This is a story that we had hoped not to write, if only because it deals with controversial political topics. But the prohibition on politics doesn’t apply when they directly affect baseball and especially when they directly affect a beloved ex-Cubs player.
As you have probably heard by now, former Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler was asked over the weekend about his family by ESPN Cardinals beat writer Mark Saxon. From his two years in Chicago, we got to know Dexter and his beautiful wife, Aliya. But we especially got to know Fowler’s ultra-cute daughter, Naya. The Fowlers were a credit to the Cubs and the city of Chicago for two seasons and St. Louis is lucky to have them.
What I did not know about Fowler’s family until the past two days is that Aliya Fowler was born in Iran, having moved to this country when she was five years old. She’s an American citizen, but much of her family is back in Iran. The Fowlers had hoped to take Naya to Iran to visit with her mother’s family, but recent changes in travel policy by the new administration caused them to put off those plans.
When asked about it, Fowler admitted to Saxon that it was tough. Fowler’s exact words were “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see your family, it’s tough.” That’s it. He didn’t say anything else about changes. He said nothing about President Trump or any other official.
Fans flipped out anyway.
I’m not going to repeat the of the stuff that was posted on social media about Fowler. The worst of it is at the “Best Fans St. Louis” Twitter account as well as opinion pieces by Will Leitch and Jeff Passan. Leitch writes as a Cardinals fan deeply ashamed of his fellow fans. Passan writes from the point of view of what this means for baseball and America in general.
Oh, and just so you don’t go feeling all superior, there are plenty of Cubs fans who went after Fowler as well.
Fowler, for his part, has taken the high road, as you knew he would. He’s a better man than I am. However, he has not backed down from anything the said. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and MLBPA head Tony Clark have also defended Fowler.
I have strong feelings about what is going on in America and the rest of the world and I’m sure that most of you do as well. I am not going to share them with you here because this isn’t the place. But I am going to address the argument that ballplayers should keep their opinions to themselves. The worst of the comments told Fowler that he “belonged” to the St. Louis Cardinals, which is both wrong and a deeply disturbing thing to say to an African-American. I also wonder how many of those people cleared their opinion of Fowler with their employer before sharing it.
Fowler has a right to his opinions and he has a right to be worried about his family. We try to pretend that politics is separate from baseball, but politics is involved in everything that we do. Singing the National Anthem before a game is a political statement. Wearing camo uniforms is a political statement. Using pink bats is a political statement. “Stand Up To Cancer” is a political statement. We tend not to think of them as political because they are, for most people, not controversial. But it’s ridiculous to think that people should be shielded from knowing that worldwide events are having a direct impact on a ballplayer from their favorite team.
Fowler really didn’t comment on anything other than how his family has been affected by recent events. But even if he had said more than that, so what?
Yes, the people responding to Fowler have a right to say what they said. That’s what freedom of speech means. But there is a huge difference between being allowed to say something and whether one should say something without any regard to basic human decency.
That’s what we’re really talking about. Basic human decency. It seems to be in short supply these days. It’s something that Fowler has and his critics don’t. I follow dozens of ballplayers on Twitter and I’ve heard hundred of political opinions that I don’t agree with and hundreds that I do. In every case but one, I simply take a mental note and move on, because I’m pretty sure some random ballplayer doesn’t and shouldn’t care about my opinion of his opinion. In one case, the ballplayer was so obnoxious I just quietly unfollowed him. (That ballplayer is no longer in the Cubs system, so I would have ended up unfollowing him anyway.)
Basic human decency is a lesson that is too often forgotten these days. I can’t say that I’m perfect in this regard, although I do refrain from getting into Twitter battles. I’m not asking you to be perfect either, although I do ask you to try, both on this site and elsewhere in your life.
Between the Fowlers and their critics on social media, I know that the three of them are worth more to St. Louis, Chicago, America and MLB than all of the people who attacked them combined.
Comments for this article are CLOSED. If you wonder why, just go read the response that Fowler got again.