A few weeks ago, I spoke with Adam Jones about the challenges Major League Baseball players face when considering whether to speak out on a social issue. On Monday, Jones publicly addressed Colin Kaepernick's protest of the national anthem, citing how baseball's lack of African-American representation makes it difficult for black players to be vocal without consequence. Given baseball's rich history in social reform, whether through the trailblazing efforts of Jackie Robinson or the intentional impact of Roberto Clemente, baseball has always had a voice that society had to acknowledge. But today, issues are clouded by new realities.
So why say something now?
"'Why now?' For me it just happened," Jones said. "I think we as athletes always want to make an impact. In our communities and between the lines of course. But what comes with this job is leadership and responsibility that you didn't know you had. Little kids, future ballers and adults envy what we do. That's why stadiums are packed.
"I was asked a question about Kaep and I just ran with it. It's about respect besides the story title. I just think it's important we all continue to educate ourselves. The dialogue is all I believe Kaep wanted to create. A dialogue to help stop some of the things that happen in this country. The worse thing is to turn a blind cheek to things. I wasn't raised like that and my momma and most certainly my grandma taught me to stand up for what you believe in. In our sport and life you can't be afraid of the truth. Especially if it's brought to attention in such nonviolent matter."
For the past few weeks, I've been posing questions to former and current major leaguers about the challenges of publicly speaking out against social injustice. Torii Hunter, Chris Archer, Jimmy Rollins, Sean Doolittle, Curtis Granderson, David Ortiz, LaTroy Hawkins and many others provided insight into the internal conflict that comes with sticking their necks out to support a cause, from navigating social media to headlines that don't reflect the player's sentiment and the basic idea that a player's economic future is at risk when players don't tow the company line.
Baseball is daily. There is no week to think between games, there is little time to reflect or rethink one's position. Once you jump in the world of public opinion, everything changes, and players believe this isn't reversible. Speak carefully, they say, or don't speak at all.
So what does today's baseball player face in finding footing to address social justice issues? Here is what they had to say.
What are the challenges of speaking out?
Ensuring that your voice and message is not misconstrued. The power of context is really important, making certain that your words aren't twisted and that you're represented how you intended to be represented. Reporters don't necessarily dictate headlines, but they hold the power of telling readers your story -- and unfortunately, more often than not, headlines don't properly showcase the intended message. -- Granderson
Once you do so, you are no longer that role model of being a great citizen for our children to look up to. Now you're the outsider, now all the good you have done is overshadowed by your exercising your freedom of speech -- Rollins
Most guys don't do it because they don't feel the sting of the issue once you get to a certain status in society. The biggest challenge is being able to stand up for values cherished by a widespread of people and stay the course for change. -- Hawkins
The backlash a player might receive on social media and from fans. That can end up being a distraction to yourself or your team -- especially if you engage. Oftentimes it is very difficult to fully explain yourself on a social media outlet such as Twitter, where you only have 140 characters, and people can take your message out of context because there is not a lot of room for nuance. The message can get stripped down so much that it becomes very polarizing, which is never a good place to start any discussion on any issue. There's also those out there who just want athletes to "stick to sports," and have this image of who and what they perceive their role models to think and believe. And if it doesn't line up perfectly with their perceived expectations, they get disappointed or even angry that their arbitrary expectations are not met. -- Doolittle
"There are entire companies out there that make money off of my mistakes. You have to be careful."David Ortiz on the challenges of speaking out
How have challenges evolved over your career?
When I started my career a decade or so ago, digital and social media didn't exist. Now, newspaper articles are available online in an array or formats -- blogs, social media, video clips, etc. -- and provide readers the opportunity to publicly comment. In verbal conversations, most people are selective with their comments, but with digital and social media, they say things they wouldn't normally say out loud -- hidden behind emails or user names. -- Granderson
I have learned over the years to proofread my tweets two, three and four times, just to make sure that nothing can be misconstrued or misinterpreted and lead to any amount of negativity or backlash. I've certainly stopped engaging with fans as much, which is frustrating, because that's the reason I joined Twitter in the first place. -- Doolittle
"Now everyone has an opinion, and that opinion comes from around the globe. -- Hawkins"LaTroy Hawkins on how speaking out on social challenges has changed during his career
Why don't MLB players participate openly in national statements? I Can't Breathe, etc.
As far as "I Can't Breathe" or "Black Lives Matter" or the Kaepernick anthem demonstration, I feel uncomfortable speaking to that. I'd rather listen. Here are the facts though: The league is composed of over 60 percent white men. When so much of the league has a background or comes from a place where there might be more privilege and opportunity, it's very difficult to relate to something they have never seen nor experienced. That's human nature. People are slower to educate themselves and be informed about something if they have never experienced it. They might even downplay the level at which those problems exist. But that certainly doesn't let people off the hook. My only experiences with police are when they stand guard in our bullpen or when they escort us to the airport. No one has ever questioned my legitimacy as a citizen or a homeowner or a pedestrian. But I can't pretend it doesn't happen just because it has never happened to me. If we are willing to have an open mind and empathize rather than immediately getting defensive, then maybe we can start a far more constructive dialogue that hopefully leads to addressing these problems. -- Doolittle
I think African-American baseball players just don't have a strong enough voice to be heard in our community because they are not visible in those areas. -- Hunter
Most kids are so caught up in their own career they feel they have no time to deal with anything that might bring negative attention. -- Hawkins
Oftentimes you may be the only black player in your clubhouse. That makes it hard to take that stand when it's 24-1 plus coaches and staff and upper management. Baseball's history of segregation and later inclusion is well documented but of the major three American sports, it's the one where we're not the majority. We make up less than a tenth of all major league players. -- Rollins
Countless athletes support national statements/causes - the armed forces, veterans, health-related causes, etc. Topics such as politics, gun violence, racial issues are all very important but are typically very controversial, which is why most athletes shy away from sharing their views on those topics publicly. -- Granderson
I would tell them to be careful in following the masses because sometimes the M might be silent. -- Hunter
There are certain things you have to shy away from because you don't want to offend your co-workers, just like any working environment. It's hard to explain certain things to people who are looking at the world from a different lens than you. Certain things will never resonate with me, certain things won't resonate with my teammates. It's just life. -- Archer
"I can't pretend it doesn't happen just because it has never happened to me. If we are willing to have an open mind and empathize rather than immediately getting defensive, then maybe we can start a far more constructive dialogue that hopefully leads to addressing these problems."Sean Doolittle on why some players may be reluctant to participate in national social movements
What is most unfair about criticism of players who do not speak out?
Just because an athlete isn't speaking publicly to the masses doesn't mean it's not important to them or that they aren't doing anything to help resolve it. I heard something recently about how it's a professional athlete's responsibility to speak out about police violence. I disagree strongly with that statement. For example, I have teammates from other countries that have pressing issues such as having enough food for their family, clean running water, safe living conditions, etc. Those athletes are focused on those things, but it doesn't mean they don't care about other issues at hand. Athletes can't be all things to all people. -- Granderson
"If athletes campaigned with every social issue that arises, he might as well retire and become a politician. -- Hawkins"LaTroy Hawkins on unfair criticism for athletes speaking out
What do you say to people who believe having enough money should free you up to speak out?
Using your platform doesn't always have a positive impact. The more fame, money and power you have, the more you'll be criticized for your position. -- Granderson
The more money or power you have, the more attention you can bring to something. That doesn't mean you want to stand there and fight for that issue your entire life. You may just want to protest what's happening in that moment and be done with it, but having money doesn't allow you to just do that because you are always an athlete first. -- Rollins
There are tons of people with money that you don't want speaking on your behalf. Having money doesn't make you smarter. -- Hawkins
"A lot of people equate money with power, but not everyone with money should be the mouthpiece. The person speaking out should be someone who is able to engage in intelligent conversation and relay the message in a manner where it can be received."Torii Hunter on whether wealth should shield an athlete from criticism when speaking out
So what do you think the role of visible athletes is in expressing concern?
Most athletes (like myself) address issues that they have a personal connection to -- some big, some small, but all very important. If a major social justice issue occurs in our society, athletes shouldn't always be the go-to for comments, unless they have a personal connection to the issue. What most people forget is that many professional athletes take a stand on social justice issues 365 days a year, but if those actions aren't connected to a national and trending news platform, those stories often go untold. -- Granderson
The expectation that athletes should take on every social issue is not fair. You have to have a passion for that issue that you are speaking out about. -- Hunter
Sometimes a player can speak from first-hand experience, but if not, we have to make sure we use our platforms responsibly, and must know what it is that we are talking about. There's no sense in muddying the message with an uninformed or poorly thought-out argument that only serves to add to the white noise in the background of the issue itself. -- Doolittle
"What most people forget is that many professional athletes take a stand on social justice issues 365 days a year, but if those actions aren't connected to a national and trending news platform, those stories often go untold."Curtis Granderson on an athlete's role in expressing concern
Who is most responsible for making changes?
Doctors, lawyers, culinary artists, teachers, officers, every profession has the ability to make a change, or speak for change. I'm sure they do. But it isn't highlighted as much. I honestly feel like it should be digested the same as anyone with any other occupation. Not blown out of proportion. We are people, we have a unique skill set, but doesn't everyone? -- Archer
These issues that are going on are too big for one person. Everyone will need to take part in making changes. There's an old proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, you go alone. But if you want to go far, we have to go together." -- Hunter
Why do players express concern about sponsors and endorsements?
Athlete endorsement and sponsorship deals don't usually make major news unless they are very large lucrative deals. That being said, when an athlete's sponsor drops them (for whatever reason), it's a major news story. Personally, I always ensure that my partnerships align with my community interests. I'm really selective on my off-field deals in an effort to ensure that together we can have a real impact. -- Granderson
How real is it that players just do not know how to address issues?
It's very real that players don't know how to address the issues because there isn't an entity there to guide us, and if there is, it isn't made known by many of us. -- Rollins
If a player really wants to address an issue, the player will find a way to address the issue. -- Doolittle
"Some players will not address these issues because some players are trying to work on their legacy."Torii Hunter on whether players know how to address social issues