This weekend, former (sad emoji) Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler was asked about President Trump’s court-stalled executive order that would limit travel to and from seven countries, including Iran, where Fowler’s wife Darya is from (USA Today). Fowler offered that the executive order had a direct and negative impact on his family, and their ability to see each other freely. You could understand how that would bother him.
In response, however, a number of St. Louis Cardinals fans did not treat their new player very kindly. You can click through to see the responses to Mark Saxon’s tweet below, and in the screenshot from the BestFansStLouis Twitter account:
Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler is among the people not thrilled with President Donald Trump's attempts to… https://t.co/d0N7gximKC
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) February 18, 2017
"It's huge. Especially any time you're not able to see your family, it's unfortunate." – Dexter Fowler pic.twitter.com/eDLRleURzE
— Baseball's Best Fans (@BestFansStLouis) February 19, 2017
You don’t need me to tell you that the reactions were beyond the pale. You also don’t need me to tell you that this kind of issue is not limited to Cardinals fans (though, my word, you’d think there would be a little more leeway for a newly signed player). Fowler was not going out of his way to be politically active (even if he were, that’s his choice – he’s a citizen, after all). He discussed how something is having a direct impact on his family. Outside of providing extra context within the baseball world, and food for thought, this really shouldn’t have been a “thing.”
(The headlines and unintentionally-abbreviated descriptions didn’t do Fowler any favors, but that’s a reminder why reading full articles and understanding context before you erupt are important.)
For his part, Fowler responded to the dustup with typical class and assertiveness:
For the record. I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy, but athletes are humans, and not properties of the team they work for.
— Dexter Fowler (@DexterFowler) February 19, 2017
Good for Fowler.
I offer all of this not only because it’s an interesting and illuminating story about a player near and dear to Cubs fans, but also because this kind of thing is going to happen this year. Like it or not, we are living in an incredibly politically-charged environment, and the layer between that world and our baseball world is as thin as ever. It will at times be pierced. And that may come from Cubs players.
If and when that happens, I’d urge you to not immediately leap to “stick to sports” or “just shut up and play” if the player doesn’t agree with your political worldview. (And I’d likewise ask you to question yourself if your immediate reaction to a player sharing his political thoughts is “yeah, right on, you should speak your mind!” … only because you happen to agree with the player. You can’t have it both ways if you wish to remain intellectually honest.)
Try to see and understand the perspective. Try to consider the context. No one is asking you to agree with anyone else.
Players are going to be asked about this stuff constantly this year, sometimes for the purposes of the “gotcha” quote, and sometimes because there is a reasonable connection. Most players will resist, and will not speak their mind as openly as they might in their private lives. That, of course, is fine. Others will take the opportunity and the platform they have to say what they feel should be said (on both sides of the aisle), and that, too, in my view, is fine. I know we want sports to be our insulated bubble from an often frustrating and scary world, but asking players (and managers and coaches and … gulp … writers) to ignore the realities of our world is not reasonable.
For me, I intend to limit these kinds of discussions only to situations where they arise organically within the sports context. Although I don’t view it as my role to be the arbiter of political rightness or wrongness in the world, I do view it as my role to keep you apprised of what’s going on in the world, as it relates to the Cubs/MLB/baseball/sports.