Jayson Stark, a longtime baseball writer for ESPN, recently asked whether Major League Baseball players’ lack of political involvement is an abdication of their responsibility as citizens. He asked: “Is 2017 the time for a new code of conduct? Is it time for a more socially aware culture — in this, the sport of Jackie Robinson?”
What makes 2017 so special? Well, there’s a Republican in the White House, of course, which means the world is on the brink of calamity. So when Stark pens a piece lamenting the lack of political participation in the league of Jackie Robinson, he isn’t curious about why more African-American athletes aren’t protesting the destructive role of teachers’ unions in black communities, or why athletes aren’t speaking out about the spike in crime in cities controlled by Democrats. He is talking about President Donald Trump. If that were not the case, he would have written something along the same lines in 2010, when the nation was just as divided and the issues it faced were just as contentious.
Stark notes, for instance, that there was a “social media storm” when St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler “dared to express personal concern for his wife’s Iranian-born family in the wake of President Donald Trump’s travel ban.”
Don’t get me wrong. That struggle is real. Yet if Fowler, who has a daughter, had “dared” bring up the rampant misogynistic culture that permeates Iran (and most of the Islamic world) when President Barack Obama was striking a deal with that country, the reaction would have been far more consequential than some random fans telling him to stick to baseball. If any baseball player had “dared” to bring up the Obama administration’s attacks on religious liberty, we’d doubtlessly be immersed in a very different conversation.
So why wasn’t 2008 or 2015 the time for a new code of conduct? Because many writers and pundits fail to appreciate that Americans were just as anxious about the presidency of Barack Obama. This is the conceit of Stark’s article, and many others.
Chuck Todd of Meet the Press points out that baseball led the fight against racial injustice. This is true. Stark writes: “Even after 9/11, when baseball played such a vital role in the healing of America, its most important contribution, Todd says, was just to supply ‘the normalcy we all needed every day of the week.’”
Yet, inadvertently (I think), Todd is comparing the lawful, constitutional election of a president who has yet to sign a single piece of consequential legislation with these two great American tragedies. So while Stark is merely asking questions, Todd believes baseball has “an opportunity to heal the country, because of the political, ethnic and racial diversity in its locker room.”
For one thing, baseball players already provide a wonderful example of American civility. They do this by not incessantly talking about politics. Baseball is a distraction from politics.
The MLB’s great diversity reflects not only the bravery of Jackie Robinson but also his victory.
How many voters are going to change their ideological views because Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox took a leadership position on, well, whatever it is that Todd believes is dividing Americans? Most voters, I assume, conduct business and relationships with co-workers and family who hold philosophical positions other than their own. Should a cashier at Target or an accountant at H&R Block feel compelled to lecture everyone he or she meets about public policy? What would our communities look like if everyone were an activist? Insufferable, that’s what.
Moreover, the MLB’s great diversity reflects not only the bravery of Robinson but also his victory. There will never be another Jackie Robinson. We don’t need another Jackie Robinson. Baseball already proves that rural whites, Hispanic immigrants, African-Americans, and Yankees can all live and play on a team, pull together, aspire to greatness, and make a vast amount of money in the process. The ability of diverse people to live peacefully under a free system is the American ideal. Demanding unanimity of opinion is not. In many ways, we still have the former. The latter is what tears us apart.
Perhaps most players realize they’ve become famous because they can throw and hit, not because they have a position on monetary policy. I’m a free speech absolutist. If baseball players want to complain about Obamacare repeal, that is certainly their prerogative. But they should not be surprised if half the fans react negatively because for fans, baseball is an escape. For players, it is a business.
As one MLB official brimming with common sense told ESPN: “Our role is to provide an environment that’s politics-free and controversy-free. I just care about what’s best for my team. I don’t want to risk losing any fan. I want all our fans to support my team. So I don’t think I have the right to take a position that would alienate our customers.”
Baseball won’t change politics, but politics will ruin baseball.