Former MLB players speak out regarding racism

Oof.

It’s been a hell of a year. Kobe died. Australia burned. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. There are murder hornets out there. And now? The United States is literally and figuratively on fire. It’s burning in reaction to not just the murder of one man (George Floyd), but the continued murders and injustices faced by the black communities around the United States since this country was in its infancy.

I’ve struggled with what to write over the last week and a half. I write about baseball. But clearly, I can’t talk about baseball right now, as there are no MLB games being played in the US right now and it would be gross for me to go on with business as usual and to act like nothing is happening. The squabbles between the MLBPA and the MLB owners over the number of games and how many millions each side would/could lose sounds so unbelievably petty when you put into perspective what’s actually happening all around us. And yet, there are real concerns about Covid-19 and player/staff safety, underpaid/unpaid MiLB players and staff that shouldn’t be ignored. But, I can only tackle one issue at a time right now and it seems that my (and the world’s) attention should be turned to the biggest (literal) fire right now: the murder of George Floyd, the racism and microaggressions that black people in this country face every single day, and the subsequent protests, riots, and looting that have been going on for the last week and a half.

So here we are, at the epicenter of one of the biggest moments in US Civil Rights history, and I finally have something baseball related AND worthy of our times to write about: The article posted by Ken Rosenthal and The Athletic about the discussion he had with retired MLB players, moderated by Doug Glanville. If you haven’t read the article about the 90-minute Zoom session held on Sunday night, you absolutely should. It’s eye-opening, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, and extremely powerful. The former players included in this discussion were the aforementioned Doug Glanville, his former Phillies teammates Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, Dontrelle Willis, Torii Hunter, and LaTroy Hawkins. As black men and as players, they have encountered racism in all forms – from the use of the N-word, exclusion, police interaction, clubhouse relationships, and more.

Screenshot of the Zoom conversation with Glanville, Hawkins, Hunter, Rosenthal, Howard, Willis, and Rollins

Further removed from their playing days, these men are able to speak out without fear of retribution, blackballing, or public backlash ruining their images, endorsements, and careers. LaTroy Hawkins raised some extremely valid points in this conversation, at one point saying “Colin Kaepernick did a peaceful protest and he got crucified for it. Now things aren’t peaceful. And people are still getting crucified for it. But if the right people don’t start listening, our people and the people that stand with us, they’re going to be relentless. They’re tired of seeing African Americans, minorities, killed in the street like dogs. They’re tired. We’re tired.”

Players are told to “shut up and play”. The current MLB players see what happened to Colin Kaepernick and how he was vilified for being unpatriotic, and how he has been blackballed from the NFL. No pro-sports team wants that sort of controversy looming overhead, even though his stance was/is 100% justified. Hawkins brought up the name Bruce Maxwell, the only MLB player to take a knee, being blackballed from MLB and how he is now playing in Mexico. One might claim it’s because he had some legal woes. Or it could be that he wasn’t very good (his MLB stats are on the lower side of average, and he didn’t get much playing time in his three seasons with Oakland), but his 2019 stats while playing in Mexico are significantly better than they were in his time with MLB, so out goes the theory that he doesn’t have what it takes to play in the majors.

Torii Hunter is no stranger to speaking out about police brutality and the targeting of the black community. During his 2016 Twins Hall of Fame induction, he used the opportunity to address the death of another Minneapolis man killed by a police officer, Philando Castile. Or remember back in 2012, during his playing days with the Angels, when police held him at gunpoint outside of his own home when he accidentally set off his security alarm? He references this incident in the Zoom discussion. At the time, he was publicly subdued and calm regarding the incident, but is now explaining in further detail what happened, and it’s clearly more upsetting than we realized back then:

I got that wake-up call quick. I went into my place, the alarm went off for a second and I cut it off. Maybe an hour later, I see cops at my door. I open my door and say, “Is everything OK?” And they said, “Freeze!” With the guns out. You know you’re coming to Torii Hunter’s house. You already know that!

The young guy had his gun down, but the older guy had his gun, and a vein popped out of his neck. I’m on one leg. He said, “Sit the f— down!” I said, “Hey man, this is my house, calm down.” And the young guy is looking at me like, “I think I know this guy.” The other guy still had the gun. And he says, “Is anybody else in the house?” I said, “No one else is in the house. This is my house.” I didn’t say nothing about baseball. And he walked me into the house with the gun in my back, to go upstairs to get my license. And when I showed him my license, the younger guy said, “I knew that was you.” And the guy said, “Who is he?” And he said, “He plays with the Angels.” Then this guy who had the gun on me says, “Oh, I’m an Angels fan. Can you leave me tickets?”

Torii Hunter, via The Athletic

The officer with the gun in Torii Hunter’s back had the audacity to ask him for tickets once he realized who he was. Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?

I put it out there (in the media). I said, “This guy didn’t believe I lived here.” I was trying to be strategic about what I was saying. But I wanted them to know. Then I called Major League Baseball. They called, I don’t know, whoever. And the Newport Coast police called and apologized.

I didn’t want to make a big scene. My agent said don’t make a big scene. My front office with the Angels said don’t make a big scene. But it should have been a big scene! I didn’t have no video. Everything is on video now. If I would have gotten shot, they would have come up with something and said I was agitating, angry. They can say anything, and guess what? I would have been dead. Because you thought I didn’t live there. Your mind went straight to criminal.

Torii Hunter, via The Athletic

The other players in this discussion all had something to say about their interactions with police as players, including this story from former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard:

I actually had a situation in Philadelphia back in ’07, ’08. We had just gotten home from a road trip. It was like 3 or 4 in the morning. We’re leaving the park. I live downtown. I’m in my Escalade. I’ve got the big rims on it, 26-inch rims, windows tinted.

Everybody knows what the police car lights look like. I’m like, “OK, let me act right because this cop is right behind me. I’m going to try and let this dude pass. We pull up to the same light. He pulls up next to me. I’m going left. He’s going right. The light turns green, boom, my signal is on, I’m doing everything proper. I make my left turn. He sits there at the light. Two seconds later, boom, he makes the left and follows me. Pulls me over and asks for a license, registration, the whole nine yards.

I said, “Officer, can you tell me what I was doing?” He said, “Well, I ran your plates and nothing came back.” I was like, “Isn’t that a good thing? I didn’t speed, didn’t run any lights. I wasn’t doing anything crazy, but you felt the need to pull me over.” Then another police officer pulled up, a black police officer. He went over to the dude and said, “You know who that is?” He came over and talked to me, the dude wound up leaving.

I said, “Look, man, if I’m breaking a law, I don’t care who I am, what I do, that don’t matter. If I’m running a light or not signaling and you pull me over, that’s fine. But when he tells me he pulled me over because he ran my tag and nothing came back what am I supposed to do?” The black officer said, “Yeah, that dude has done that a few times.” He ended up getting reprimanded by his superiors. But when you have people like that working in that capacity, what can you do?

Ryan Howard, via The Athletic

Perhaps things are starting to change, at least within some MLB organizations. Hunter and Hawkins are now holding front office jobs with the Minnesota Twins and told us how the current front office is taking this much more seriously than during their playing time:

On the one hand, you have to commend Torii and LaTroy for not publicly shaming the person that was fired. It probably took considerable restraint not to say “This guy _______ is a racist, and the Twins finally took care of this cancer.” But on the other hand, many think that this person should be called out for his prior bad behavior and take the opportunity to apologize, learn, and grow. Those of us who have been Twins fans for our whole lives are piecing together their words and coming to our own conclusions. I don’t want to be sued for defamation, but if you look back at who might have been fired within the Twins organization out of the blue and without explanation since Falvey and Levine took charge, you might find that a certain former player that was around during the playing days of Hunter and Hawkins might have become a coach within the organization after his playing days, and fans might have been left angry and scratching their heads as to why he was let go at the time. As a Twins fan, it is disheartening if this information is true. But also as a Twins fan, I am proud of the organization for not sweeping Hawkins and Hunter’s complaints under the rug and taking swift action against this person.

We are at a turning point in our nation’s history, and we can take this opportunity to learn, to grow, to change. Protestors are out in droves, in every state, crying out for change. Let me make something absolutely clear: Before you, my readers, fire back at me for being anti-police or telling me that Blue Lives Matter, or that I should shut up about politics and stick to writing about sports because I’m just a white lady with no stake in this game, I know that not all police are bad. My mother’s husband is a retired police officer and he is a gentle, kind, and caring man. He also has never held his knee on a man’s neck for nearly nine minutes, nor would he ever condone such behavior. He is one of the good guys – many police officers are inherently good and would not do the things that the world is protesting right now. Just like most of the protesters out there aren’t looting or setting fires to the communities that already so devastated. Every group will have some bad apples, and it is everyone’s job to call out the injustices as we see them.

We do need to address that this country has a history of not just police, but our leaders and our communities treating our black friends, family, neighbors, brothers, and sisters as 3/5 of a person, as slaves, as scapegoats, as less-than. I cannot in good conscious sit in silence as these atrocities continue to happen. As a meek little white lady voice on the internet, I absolutely have to condemn these acts. Maybe if all of the meek little white lady voices start speaking up in unison with the famous black voices like these MLB players, things might actually change. Thank you, Mr. Glanville, Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Willis, Mr. Howard, and Mr. Rollins for sharing your experiences with us. We thank you, weep with you, and most importantly, we demand justice with you.

What say you, readers? Leave a comment below.