Pro softball was supposed to have a moment.
It wasn’t supposed to come from a tweet, and it wasn’t supposed to take agency away from the players.
The Scrap Yard Dawgs — an independent professional softball team based in Houston — were just beginning their seven-game series with the USSSA Pride in Florida on Monday, a celebratory moment for the return of pro team sports in the United States.
Instead, according to Kiki Stokes, one of two Black players on the Scrap Yard roster, it “felt like defeat.”
Not because of the result of the game, but because of the racist tweet sent by team general manager Connie May.
“We had just finished the game and were heading into the locker room,” Stokes said. “A few of us had walked into the locker rooms and looked at our phones and I had quite a few messages of the screenshot. I immediately froze. Everyone around me was asking if I had seen, and of course I did. As more and more people walked into the locker room, it was that feeling of defeat.
“Our coaches got into the locker room, they didn’t even talk about the game. They knew what we had seen.”
May, whose name is no longer listed on the USSSA baseball website where she is their Houston ambassador, sent the insensitive tweet at the start of the game on Monday, reading “Everyone respecting the FLAG!” while tagging President Donald Trump with an image of the players standing during the national anthem pregame.
The tweet was deleted, but the damage hasn’t been.
“I was the only Black player in the locker room at the time so it was emotional for me, but you could tell everyone was sad and angry someone had spoke on our behalf and we were blindsided by it,” Stokes said. “After a game, that’s the first thing you see, and it’s really disappointing.”
The initial reaction throughout the locker room was anger and sadness, along with frustration to be misrepresented in a sport that is already overwhelmingly white, and for many Black athletes, not a welcoming space.
In 2019, only 8 percent of Division I NCAA softball players identified as Black. Stokes last played collegiately in 2015 at Nebraska, but is now an assistant coach at South Dakota State.
The entire team walked out on the organization, and many tweeted they would never play for the team again, a tough decision in a fractured pro softball landscape with limited options, and some of those options not being what the players want.
“[Scrap Yard] left the [pro] league and a lot of people stayed with Scrap Yard, which was the right move at the time, I think,” said Monica Abbott, a pitcher who became the first million-dollar pro softball player when she signed with Scrap Yard in 2015. “It’s fragmented, but I also think it’s just not where it needs to be. They want to progress, but I don’t think it’s moving forward. It’s not organized well. It’s sad, actually.
“There’s been room to grow but it’s stagnated, there’s room to grow but teams are leaving. Where do you go from here?”
The Dawgs, whose roster is primarily made up of Team USA representatives, were a member of National Pro Fastpitch, the only organized pro softball league, until the end of the 2017 season. They left to operate independently, and after last season, the Pride followed them.
That makes it double the blow for Stokes, who has been with the Dawgs since Day 1 — she and Abbott are the two longest-tenured players — and saw her perception of the team she grew up with as a professional shattered.
“I was the very first draft pick of the inaugural team,” Stokes said. “I trusted not only my GM but the organization to take care of me. Now, it’s like what was it to have me on this team, was I just a business pawn?”
The players are still deciding how they want to proceed, many expressing the desire to not allow May’s tweet to take away their opportunity to play. Abbott described it as a “fluid” situation after the team held another meeting on Tuesday afternoon trying to come to a decision.
The Pride tweeted on Wednesday morning that they are postponing their remaining games. Their statement said the players came to the decision unanimously to stand with the players on the Dawgs as they “reflect and determine how to best move forward as a collective.”
After the game on Monday, May tried to talk to the team but Stokes said there wasn’t so much as an apology before she walked out.
The team had already made its decision.
“It wasn’t a great conversation,” Stokes said. “She tried to justify what she tweeted and said some stuff that baffled all of us. ... I was so upset, it wasn’t an apology, there was no sorry to the team, just her trying to state her case. My teammates, we had all made the decision to walk away.”
Along with the racist undertones of the tweet from May, it coming from the team account took away the players’ voice and misrepresented them, which breached trust in a way that can’t be recovered.
“We were in shock the organization we represented would put something so personal on a team account,” Abbott said. “A lot of the things we work for in the sports world, we fight for a lot of different things and this is a step back.
“Everyone walked out, it’s a moment I’ll never forget but a moment we never should have gone through.”
Requests for comment from the Scrap Yard Dawgs organization were not returned as of publishing.
The players want to play but if they do, it won’t be with Scrap Yard across their chest. The unified message is taking a stand against racism is more important than playing for one of the only handful of pro softball teams in the world.
Abbott mentioned a potential charity game on Saturday in Florida, but it remains unclear what happens next with the Pride announcing their postponement and the Scrap Yard players still trying to figure out if they can fund their way to being their own team.
No matter what it says on the uniform for the players formerly of the Scrap Yard Dawgs, Stokes and her teammates aren’t allowing May’s actions to define their careers.
“A lot of people are saying we quit, but that’s not the case,” Stokes said. “We’re still trying to play. We’re in Florida and [coronavirus] cases are spiking every day. But we’re trying to instill that hope in people that one person can do something and ruin it for everybody, but we’re bigger than that. As powerful, empowered women, we can make a change and still run with something that someone else tried to take away.
“We don’t want one person to take that away from us.”
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