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MLB and the Washington Nationals’ Recent Social Responses

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What is the responsibility of corporations, organizations, and brands after events like the killing of George Floyd?

Ballparks Remain Empty On What Would Have Been Baseball’s Opening Day Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In the days following George Floyd’s death, a multitude of corporations have released statements on the killing. But none of them quite hit the mark. Many of the media-types within the companies attempted to craft a message to the community that was equal parts tidy, somehow clunky, visually pleasing, and familiarly vague.

As Amanda Moll wrote in The Atlantic, corporations don’t strike the right chord when attempting to speak out about social injustices. (Frances Dodds compiled many of the corporate responses at Entrepreneur, which can be found here.) After all, they’re attempting to cater to a purchasing base that likely consists of an amalgamation of aggrieved parties – some of whom are rightfully upset because of a malfeasance suffered by a community, or an entire race – others, not so much.

While many companies missed the mark, it’s going around the internet that only company to take the right tone was Ben & Jerry’s. Their full statement can be found here. The ice cream makers have been much more vocal throughout their history about social injustices and environmental regulations, making them a pariah to some, but a champion of change to others.

So, how have Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals responded in the wake of tragedy? In regard to the league, their response has been tepid at best, and indifferent, non-conciliatory, or out-of-touch at worst.

The league seems consumed with airing out its dirty laundry in the public sphere, with the owners and Rob Manfred seemingly desperately trying to gain the support of the fans. Meanwhile, players like David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Sean Doolittle and teammates with the Washington Nationals are pledging support to minor leaguers in their respective organizations. Of course, once the Nationals organization got wind of this, they apparently decided it was incumbent on them to support their minor leaguers. It doesn’t look great when your players are supporting your other players.

But after the NBA, NHL, and even the NFL released statements about the killing of Floyd, MLB finally got around to issuing a statement. Here’s what it said:

MLB

That statement was released June 3, over a week after Floyd’s death on May 25. I’m not making a firm case for any of the other leagues, but it seems wrong when the league with the most diversity is last to speak up.

As for the Nationals, they actually beat the league to the punch, offering this statement on June 2. They also changed their profile picture to the “black square,” a way of showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The square was meant to compel people to acknowledge the movement and then subsequently prop up black voices on Tuesday.

Mark Zuckerman at MASN posted an article on June 3 about the Nationals’ call for “solidarity” and “unity.”

Some players have been more forward with their activism. Eireann Dolan, wife to Doolittle, posted this picture on Twitter. Doolittle has been actively retweeting many of the minority voices around baseball. Tres Barrera posted this picture. (After I finished writing this, General Manager Mike Rizzo released a statement that said this, then Mark Lerner released a statement that said this. As the second linked tweet says, it’s a shame that the Nationals’ original team statement didn’t reflect these same values.) Many others have posted, as well, including Andrelton Simmons, Jack Flaherty, and Dale Murphy, among others. But many have been conspicuously absent in posting.

Some of you may have taken issue with this article thus far. You might be asking, “What do you want companies and people to do then? Post or not?” Perhaps you even think it isn’t a responsibility that falls on their shoulders. I certainly want them to post. What I don’t want is vague sentiments expressed in a neat and tidy way so as to be facile, like the league did, and like the majority of MLB organizations did, as well as a slew of other, non-baseball oriented companies.

Organizations and companies should feel the need to speak up. When they do, it needs to be blunt and truthful; it needs to acknowledge racial disparities across the nation; it needs to vehemently and actively oppose any form of racism, and acknowledge that racism is fully prevalent and alive within American society; it needs to publicly denounce police brutality, a persistent and pervasive issue on our American streets. Finally, it needs to acknowledge that we are far from where we need to be as a nation. It needs to do it without regard to the financial bottom line.

Many individuals have done the right thing and spoken up or propped up other voices, including some of whom I referenced in this article. A few businesses have even handled it properly. But many, including our sports leagues where diverse talent is most abundantly put on display, need to act the right way. We need real and actionable change in our society. It first starts with acknowledgment, then we can work on prevention.

So, yes, everyone needs to speak up. But offering simplistic and superficial press releases isn’t doing anyone justice. In order for the individual to be liberated and free, then the nation must first be liberated and free. We aren’t there yet, and I am of the belief that it is the duty of corporations, organizations, and individuals to speak up for change. To achieve unity, we must first all be unified, from the individual to the group, and that means offering more than empty and unclear chastisements and admonishments often to unnamed systems of oppression.

Without distinctly pointing to the problems, we can’t eradicate them. Those problems are police brutality, racial discrimination, white supremacy, and any system of oppression. We purport to be a nation of freedom. Let’s start acting like it.

To close I wanted to link to some articles I find pertinent, as well as websites to continue receiving information: like this article by the staff at the sports website The Athletic about their racial encounters. Or this article written at Christianity Today about George Floyd’s legacy in Houston. Or this list of anti-racism books. Or when Ibram X. Kendi explained the protests and “America’s nightmare” in an interview with Vox. Or this article in The Atlantic which speaks about the double standard of protests in America. Finally, a link to the Black Lives Matter movement itself.

Finally, I wanted to include links to keep up to date with the protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing: The Washington Post, CNN, the Associated Press and NPR.