Red Sox White House visit illuminates larger MLB-wide problem

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The defending World Series champion Red Sox should never have gone to the White House to visit President Donald Trump. That’s the beginning and end of the story, or, at least, it should have been the end. Instead, the Red Sox did go to the White House — the white Red Sox, anyway — and now we’ve got denials of any kind of clubhouse divide, non-white players put into public positions they never should have been forced to have to take, and Trump taking credit for the Sox’ recent resurgence because they were able to absorb his aura or whatever via soggy and cold McDonald’s lunch ritual.

Even the Washington Post, which is certainly not some bastion of progressive thinking, says the racial divide shown by who went and who did not is “impossible to ignore.” Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser has the right idea, too, writing that if the Red Sox wanted to remain apolitical, the organization never should have put players in a position to choose going or not:

It represents a particular position of privilege to decide that President Trump’s alienating lack of aid to Puerto Rico, that his alarmist degradation of Mexicans, that his unrepentant association with avowed white nationalists, that his regular racist dog whistling can be set aside for an afternoon of pomp and circumstance. The option to opt out of engaging with the politics of a man who holds the highest political office in the country is one that is afforded to only white people. Full stop.

By accepting the invitation to be honored at the White House, the Red Sox put their employees of color in the position of having to choose between the discomfort of being party to a president who would denigrate their rights or the discomfort of taking a stand that will make them enemies of many in their fan base.

If there is no actual divide in the clubhouse, then the Red Sox front office and ownership should count themselves lucky. However, it seems unlikely that there isn’t one given the Black and brown players who decided that they wouldn’t be going to the White House, as they had to have felt strongly about the act of not going to put a target on their backs like that. As for the white players (and J.D. Martinez) who met with Trump, they either don’t care about what the visit means and implies, which shows a complete lack of solidarity with their teammates who lack their privilege to not have to consider such things, or they were actively in favor of getting to hang out with Trump. Neither is a positive in Boston’s favor.

This is not a new issue, as ESPN’s Howard Bryant detailed on Twitter. Bryant, author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Bostonposted a thread on the White House visit story that’s worth reading in full for the way it shows no mercy to the bullshit the Red Sox have spewed out on this issue, but I’ll pick out some key items here that have more to do with a league-wide problem:

What it DID do, however, was reinforce what black and Latino people already know about white people, especially white men: their first instinct is to immediate try to explain “Why it isn’t about race.” They ask for “dialogue” while telling you what it isn’t. They don’t care.

This is especially embarrassing and painful for the Latino players whom Trump insulted over Hurricane Maria. The white players in MLB know exactly what they’re doing. When Trump attacked the PR leadership, a group of Latino players went to the union, hoping for solidarity.

What they found was a receptive ear from [MLBPA executive director] Tony Clark. What they also found was virtually ZERO support from fellow players, overwhelmingly white, to be “political.” The union concluded they could get involved on a “humanitarian” level but not a “political” one.

There hasn’t been significant pushback to the Red Sox’ White House visit in Boston’s own media, likely in part due to John Henry owning both the baseball team and the largest paper that covers it. As WEEI’s Evan Drellich said on Twitter regarding the whole fiasco and Bryant’s thread, “There are very few voices/outlets left willing to or able to challenge the power John Henry and co. have amassed. This group has a stranglehold on this city and region that is difficult to see, but once you see it — yikes.” So, it’s fallen to national outlets like Yahoo, WaPo, The Athletic, and The Nation, writers familiar with but independent from Boston media like Britni de la Cretaz and Bryant, and paywalled newsletters like this one that Henry doesn’t know even exists. That is not enough, but it’s the way things are given the power of the Sox in Boston.

The Red Sox’ visit is obviously a disappointment, but it’s not like they’re alone in this. Visiting Trump and not standing up for the non-white players around the league, on one issue or another, has sadly been a hallmark of Major League Baseball and its players, and well before Trump was ever living in the White House, too. This isn’t to dismiss Boston’s role in this at all — as Bryant said, Red Sox ownership deserves all of this scorn given how they acted here versus how they expect to be perceived — but it’s to point out that the Red Sox are a part of a problem much larger than themselves.

Of course, they gave up the opportunity to try to advance the conversation, or even start it, with this clearly racially divided visit/non-visit. The more difficult thing for the white players would have been standing in solidarity with their Black and brown teammates and publicly voicing the why of it all — it’s the kind of difficult thing that Megin Rapinoe has been doing in women’s soccer, standing (or kneeling) in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players who protested police violence by way of the national anthem. Instead, the Red Sox (and the majority of the league) put their heads down to focus on baseball.

Sports are political, whether players want to admit it or not. This botched White House visit is just another reminder of that, as well as a reminder that MLB’s white players aren’t putting in the work they should be in their position. Not every white player, of course, but clearly, given how the union responded to the plea of the Latinx players in the wake of Hurricane Maria, more than enough of them.

  • Here’s David Roth writing about Derek Jeter and the mess he’s made of the Marlins.

  • You might recall that I wrote about the National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision that gig economy employees for an anonymous company were not entitled to the same protections as full employees, and how that could somehow spiral back to baseball and minor-league players. Well, another decision has been unveiled, this time for Uber drivers, who now will find it difficult to gain protections for attempting to unionize and organize, and that doesn’t make me feel more optimistic about an eventual offensive from MLB pointed at its most exploited players.

  • Speaking of the minors, here’s Wilson Karaman at Baseball Prospectus on MiLB’s video-based cease-and-desist campaign.

  • I just want to highlight that feature on Megan Rapinoe again, as there are some important lessons to draw from it regarding solidarity and the kind of social and political impact an athlete can make if they’re willing to.

  • I haven’t had bullet points for a minute, but I don’t want this early-May story to fall through the cracks: over 200 women’s hockey players in North America publicly agreed to not play in any North American League this year, in the hopes of receiving better compensation and benefits in the future.

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