            The national anthem and honoring American soldiers is “politics”? Most would consider that patriotism. I think you’re trying too hard.

            Thanks for the links. What ongoing changes did the MLB or the Yankees incorporate to ensure we’re all sufficiently woke regarding antisemitism? Did you find a link about that? How about holocaust awareness? Anything?

            Did you post any comments on this site or did Bobby and the guys write any social justice articles about taking a principled stand regarding the attacks on the Jewish community and antisemitism? If you and they did, I must have missed it. Please do send a link.

            Fighting antisemitism seems like as good a social justice topic as any? People died, there was violence in the streets against NY Jews just weeks ago. What did you do to make the Jewish community feel better? Did you try to educate anyone on the Jewish experience and what we need to do to stop these attacks?

            Thanks in advance for your response.

          • Paulie&Jorgie

            Mick, regarding your question below about writing articles about the horrible antisemitic attacks in the fall and winter, in fact I did: https://jewschool.com/2020/01/171738/finding-sanctuary-after-the-jersey-city-shooting/. And I’ve been writing about the connections between anti-Jewish and anti-black violence for years https://everydayfeminism.com/2017/08/jewish-fear-love-and-solidarity/

            The two fights are intertwined. I am committed to ending anti-Black racism and to ending antisemitism. It’s not an either-or. We’re in this together. Would I have liked to see posts on the blog here about the antisemitic attacks in the fall and winter? Yes. Am I grateful that they are writing about anti-Black racism? Yes. Is the focus right now on anti-Black racism? Yes. That’s where my energy is going at this time.

            Since you are passionate about fighting antisemitism, perhaps you could get involved with organizations that fight antisemitism and racism together, like Bend the Arc or Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

          • Mick

            I wasn’t able to reply to your last response so I’ll do it here.

            I’m glad we are all socially conscious and I appreciate the links. Just to circle back to my original point, and I say this with great respect; I don’t think this is the forum for a social justice crusade. I personally wouldn’t even want to read about causes I’m passionate about here. I want to read about baseball on a baseball site.

            I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, which is fine. Maybe we can come together on the hope that baseball will start soon!

  7. Dani

    My opinion always has been that if there is one thing in life that should be politics free, it’s sports. If athletes, coaches, whoever wanna express their opinions … fine but tbh I don’t care about it. Their opinion isn’t any better than that of Average Joe living next door. If Average Joe’s voice isn’t heard you know your country has way bigger problems than the thing that’s going on right now.

    • Paulie&Jorgie

      Every single one of us has a responsible to restore the sanctity of human life in this country, starting with Black lives. I’m using my platform however I can. Players will use theirs. How can you use yours?

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