14 June 2004

Jocks for Justice?

I received an email from Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College in L.A. on Friday. Professor Dreier alerted me to an article he co-authored with Kelly Candaele, brother of erstwhile Expo, Astro and Indian utilityman Casey Candaele. The article, he said,

"...celebrates the athletes, including baseball players, with the courage to speak out on important social and political issues and suggests why there are fewer outspoken athletes today than in the past. We also take a few whacks at the MLBPA."

I suggest you read the article first, or the rest of this post won't make a lot of sense to you. After I read the article, my response to Professor Dreier included the following:


Glad you found my website somehow. Thanks for
alerting me to this.

[...personal stuff, irrelevant, deleted...]

Regarding the article, I generally shy away from this kind of stuff myself, as I don't really believe that any of my readers comes to Boy of Summer to hear me
pontificate on politics or religion either, though occasionally I do lapse into the latter a bit, at least in terms of discussion of not actual preaching.

Though I see your point that athletes could and perhaps should be more vocal about social justice issues and the like, I don't see all the backlash to which you refer. You offer very few concrete examples of the media specifically criticizing an athlete's stance on an issue, though you do offer a few of an athlete's peers (David Robinson) or sponsors (Nike) doing so. You give passing reference to hearsay from a third party, like the professor on the Tiger Woods issue, but don't name any of the ones who actually perform the "crucifixion."

You mention the disparity between players who don't want to get involved in politics and owners who always seem to be, but you seem to glaze over the fact that the owners are also doing what is in their own material best interests: chumming up to the politicians who can serve them in their causes, for new stadiums or lower taxes or whatever. They're only activists for themselves, just like everyone else, for the most part.

I certainly agree with you that athletes have much more to lose, and considerably little to gain, at least materially, for voicing their opinions. This is certainly an enormous factor in the decrease in political and social activism among athletes, if this
does truly exist. However, I think that at least a portion of this perceived tendency is that athletes are gaining an understanding that the General Public, the ones who ultimately pay their salaries AND their endorsements, just don't want to hear it.

It is one thing for Adonal Foyle to start a grassroots organization with a website where people can go to find out what to do to help, or for Schoenke to organize a contingent of friends to support a presidential campaign. These athletes are doing what they believe is right and good, as is their right, and the people they're affecting are expecting what they get. They've signed up for it.

It is another ball of wax entirely for someone to wear a tee-shirt decrying the war on a nationally televised event or for an athlete to criticize the President in
a post-game interview (a hypothetical example). We tune in to these events to be informed about sports and entertained by its performers, not to hear/see
political rhetoric. Nobody's denying these people their first amendment right to speak their minds. We'd just prefer if they'd use their camera time appropriately, to entertain, as they're being paid to do.

If they want to do something to help a less fortunate group (like Piazza did for the food service union after the Strike), more power to them. Wealthy athletes should use their positions to help the less fortunate, and most of them do, but they shouldn't be
required to do it, by the media, their teammates, or their employers.

If I want to know what Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or anyone else thinks about an issue, I can probably find out by doing a little research on Google or writing a fan letter or something like that. I can listen to talk radio or read activist websites and get my fill of information to make a decision. I don't want to find out after the sports highlights on the evening news. It just doesn't belong there.

I feel for anyone who can't make up his own mind about an issue without consulting Steve Nash on it first, and I fear for anyone who's decisions are made in such manner.

As you've certainly detected by now, I tend not to agree with most of what your website preaches, and therefore will not be linking the article, at least not without something like this attached to it. I do try to focus on the baseball and only the baseball,
whenever possible.

Thanks again though. I am interested in your response, if any.


Much to my surprise, Dreier did not just write me off, choosing instead to continue the conversation:

> Travis,
> Thanks for the quick response to the "Jocks for Justice" piece.
[...more personal stuff...trust me, you don't care...]
> I enjoy your website. There are probably more
> baseball-oriented websites and blogs than political ones.
> I don't want anyone REQUIRING athletes to do anything but play ball. But I admire
> athletes who choose to speak out about social injustice. I don't mean athletes that
> shoot from the hip. I mean ones like Foyle who are well-informed.
> Many pro athletes come from poor backgrounds and are
> now (at least for a few years) making a lot of
> dough. They shouldn't be required to "give back" to
> society, but it would be nice if they -- as well as
> athletes from middle-class backgrounds -- did so.
> Lots of them to charity work, as we indicate. But we
> want athletes to do more than charity work, but to
> engage in the democratic process. Some, like
> Bradley, even run for office. Others, like Foyle,
> help educate people about what they can do to
> improve our political and social conditions. Whether
> we like it or not, athletes are role models and
> celebrities. They can use their status to enrich
> themselves or to help improve society (or both).
> We'd like the players' associations to do more, too.
> We hoped our article would trigger a discussion
> about these issues, regardless if readers agreed
> with us. So your email was a good example of what
> we'd like to see occur -- a public discussion about
> these issues.
> Peter Dreier

And so I decided to link him and his article after all, to see what my half-dozen or so readers might have to say about the issue.

Any thoughts?

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