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If you’re confused about how “Human rights are political” is the headline of a sports story in a sports newsletter, then you missed a couple of items from this past week in MLB. On Monday, MLB’s Twitter account tweeted out video of Giants’ players and manager Gabe Kapler kneeling during the national anthem, and then responded to a fan who wanted to “keep politics out of baseball” by saying, “Supporting human rights is not political.”
You might think hey, that’s a social media person, not an individual with any real power outside of the trust given to them to handle MLB’s social media messaging, so it is not necessarily a reflection of anything, but then Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said something similar in response to the enormous Black Lives Matter billboard (in Red Sox font) outside of Fenway Park, stating that:
“The amplification and reinforcement of the Black Lives Matter message or movement, we don’t see it as a political statement. We see it as a human rights statement.
We understand and respect that others may see it as a political statement. We don’t see it as a political statement or an endorsement of any political organization or political policies. We see it as a human rights message for justice and equality. And there’s an incredibly powerful movement going on around the globe right now. And we’re very supportive of the fight for social justice and equality for everybody.”
Listen, it’s good that MLB is trying some more outward-facing support for movements like Black Lives Matter, but it’s all pageantry if they can’t even agree that it’s political, because whatever they’re doing or planning is never going to get at the root of the issue, no matter how many times MLB’s official statements use the word “systemic” to describe racism in this country.
At best, what the “human rights aren’t political” statements mean is “human rights shouldn’t have to be political; they should just be.” And hey, that’s something to aspire to, but it’s not the reality of the situation or times we live in, and our words and deeds should reflect that reality. At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to attempt to depoliticize a very political movement while cashing in on “support” for it, a blatant plea to please not get mad at me, I am in favor of the things you are in favor of.
Yes, Black Lives Matter is about human rights, a reminder that Black lives are not valued in America the way white lives are, but that they should be. A reminder that to exist as a Black person in America is to exist amid violence aimed at you, with much of that violence coming from, or allowed by, the state. The protests against police brutality are protests against the state. The police brutality administered by the state is in response to a desire to no longer be targeted by state violence, to dismantle the engines that power this state violence.
I am going to need someone to explain to me, very clearly and very slowly, how a movement against state violence is not a political one.
You cannot separate the two. The state is perpetually violent against its own citizens, and escalates that violence in response to protests that want the violence to end. This is happening in cities with mayors with a D next to their name on the ballot, too, it’s not just something that’s happening because the president is Donald Trump and the Republicans have power. This is the America we live in, and none of this is new. We might wish it were different, but right now, it’s not, so these aspirational messages do nothing besides make the people stating them feel better about their inaction.
It’s likely that folks like Kennedy just want to shield themselves from the “stick to sports!” crowd, so they’ll try to separate the inseparable and claim that their support of human rights isn’t political. For Kennedy and those like him, it isn’t political, because his life is no worse if the support doesn’t bring about any kind of change. It’s incredibly aggravating to see this kind of obfuscation from people in the same sport that ramped up forced patriotism under the previous commissioner, Bud Selig, who forced all 30 teams — including the two in Canada — to play “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch following 9/11. The same sport that honors the military and cops with discounted tickets and moments on the field and theme days, whose previous commissioner said, regarding the forced playing of “God Bless America,” that ”I don’t honestly think that politicizes the issue. After all, we do have troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
So… war is… also… not political? What is politics, anyway? Just stuff you don’t like? Anything that might get you yelled at by some talking head? That would help explain why the Mets made Carlos Delgado stop sitting in the dugout to protest the Iraq War during the playing of “God Bless America,” even though, at that point, the Iraq War basically could not be any less popular, a protest against it any safer. The Wilpons didn’t want to risk any bad press whatsoever, even bad press in bad faith, so Delgado’s protest, one concerned with human rights, developed over years seeing how the United States’ penchant for violence impacted the quality of life in Puerto Rico, was snuffed overnight. It would explain why Bruce Maxwell was run out of the league, with no support from MLB, his team, teammates, or other players around the game, for being the lone player to kneel against police brutality back when Colin Kaepernick was still allowed to do that in the NFL.
These “human rights are not political statements” are the spoken equivalent of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy putting their hands on Mookie Betts’ shoulders while he kneels during the national anthem. Betts put himself out there, a new player on a new team who just signed a massive contract and was already going to be in the spotlight, and he knelt. The best his teammates could muster is a gesture that is basically, “Sorry you have to put up with this, if only there were some way I could help.”
It’s a halfway measure, one that will accomplish nothing, just like attempting to separate the obvious political nature of a movement like Black Lives Matter and the end of the police and state violence against its own citizens from its politics is. Human rights are political: you might wish it were otherwise, but that is not the America we live in. And until more people realize that, that is not going to change.