With players scheduled to report to their teams for whatever we are calling not-Spring Training tomorrow a handful of players are exercising their right to opt out of the 2020 season. I want to be really clear that deciding to play or not during the COVID-19 pandemic is clearly every players’ right and I support their decisions. There is only a finite amount of time any player can perform as a major league ballplayer and choosing to give up some of that time for one’s health or the well-being of family members cannot be easy.
Four players announced they would not play in 2020 yesterday, but Ian Desmond’s Instagram post explaining his decision-making process really stood out. I wanted to take some time to dive into his reasons today because this is what MLB would like you to believe he said:
Headlines are interesting things. A lot of people don’t read beyond them and they are frequently not written by the author. I have a hunch Thomas Harding didn’t write this headline given that he starts the piece with this substantially stronger lede:
DENVER — Hurt and angered by dealing with racism throughout his life, concerned about the future of baseball, and vowing to be with his family and help young players in the Sarasota, Fla., area get an opportunity, Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond announced on Instagram on Monday that he will not play in the 60-game 2020 Major League Baseball season.
Let’s be really clear. This wasn’t Desmond citing “community” in some generic, nebulous sense. What Desmond posted on Instagram last night was an indict of systemic racism in the game of baseball and I strongly recommend you read the whole thing:
The “community” issues MLB alluded to in their headline include:
- The structural inequality inherent in a sport that used to be accessible to any kid in a given area but is increasingly limited to more expensive travel ball opportunities.
- High school teammates chanting “White Power” before baseball games.
- Major League clubhouses with “racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems”
- Lack of diversity in baseball from top to bottom: “One African American GM, Two African American managers, less than 8 percent Black players. No Black majority team owners.”
- A series of compelling questions about MLB’s commitment to making the game accessible to players in all income brackets.
- A blistering indictment of playing the right way: “The golden rules of baseball - don’t have fun, don’t pimp home runs, don’t play with character. Those are white rules. Don’t do anything fancy. Take it down a notch. Keep it all in the box.”
Now, MLB is certainly not responsible for the behavior of high school athletes all over the country, but they are responsible for some of the other issues Desmond raised. Lumping very specific and hurtful instances of systemic racism in baseball under the heading of “community” is a convenient trope to absolve the powers that be in baseball of the circumstances Desmond cited as reasons he would not play in 2020. More importantly, those are circumstances MLB is aware of, circumstances they claim to want to change.
Baseball has a lot of work to do to be a more inclusive sport but they have to start with facing the problem and not burying it in euphemisms. It’s pretty difficult to change anything while making editorial decisions that downplay the league’s culpability in the systemic racism that exists in baseball.