Former major league catcher Steve Clevenger, whose incendiary and insensitive tweets during the September protests in Charlotte led to a suspension and accusations of racism, is hopeful his remorse and attempts to educate himself on the complexities of cultural issues can help earn him entrée back into organized baseball as spring training begins without him.
“My words were wrong. I regret every day that I wrote it, and I wish I could take it back,” Clevenger told Yahoo Sports in his first interview since the tweets. “They were harsh. They were mean. They angered a lot of people. And I’m sorry for it. I can only ask for forgiveness.”
As the protests that followed a number of police shootings of black men led to conflicts between law enforcement and demonstrators on Sept. 22, Clevenger sent a pair of tweets before going to a doctor’s appointment for the broken hand that had sidelined him for the second half of the season with the Seattle Mariners.
The first tweet read: “[Black Lives Matter] is pathetic once again! Obama you are pathetic once again! Everyone involved should be locked behind bars like animals.” The second: “Black people beating whites when a thug got shot holding a gun by a black officer haha s*** cracks me up! Keep kneeling for the Anthem!”
When the 30-year-old Clevenger left the doctor’s office, he realized the tweets had gone viral. Clevenger said Jeff Kingston, the Mariners’ assistant general manager, reached out and asked him to delete the tweets. They were screengrabbed before he did so, and within 24 hours the Mariners – who had traded eventual American League home run champion Mark Trumbo for Clevenger, a backup catcher – had suspended him for the remainder of the season. On Nov. 2, he was removed from the Mariners’ 40-man roster and chose free agency.
While a handful teams have inquired about Clevenger’s status this offseason, none has offered him so much as a minor league contract.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Clevenger said. “I try to hold out hope that a couple lines on Twitter won’t end my career. I’m trying to think positive. I want people to know who I really am as a person. I want an opportunity to show people my tweets aren’t who I am or who I want to be.
“I’ve spent all offseason trying to become a better person. Learn different cultures. The history of the United States.”
Throughout the winter, Clevenger engaged with a number of black people inside and outside the game to better understand their place within it as well as society. Between conversations about racial inequality and suggestions of documentaries to watch, including “Slavery by Another Name” and Ava DuVernay’s “13th, ” Clevenger said he gained a clearer perspective on why his tweets were wrong.
“I see how people could be hurt,” he said. “I see how people can take it as being racist. I don’t have hatred in my body because of race or religion or gender. If I had to do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t have posted those tweets. That’s not the person I am.
“I come from a struggling family. I understand people’s pain when they come to that. I grew up around it. I had friends who didn’t have much of anything, but they’re my friends. I don’t judge people on how much money they have or their race or their gender or what religion they practice. I don’t hate people because of that type of thing.”
Clevenger said he has studied the Black Lives Matter movement, and while he disagreed with some of President Obama’s policies, “I respected Obama as our president.” Clevenger is particularly regretful over the use of the word thug, a loaded phrase whose connotation he said he did not realize. “At the time, I didn’t,” Clevenger said. “I wasn’t thinking when I wrote it. Now I know better. Not everybody is a thug.” Clevenger’s feelings on kneeling for the national anthem, as Colin Kaepernick and others were doing at the time, remains the same: “He’s free to exercise his rights. I don’t hold it against him. I’m just not for it. But he has his right to kneel for the anthem.”
Clevenger, who said he did not vote in November and that he is “not political,” said he respects the rights of demonstrators who have shown up in droves across the country to protest President Trump.
“I’m all for people protesting,” Clevenger said. “I’m all for people exerting their rights in the United States to demonstrate peacefully. I don’t agree with violent protests, attacking people, burning things down. I can’t condone that. That’s not who I am and not what I believe in.”
Whether major league teams will believe Clevenger and give him a second chance is the question he cannot answer yet. He spent his offseason in Marianna, Fla., staying in shape should a team call him. If he does not hear from an affiliated organization, Clevenger said he would be willing to play independent baseball in hopes of working himself back into the good graces of major league teams.
His message for those who doubt his intentions is simple.
“I’m not a racist,” Clevenger said. “I wasn’t raised to be a racist. My family isn’t racist. Nobody I’m involved with is racist. I don’t condone it. I don’t agree with hating people. That’s not me. That’s not who I am. That’s not something I’m OK with supporting.
“I’m hoping that I can get an opportunity to play ball again and be part of a solution. If a team asks me to help out, I’ll volunteer to do whatever they want. To hear people’s voices that can’t be heard. If I can get the opportunity to play in your organization, if you get to know me, you’d get to know somebody really good. I don’t have hatred in me. I have a passion to play baseball. That’s my goal in life. And if you give me the opportunity to show you my tweets don’t define who I am, you might be surprised.”