Baseball isn’t the NBA, where players are often seen championing social or political causes they believe in. Nor is it the NFL, where social-change efforts have dominated the headlines for two seasons.
Baseball is baseball — a sport that often seeks conformity through a grinding season. Take those things into account and it’s not surprising that MLB players are less politically outspoken than their football- and basketball-playing peers.
But what is it about baseball culture that causes this? When Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle sat down with the Yahoo Sports MLB Podcast before the MLB All-Star Game in Washington D.C., that was one of the topics we discussed.
Doolittle and his wife Eireann Dolan are both outspoken in their political beliefs and active in causes that matter to them — including working with Syrian refugees, “bad paper” veterans and the LGBT community. They’ve been dubbed “baseball’s most woke couple” by the Washington Post, which isn’t an exaggeration — but it’s also because there aren’t too many woke couples in baseball.
We asked Doolittle why that is.
“By nature, you look at the baseball hotbeds, a lot of them are in conservative areas,” Doolittle said. “Just look at the demographics of that and you have a bunch of guys that are coming from those areas and now they’re in the big leagues. Politically where they might fall on the spectrum, it doesn’t lend itself to players feeling like they need to need to speak out. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Maybe because them or their families don’t feel like they’re being impacted by some of the decisions that are being made here right up the street.”
The idea of being a social change-maker in 2018 is often a very public thing — it plays out on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, with supporters and detractors both able to speak up. Baseball is different, though. Despite the rise of social media, it remains an ecosystem of its own, where players are careful not to speak out of turn or cause conflict with their teammates.
So we asked Doolittle how these social and political efforts are received behind the closed doors of an MLB clubhouse.
“I don’t think it gets talked about as much as people might think on a daily basis,” Doolittle said. “We’ve tried to do a bunch of things in the community to make sure that our actions kinda speak for us. I think guys have a mutual respect for each other, where they came from, their backgrounds. They see that I really believe in the work that we do and that’s who I am, so if you’re going accept somebody as your teammate, yeah, you’re willing to at least accept who that guy is at his core. That’s just what I’ve tried to do, so the stuff we’ve done in the community backs up some of the Twitter rants that I go on every once in a while. At least at the end of the day, even if’s something they don’t agree with, there’s a mutual respect there.”
That’s where Eireann Dolan jumps in with how views the actions-are-louder-than-words mentality.
“It normalizes it,” she said. “If there’s, say, an LGBT Pride night at a game or when you’re hosting a World Refugee Day. When they see someone like their teammate maybe catching a first pitch from a representative from that community, meeting with someone from that community, that speaks a lot more than talking, I think, to them — then saying it at them. I think they see it.”
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