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When expectations aren’t low enough

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Ursula Parson on MLB, Black Lives Matter, and performative activism

San Francisco Giants v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

This is the first in a September series highlighting some of the best Black writers and creatives around baseball. First up is writer and podcaster Ursula Parson.

I was three when Rodney King was severely beaten by LAPD officers. I was ten when Abner Louima was beaten & sodomized by NYPD officers. I was 11 when Amadou Diallo was gunned down in a flurry of 41 bullets by NYPD officers in front of his apartment building. On August 23, Jacob Blake was gunned down & maimed by Kenosha PD officers in front of his children. In my entire 33 years of life as a Black person in the United States, I have absolutely never viewed the police as a positive or protective entity within society, nor have I ever trusted them. Even as a child, I viewed them as boorish idiots at best. Now that I can form more nuanced opinions, I know that they’re members of terrorist militias designed to put Black folks in our place & brutalize us for fun.

White people, on the other hand, develop widely varying ideas about police officers that tend to range from indifference to outright worship. That’s what happens when victims of police brutality don’t look like them. When they themselves get let go after being pulled over for driving drunk/high. When they’re reported for disturbing the peace & get a mild warning. There’s no reason for them to fear the police; since they have to practically kill someone to get the police to look twice at them, they assume that any sufferer of police brutality must have deserved it. Despite the fact that social media is causing a lot of people to rethink these ideas (thank goodness), the Blue Lives Matter crew is alive and well. No matter how much proof they see, they’ll always view the brutalizers as “bad apples” and victims as hardened violent criminals.

That said, now that people can see police brutality with their own eyes, some of them have come to realize that it is a serious problem that needs to be stopped. There have been activists & protestors, the majority of whom are Black and a few of whom are non-Black allies. There has also been a rise of performative wokeness.

Once upon a time, before MLB’s Opening Day, I thought that kneeling during the national anthem was the least someone could do to raise awareness of police brutality. Performative allies have since proven me wrong. There have been a few images of white players placing their hands on the shoulders of their kneeling Black teammates, for example.

These weren’t injured athletes who were unable to kneel because their ACLs had exploded or something; these were healthy athletes who couldn’t be bothered. “I wanted them to know I have their back and support them,” said DJ LeMahieu in an interview with Newsday after patting his kneeling teammates Aaron Hicks & Giancarlo Stanton on the back. “It was my way of showing I was with them.” Um, okay, but there was already a way to show you were with them, and it was by kneeling with them, which you didn’t do! White people staying in the background and cheering (however meekly) as Black folks do all the work is not exactly surprising, even if it is disappointing & rude.

While Black baseball players get increasingly vocal about social injustice in the wake of the attack on Jacob Blake, white players are....letting them. Dom Smith, the only Met to kneel during the anthem before the team’s August 27 game against the Marlins, noted it himself during a tearful SNY interview in which he said, “I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care.”

Being privy to white apathy is disheartening & disappointing, as anyone can see in Smith’s tears. I can’t help but wonder — where was Pete Alonso, a player he’s notably friendly with? Where was fan favorite Jacob deGrom? Where was anyone? Well, Michael Conforto told us exactly where he was when he stated “We support any athlete that is gonna use their platform to bring awareness to the racial injustices” in a post-game interview. “Who is ‘we’?” is a question I asked upon reading a Mets Tweet that slapped a caption of “We are united for change” above an image of Smith kneeling by himself, and it’s one I must ask here as well. If Conforto supports these athletes, why didn’t he kneel? It’s easy to talk the talk after the opportunity for solidarity is over, and the messed up thing is that he’s the only Met that even bothered to mention it at all.

I’m endlessly torn between the questions “what should I expect from MLB?” and “what do I want to see from MLB?”. There are subtle differences between the two questions; expecting multi-billion dollar corporations to do the right thing is naive, but what kind of action could they take that would satisfy me on any level? The NBA and NHL decided to postpone their games altogether after numerous players went on strike in protest, but MLB? Well, a few MLB players chose to sit out. Dexter Fowler, in a message to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stated, “While this is an extremely personal issue, I am hopeful that my small action can shed light on the larger issues that are ongoing throughout the country.” In a heartfelt Instagram post, Matt Kemp asserted, “I will be protesting tonight’s game in honor of all of my fallen brothers and sisters at the hands of police brutality.”

There were also teams that canceled their games, most relevantly the Milwaukee Brewers. Even so, the language in their statement – “The Milwaukee Brewers organization joins the players in their decision to not play tonight’s game” – heavily implies that this postponement was something the players wanted, that the players fought for, and that the players are getting. Then you have MLB, which did basically the exact same thing to the Brewers that the Brewers did to their players. Their official statement: “Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight.” And so, while several MLB games were postponed, the rest went on without a hitch. Great.

Regarding Black Lives Matter, I try not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Unless an action is as ineffectual as online petitions to defund the police or memes about how bad they are, I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. This time though, MLB didn’t even do anything good. Saying that you respect – not laud, not support – the decisions other people are making isn’t good. In fact, it isn’t anything. I expected nothing and they did nothing, and somehow I’m still upset.

Ursula Parson is a Mets fan first, a Yankees fan second, and a margarita fan third. She cohosts Flipping Bats & Winning Games, a baseball podcast from a NYC perspective, with her buddy Mitch. When she’s not obsessing over baseball, she’s obsessing over kitten fosterers on Instagram & northern European folk metal.

Podcast Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/fbwgpodcast

Personal Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/urslovesthemets