In an extended story on ESPN, the normally-fun Jayson Stark called out Major League Baseball last week for a culture which eschews political statements from its players. Stark thinks this is a problem:
But that brings baseball to a moment of truth. On the outside, there is the divide in the nation, pervading the lives of just about everyone. On the inside, there is the potential divide in these clubhouses, which could undermine the fabric every team needs to function and win.
So which is the more important divide? Baseball clearly has chosen to worry about its own house. But is it possible that, by making that choice, it is squandering an opportunity to help Americans mend a much bigger divide?
Stark wonders how the “sport of Jackie Robinson” could avoid wading into the big issues of the day. Since he wasn’t around 70 years ago, he can be excused for overlooking the admonishment Robinson received from the Dodgers to keep his mouth shut. General Manager Branch Rickey told Robinson how important it would be to ignore the most vile insults that he would hear. And the passionate Robinson — more of an activist than most pop culture gives him credit for — understood that sometimes leadership comes from setting the right example more than giving the right speech. Actions, after all, speak louder than words.
For Major League Baseball players, action usually involves finding ways to tolerate and coexist with others. For example, Stark’s piece includes comments from Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, Mexican by both birth and current residence, who hears jokes from teammates about President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. It’s “nothing serious,” Osuna adds, shrugging off the humor. After a 2015 spring training meeting with MLB Ambassador of Inclusion Billy Bean (who is gay), former Met and current Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy casually mentioned his disapproval of the gay “lifestyle.” Bean and Murphy both spoke highly of the dialogue and each other.
It’s almost as if there are more important things than politics — things like civility and respect in dealing with other people.
Stark’s entire thesis is built on this shaky foundation:
Politics may be the No.1 topic in America, but not here. Not in the locker rooms of spring training. Not in public. Not even in private, players swear. It seems impossible to comprehend, considering the political lightning bolts that seem to shoot through the sky everywhere you turn. But it’s true.
In fact, October polls showed a weary electorate as the campaign wound down. On Election Day 2016, low voter turnout validated that hypothesis. People are trying to scrub politics from their daily interactions online. Politics may be the top thing that gets dicussed in the media, but that doesn’t mean it’s America’s favorite topic.
In fact, most people understand that when you find yourself in a diverse environment, it’s best to look for common ground first before respectfully exploring differences. Your pal with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker doesn’t necessarily want to nationalize deodorant production any more than your buddy with a Make America Great Again hat thinks that all Mexicans are violent criminals.
Stark assumes that society’s political fissures need healing. But for many Americans, discussing politics is as needless as picking a scab on a cut. We don’t need to agree on everything. These differences, for most of us, simply aren’t that important.
Why should baseball players be any different?