Your Problem is My Problem

Thoughts on the MLB & their Response to Social Justice

Fair warning… Today I will not be doing a deep dive into why a player might be breaking out in a big way or slumping miserably. I will not be recapping any games, discussing an amazing offensive performance from last night, or explaining my best guess for trade deadline deals. I love baseball, and I love to talk about baseball… but there are more important things going on in this world right now.

So if you come to PL looking for a break from the news cycle, you won’t hurt my feelings if you click past this article. However, if you choose to continue reading, my ask is that you would practice a spirit of humility, respect, and consider a worldview that might extend beyond your own.

My own worldview is complicated, but it’s worth explaining. I am half middle-eastern, my father immigrated here when he was a young man which would make me second generation. I most definitely do not look like anything but a tall white guy with dark hair. So, that is how I usually identify myself, because that is how others identify me. Add to this the fact that I am Christian, male, and straight… it’s like I basically hit the privilege lottery. I try to recognize that this privilege impacts not just how I view others, but how other view me.

All this to say, if someone had told me six months ago that games would be postponed, players would step off the field, entire teams would join in protest around a single issue… I’m not sure I would have been able to predict why that would be. This is the reality right now though. People of color in this country are hurting. They are looking for ways to amplify their voice. We are seeing players, coaches, and staff across multiple professional sports uniting in a way like never before to bring awareness to issues of equality, social justice, and racial reconciliation. 

For the sake of context, I wanted to create a quick chart withe the racial breakdown across the major sports leagues. (according to Tides)

NFL (’19) NBA (’20) WNBA (’19) MLB (’20)
Black/African-American 58.9% 74.2% 67.4% 7.5%
Hispanic/Latino N/A 2.2% N/A 29.9%
Asian N/A 0.4% N/A 1.9%
White 26.8% 16.9% 17.4% 60.2%
Other 14.3% 6.3% 13.2% 0.5%

As you can see, some sports have a wider variance of diversity than other, but baseball is without question one of the least diverse in terms of people of color.


Let’s rewind to this past Wednesday. The Milwaukee Bucks made the call not to play their playoff game, which led to the eventual decision by players on other teams to sit out as well. All three of the games were postponed that day as well as the games the following day. Teams are expected to resume on Saturday. This was in response to the previous Sunday’s shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake was shot in the back seven times by police during an altercation.

For people of color in this country, the shooting of Blake added gas to a fire that has been burning hot for a long time, but gotten to the point of radical response with the murder of George Floyd in May. NBA players have since openly and privately been discussing their thoughts around racial injustice and police brutality. You don’t have to search very hard to see candid thoughts being shared from players and coaches.

What’s happening is not just limited to nor did it start with the NBA. Athletes from other professional sports (most notably the WNBA) are using their voice to speak out more loudly for equality than they ever have. NFL franchises are issuing statements of support and giving their players a platform. An issue that was once seen as something an athlete might get blackballed for, is taking center stage.


So how has the MLB responded this week? Well, the response by players and management has been kind of a mixed bag.

There were stories coming out like leaked video of Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen saying that Rob Manfred “just doesn’t get it” when referring to why players might want to boycott a game (which Van Wagenen later said was a misunderstanding).

Then of course, there was the very powerful words of Dominic Smith Wednesday at a presser sharing how deep the hurt is for him and other people of color right now. His words seemed to echo a rising sentiment among black players that it just feels like “people still don’t care”. Through tears, Smith shares a powerful testimony and his raw thoughts around the state of racial inequality. Earlier Wednesday, Smith took a knee on the field during the anthem. His teammates, while telling Smith that he had their love and support, did not kneel with him.

As we know by now, his teammates rallied around him the following night. Both the Mets and Marlins took the field for 42 seconds of silence and then exited together in a powerful show of solidarity.

Over in Detroit, where the Cubs were at the Tigers, Jason Heyward opted to sit out Wednesday’s game while the rest of the team played on. The team fully supported his decision, but did they miss an opportunity to take things another step by also sitting out? Since that game, some of the players have expressed that they should have considered more fully sitting out as well to show that support. Anthony Rizzo in particular has made some strong statements about how he feels politicians have handled the events of the past week.

 

Black players were openly voicing their frustration and hurt, and their teammates were listening — but there really is a difference between “respecting” someone and actually “supporting” someone. If I am being honest, a couple of days ago it seemed like most players and the MLB as a whole were going to choose a more passive response. It seemed like some players were going to speak up, but the support that we were witnessing in the WNBA, NBA, and NFL would not carry over to the MLB. There was a choice being made by white players: to advocate with words and not follow through with action.

Is the MLB at a crossroads? Yes… and no. It would be foolish to think that the entire league is united and headed one direction full steam ahead. It would be equally foolish to dismiss the reality that there is momentum and an undercurrent of change on the horizon.

What we are seeing is a shift in the mentality of the MLB. It is a slow shift, and it certainly isn’t as coordinated from the top of management down to the player level as you might expect… but it is happening. There is discussion happening in and around the clubhouse which is leading to a better understanding and then a unified response. Players that felt marginalized or isolated because of the color of their skin need to be heard. The appropriate first response to pain and unjust treatment should be empathy and a move towards action.

This is almost perfectly exemplified in this Clayton Kershaw quote responding to the Dodgers choice as a team to sit out Wednesday’s game in support of their black teammates.

For me, this was punctuated yesterday with the video for Jackie Robinson Day that the MLB put out. The video tribute (narrated by Mookie Betts) was moving and encapsulated what we should be striving for as a society… Justice, reconciliation, and equality.

Take a couple of minutes and watch the video if you haven’t already.


This is not a political issue… It’s a human rights issue. This is an issue of justice and equality for all regardless of the color of someone’s skin. Empathy and understanding are areas that require constant growth and attention. A friend of mine shared a quote from Tyler Burns recently that I thought summed this up so well. He says, “Justice is when we make your problem my problem”.

There is a movement roaring through our country around issues of social justice and racial discrimination. I will admit that my worldview is limited to my experience, my upbringing, and the privilege I was born into. This is why I am choosing to ask questions, to seek understanding, to educate myself, but most of all to support those who are marginalized and to do the work to make your problem my problem regardless of our differences.

 

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Gabe Zammit

Gabe Zammit has been writing about baseball since 2017. He is a contributor on Pitcher List in addition to Friends with Fantasy Benefits. Outside of the baseball world, Gabe is a music director and producer and loves to chat about anything and everything music.

  • Avatar WHAT? says:

    I strongly disagree with this article…..for one is there a law or rule preventing any African American from entering baseball? You are going to have certain sports that are more popular among certain races period…..you don’t see white people crying over the fact that they aren’t represented fairly in the NBA. If your good enough you’ll play.

    Also people are outraged because they are misinformed…..Jacob Blake for one…..the cops tried to subdue him, he fought back physically with them, they then tried tazing him….he shrugged that off also. He then proceeded to walk over to his car door and open it and reach for a weapon that was on the floorboard while they were screaming at him to get on the ground.
    I’d really like to know what they were supposed to do with this guy? Wait until he turned around with a gun and started shooting at them? NOBODY in that situation would have had a different outcome regardless of color.

    Stupid people keep supporting an organization that is brutally killing people in our streets and burning businesses (many black owned) to the ground.

    Do some changes need to be made (in George Floyd’s case) absolutely. No way that officer should had stood on his neck. However it’s coming out now that his toxicology report he was high on Fentinal which very well could have caused him to stop breathing. (He had a super super high dose in his system.) He was screaming he couldn’t breath when they tried to put him in the cop car before anybody was on his neck.

    BTW some people grow up in privilege because their parents make good decisions….it has nothing to do with this country’s laws or color of their skin. We had a black president twice, many many black people make millions of dollars in this country playing games in fact many of them are some of the richest people in the world….your choices in life affect how you live and what happens to you.

  • Avatar Awesome says:

    I love this article. Sharing the experiences of others is everything. Very well worded.
    “Empathy and Understanding are areas that require constant growth and attention.”

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