Members of the Scrap Yard Dawgs professional softball team walked out en masse after Monday's opening game of a series with the USSSA Pride, many vowing they will never again play for the team after a since-deleted tweet from general manager Connie May.
The tweet, which multiple players said May acknowledged posting during the game, included a photo of Scrap Yard players standing during the national anthem and tagged President Donald Trump's Twitter handle with a message that included the words "Everyone respecting the FLAG!"
The tweet came during what was supposed to be the first of seven games between teams that left National Pro Fastpitch for independent status -- Texas-based Scrap Yard after the 2017 NPF season and Florida-based Pride after the 2019 season.
Monday was supposed to be at least a cathartic return for softball. After the coronavirus pandemic wiped out first the Women's College World Series and then the 2020 Olympics, some of the best players in the world gathered for softball's high-level return. Scrap Yard's roster alone feature more than half of the U.S. team that was supposed to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.
The night instead ended with anger, frustration in a country confronting its own history of racial injustice and in a sport that remains overwhelmingly white.
President Trump has repeatedly voiced his objections to athletes peacefully protesting police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, most recently when U.S. Soccer reversed and apologized for a policy prohibiting such expression.
Scrap Yard players, along with their Pride counterparts, were quick to voice their objections to May's tweet on social media. Among them was Scrap Yard's Kelsey Stewart, who is also one of the few Black players on the U.S. Olympic team.
"I felt like she projected her political views and her stance on the matter onto me as an athlete under Scrap Yard," Stewart told ESPN. "I felt like she took my voice away. I feel like with everything going on in the world today, she hasn't listened and she hasn't tried to understand. I felt completely disrespected, and I was hurt and I was angry."
May did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Jade Hewitt, a longtime Scrap Yard employee who returned as an independent contractor for the tournament in Florida, posted a hype video to the team's official Twitter account Monday in preparation for the opening game. As of Tuesday afternoon, that remained the most recent visible tweet.
But screenshots captured the tweet attributable to May during Monday's game. Hewitt, who was taking photos on the field at the time, told ESPN it was unusual for anyone else to post to the official account and wasn't something that would typically be coordinated.
By the time Hewitt was alerted to the post in the middle innings, and that some people were attributing it to her as the team's social media manager, it had already been deleted.
"I did not write or post that tweet," Hewitt said. "It is not what I personally stand for. I stand by our athletes, I stand by our players. And Scrap Yard is no longer an organization that I will be affiliated with."
One of the last players to return to the locker room after the game was Keilani Ricketts, who said she was surprised to enter a room in near silence. Almost everyone was using their phones and finding out about the tweet. The players waited for an opportunity to speak with May directly, but the resulting conversation provided little in the way of common ground.
"We were able to have a discussion about that," Ricketts told ESPN. "It didn't exactly seem like [May] was listening. She said sorry, but her actions -- it wasn't exactly clear that she was listening to what we were trying to tell her, what the public has been trying to tell all of us the past few weeks."
Stewart recalled that after May approached players about crafting a team statement soon after the protests sparked by George Floyd's death began, the GM balked at the inclusion of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" in the message. The final version posted publicly did include those words but only offset with "We believe black lives matter, as do all lives." That message also called for "an end to the chaos, violence and destruction" surrounding protests.
"At that point, that fact that they made a statement, we were OK that they made a statement," Stewart said. "But now, it was a red flag."
Players walked out of the meeting with May after Monday's game. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had not heard from May and Scrap Yard had also made no public comment on the tweet or its deletion.
Although not at the game while dealing with a personal matter, Scrap Yard and Team USA outfielder Haylie McCleney spoke for many of her teammates unwilling to continue, even at the cost of one of the few revenue streams available to professional softball players.
"I don't know that this can be undone," McCleney told ESPN. "I don't think this is a mistake. I think this is a choice. And they made that choice. ... There needs to be education, an apology and just a genuine admission of wrong for us to even start that process, and I honestly hope that happens. Just in my personal opinion, I will never represent Scrap Yard organization again."
Players described at least two options moving forward, with players either ceasing to play immediately or finishing the current series in uniforms where the Scrap Yard logo either was not visible or present. Stewart said USSSA executive director Don DeDonatis III visited the Scrap Yard players in their housing Monday night and offered his full support of their decision.
With the next game scheduled for Wednesday, Scrap Yard players met Tuesday but held off settling on a plan. Another of Scrap Yard's Team USA players, Ally Carda felt it was unlikely Wednesday's game, at least, would proceed as scheduled.
"At this point, it's not about softball, it's not about the game or any of that," Carda said. "It's definitely bigger. Do we play one game and try and make an impact that way? Do we do a series? ... With whatever we decide to do, what are the steps where we can be super intentional with it and make a really big impact with what we're trying to say about what happened?"
Stewart indicated that at least her initial preference was to walk away entirely.
"That trust is entirely broken," Stewart said. "I will never play for the Scrap Yard organization again."
Stewart also lauded University of Florida coach Tim Walton for the sense of inclusiveness he provided in that program when she played collegiately and said USA Softball officials had reached out in recent weeks to find out what more that organization could do to support players speaking out about racial justice. But she also acknowledged that what boiled over Monday night with regard to Scrap Yard isn't necessarily a one-off aberration in softball.
College softball provides the most complete demographic data for the sport, and only 8 percent of Division I players in 2019 identified as Black, a percentage that has remained stagnant over the past decade even as Hispanic participation increased.
That stagnation has come up time and again when Stewart speaks with other Black players.
"We all kind of had the attitude like put our heads down and just continue to go about it," Stewart said. "None of us really stood up when things weren't going right or people said things. We just put our heads down and kept playing. That's something that I have noticed in all the girls I talk to, even the older girls when we've had these conversations. Now we, as a collective group, have decided enough is enough. We have to stand up for what we believe in.
"If the younger generation of Black softball players are going to experience a different and better situation, we have to stand up for that."
At the same time, Stewart has come to understand in recent weeks that white teammates and friends didn't understand experiences as much a part of her day-to-day routine as thinking carefully about where she stopped for gas when traversing the South for softball or while traveling home to Kansas.
"That's what the past few weeks have been like for me," McCleney said. "I can't speak on what their experience has been like in this country. I can't speak on the slightly racist comments that some softball parents might say to them after games that hurt their feelings or things like that. I don't understand that because I've never really experienced it because I come from a place of privilege.
"So taking the time to ask and listen and try to truly understand, that's what my weeks have been like. Trying to really get a sense of what the history of systemic oppression is in this country and how maybe I can change that one conversation at a time."
Which is why on Monday night, instead of a celebration of softball's return, there was only anger. Not because of the uncertainty about the sport's future at the professional level but at the sense among players of being denied a voice in conversations happening all across the country.
"Lots of people think it's about the flag, but it's not about the flag whatsoever," Stewart said. "It's the fact that she projected her views and her political views on us.
"She took our voice away when no one knew about it."