The sports world could use more Jaylen Browns

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Human rights are political

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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:

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The Braves’ half-hearted response to obvious racism is telling

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On Monday, I wrote about the Washington football team looking like they’re finally going to change their name — which is currently a racial slur — because FedEx threatened to pull sponsorship. That was the preamble for the real point of the piece, which is that these Native-based team names — including the Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Braves — need to change even if they seem comparatively innocuous to A Literal Racial Slur. That’s because it will help to dismantle the absolutely racist tradition of “honoring” Native Americans by appropriating their iconography and creating a culture where white people in redface and headdresses banging on drums and dismissing the concerns of actual, living Natives is all considered acceptable.

The Braves do not agree, according to Ken Rosenthal. They’re focused on figuring out how best to address the deployment of the Tomahawk Chop, a racist chant that’s generally under fire but was brought closer to the flame last October, when Cardinals’ reliever Ryan Helsley criticized it during the postseason.

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Changing sports teams’ racist names is a start

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A long-running National Football League issue seems to be nearing its end, and it looks like it’ll just be the first fallen domino. Washington’s football team is finally going to get a name change from its current slur against Native Americans to… something else that hasn’t been decided yet, pending an “investigation” into their current name. But pressure from sponsors, including FedEx, which has the naming rights to Washington’s stadium, finally got the organization and owner Dan Snyder to move on changing the clearly racist name.

It’s a shame, of course, that the threat of lost money from corporate sponsors is what will get this long-awaited change to actually happen, and not Native Americans saying the name is a problem, not activists and organizers who have been on this case for much longer than should have been necessary. But then again, FedEx and co. weren’t going to move on this unless that pressure was there, either, so the “shame” here is mostly just on Snyder, who was going to be unmoved by any argument that didn’t involve his own wallet. And since there were always going to be enough fans willing to go to games and buy the merch even if everyone uncomfortable with the name never contributed a dollar, he was never going to get this ball moving.

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Get Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ name off of the MVP trophy

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Ian Desmond, distractions, and the “white man’s game”

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​Ian Desmond, Rockies outfielder, posted a lengthy explanation on Instagram for why he wouldn’t be participating in MLB’s mid-pandemic 2020 season. The whole thing is worth your time, as before the reveal he’ll be sitting out the season, he focuses on his own upbringing on and off the field as a biracial American, the disadvantages poor, Black communities face in being able to replicate his own journey in this era that’s hyper-focused on baseball of all levels as a business, and racism within MLB itself.

What you should probably not do is read this and react to it in a way where your first questions are about how this impacts the Rockies in 2020, if Desmond stepping away from the sport and his significant paycheck for a year to spend time with his family and to tend to his roots makes their lineup better or worse, if there is something else the Rockies should be doing with the the pro-rated sum of the $15 million he was supposed to earn in a “normal” season. Kind of weird that people laughed at the NBA’s Kyrie Irving for saying that the return of his league was a distraction from the social issues, when many of those same people are now distracting themselves from the very social issues Desmond wrote about in his post in favor of some transaction analysis.

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Leagues speaking up about Black lives rings hollow

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New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees deserves to be derided for somehow still not understanding what the protests that saw Colin Kaepernick blacklisted from the National Football League were even about, but he’s far from alone in who we should be judging in this moment in time. The various sports leagues themselves have released statements that read like they knew everyone was expecting them to say something about the protests against police brutality of Black Americans, but wanted to make sure they said as little of substance as possible in the process.

This compulsory form of statement-releasing and posting is essentially a call of “Please Like Me” to a wide array of fans. These teams, leagues, and even some of the athletes within them want to be recognized as not explicitly racist or tone deaf, but they also don’t want to actually do anything besides collect on that acknowledgement. Take a look at the NFL’s statement, signed by commissioner Roger Goodell, for instance:

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The year in creating baseball coverage, featuring leftism

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On the Tomahawk Chop and the confusion of symbolism with action

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The Braves’ use of the Tomahawk Chop during games came under additional scrutiny this week, thanks to a Cardinals’ rookie pitcher. Ryan Helsley, said Cardinals’ rookie and member of the Cherokee Nation, spoke up after Game 1 of the Braves-Cardinals National League Division Series:

“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley said. “Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren’t intellectual. They are a lot more than that. It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots. The Redskins and stuff like that.”

The Braves, to their credit, listened to Helsley’s remarks, and did not distribute the customary foam tomahawks to each seat in the stadium prior to Game 5. They didn’t listen that much, though, and therefore don’t deserve that much credit, as the real promise here was just to not perform the chop — or the music that goes along with it that prompts everyone in attendance to start chopping — whenever Helsley was in the game:

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Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL isn’t the answer he thinks it is

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This whole Jay-Z and National Football League partnership is only getting weirder and more disappointing. As explained at The Root, Jay-Z is expected to end up with a “significant ownership interest” in an as-of-yet unnamed NFL team, which would make him the first Black owner in the league’s lengthy history. The prospective NFL owner is sticking with the idea that he’ll be some kind of agent of change between his partnership with the league that has his Roc Nation business consult on entertainment while contributing to NFL activism* and this ownership of a team. Shaking things up is not how anyone has ever been accepted into the (white) boys’ club that is sports team ownership, but don’t let that dull your enthusiasm!

*What?

Jay-Z was a proponent of Colin Kaepernick and his protests against police brutality, protests that ended up getting Kaepernick ousted from the NFL: if you don’t believe that the former quarterback was blacklisted by the league, look no further than the fact that the NFL paid him and another former player, Eric Reid, a settlement to make the collusion case disappear. Leagues aren’t in the habit of paying settlements for crimes they’re innocent of committing, but sometimes it pays to make things just go away with cash without ever outright saying you’re guilty. The past-tense following Jay-Z’s name in this graf’s first sentence was intentional, by the way, as the mogul joining forces with the NFL pits him against the player they still won’t allow to play in their league. Once he does own a team, do you think Jay-Z will sign Kaepernick to be its quarterback? Or will he already be committed to keeping his seat at the extremely white table that has kept Kaepernick away?

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