A divide at the intersection of sports and politics

A typical Major League Baseball team is a melting pot of camaraderie — whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos all united in pursuit of a common purpose. We could all take a lesson.

Except that sometimes, a different truth is revealed — a racial and ethnic divide that isn’t much different than the rest of society.

That’s the assertion, anyway, that comes with yet another sports team’s cliched visit to the White House, in this case the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox on Thursday.

The white players are going; most of the players of color are staying home.

Manager Alex Cora announced he would not go because he didn’t think it would be right to celebrate in a White House that has left the island nation commonwealth to suffer from Hurricane Maria. Sportswriters, most of whom have no interest in biting the hand that feeds them, sought out him and players of color to ask them why weren’t going.

But that was the wrong question, Jemele Hill writes on The Atlantic. They should be asking why the whites are going.

The majority of the Hispanic and African American players on the Red Sox—including the pitcher David Price and the 2018 American League MVP, Mookie Betts—have also declined to attend. Not all have explained their reasons, but the Mexican-born relief pitcher Hector Velázquez has been honest. “I made the choice not to go because, as we know, the president has said a lot of stuff about Mexico,” he told MassLive. “And I have a lot of people in Mexico that are fans of me, that follow me. And I’m from there. So I would rather not offend anyone over there.”

Black and Hispanic players and coaches are expected to justify their reasons for not going to Trump’s White House. But the real question is: Why have so many of the white players on the Red Sox chosen not to support their black and brown teammates?

Try as some sportswriters might, the divide is impossible to ignore, the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin writes.

But ignore it he did, not asking any white players why they were going, and providing only a declaration from a team official that there’s no there there.

“We were concerned about that and understood it might be a possibility,” Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said in a telephone interview about the divide along racial lines. “We’ve just made it very clear to the players it’s their choice and it’s their right to attend or not attend. We’re pleased our players have not only talked about it among themselves in the clubhouse but also with us.

“I hope the players are happy with the way it has been handled, which is [by making clear] that this is an honor. This is not a political statement of any kind. We knew an issue like this could become divisive, so we addressed it. There’s no division in the clubhouse that we know of right now.”

Compare those comments with those of David Ortiz, as close to a Red Sox god as any ex-player, who says he’d be in lockstep with Cora.

“Of course, bro,” he tells WEEI. “Alex is in a tough spot right now, going there and acting like nothing is happening. It’s like you are going to shake hands with the enemy. Think about it, all the stuff that has been going on since he took office. People are angry. People are mad. He has divided people, that’s how it feels like.”

To be sure, even if sportswriters did ask white players why they were going, it’s unlikely their answers would be honest enough to confirm what seems obvious — that these are largely political events now and the polarizing effect of politics isn’t stopped by some dugout force field.

“This is critical,” Ortiz said. “Listen, when I first came into this country the one thing I always have been proud of is learning how to stay together. That’s one thing that I’m proud of coming into this country. That’s not the situation right now.”

  • Guest

    So not liking the prez is reason to not go to the White House? And if one of a team does not like, the whole team should stay home.

    What if a white player had refused to go to Obama’s white house, would your stance be the same?

    • Jay T. Berken

      Did Obama call out any race being rapist?

    • What if a white player had refused to go to Obama’s white house, would your stance be the same?

      It would depend on that player’s reason for not attending.

      • The most obvious example was Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who thought government was too big. That’s a principled political position. Locally, Matt Birk didn’t go because of the government was funding Planned Prenthood. Also a political position.

        The players here are reacting to something that is more personal for them than politics having somewhat less to do with philosophy.

        This, too, mirrors the differences that split the country. You have your philosophical divides that have morphed into personal divides.

        • RBHolb

          I’m not sure if I see a clear divide between the personal and the political. Any political dispute has personal consequences, and people will feel those disputes personally.

          • Usually it’s not the ballplayers who feel it personally.

    • KariBemidji

      Matt Birk refused to go because of President Obama’s support for Planned Parenthood. https://theweek.com/articles/460872/18-athletes-who-refused-visit-white-house

      This is beyond not liking the President. His policies and inaction are directly hurting Cora’s family. If I were in his shoes, I would struggle to be polite in President Trump presence.

    • MarkUp

      In 2013, 3 members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins did not attend a White House invitation extended by President Obama. They didn’t go citing political disagreements with the administration. Jim Langer’s comment did raise an eyebrow, though:

      “We’ve got some real moral compass issues in Washington,” Hall of Fame center Jim Langer said. “I don’t want to be in a room with those people and pretend I’m having a good time. I can’t do that. If that [angers] people, so be it.”

      I don’t know enough about Langer to be sure “those people” was not a reference to the sitting President’s race, but given the context I’m inclined to believe he was referencing Democrats.


    • Gary F

      Was it OK for Matt Birk, Super Bowl champs Baltimore Ravens, not to go because he objected to Pres Obama saying “God bless Planned Parenthood”?

      • Yeah, it was. That was his choice based on a political philosophy. The situation here isn’t so much about whether people should go or not; it’s about whether a PERSONAL — rather than philosphical — reason for not going carries with it a responsibility as a team in order to keep that team unified. It’s a good and complex question. More so than the “whatabouts”

    • BReynolds33

      You mean like Tim Thomas did?

      And yes, my position would remain the same. That going to the White House to be told how special you are is of no more value than going to the local McDonalds and having the cashier tell you how special you are.

    • Rob

      I think not liking the prez is a fine reason not to go to the WH

  • Jay T. Berken

    Hey white players…enjoy the whoppers.

    • Jeff

      Is he doing those fried pies for dessert? I don’t think there’s a good fast food dessert out there.

    • Gary F

      Chic Fil A!

  • I saw this earlier today on The Atlantic website and thought Hill was perceptive. It does actually speak to “team spirit” to be sensitive to the reasoning of your teammates, and there is no shortage of reasons to avoid normalizing a WH visit with Trump. No one could possibly justify attending “out of respect for the office” given the way he behaves every day.

  • Gary F

    I don’t care anymore who goes or who doesn’t no matter who the President is.

    If I got an invite, I’d go, Trump or Obama or whoever, I’d feel honored.

    • X.A. Smith

      As is your privilege. I’d go to President Romney’s White House, or even President Ted Cruz’s White House. I’d expect them to be able to behave. The current occupant is outside the bounds, not on political grounds, because he has no set convictions. He’s out for himself alone. He ran for the good of his brand, not for the good of his party or his country, and I can’t abide that.

    • BReynolds33

      May I ask why you’d be honored? What is it about some guy that got people to vote for him telling you that you did a good job is an honor? Why do we pretend that whomever the occupant of that office is is someone special.

      He’s your employee. Do you often feel honored when your employee tells you that you did a good job?

      • Gary F

        Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trump, they are the President of the most powerful, most prosperous, and more free country in the history of our planet.

        I’d eat whatever they were serving, shake his or her hand and smile for a picture, and give at least a golf clap after their speech. I hope my family could be there, and I’d like to meet the MN delegation even though I’ve never voted for Smith, Klobuchar, or McCollum.

        • Rob

          So why would you want to meet people you didn’t support?

          • Gary F

            Respect for the position they hold.

            A trip to DC would be cool to meet your representatives.

  • Jeff

    It’s become just as much of a statement to go as to not going.

    Edit: I guess that’s your point.

  • Guest

    it’s about whether a PERSONAL — rather than philosphical — reason for not going carries with it a responsibility as a team in order to keep that team unified. = = = THAT is my point. If Sanders won, and I decided not to go, that would be on me, not the team.

    However asking why players they choose to go seems a play to a secret motive=they must not be woke / must be racist / any motive I care to ascribe to their actions.

  • StevenAppelget

    Puerto Rico isn’t some “island nation”. It is part of the United States–something pointed out in the Atlantic article cited and quoted from.