For the first time since 1968, each of the 30 teams of the American Baseball League (MLB) will play on the first day, Thursday, March 29. In New York, Detroit, Cincinnati or Seattle, the pre-game ritual will be the same: American anthem with players and spectators standing, homage and applause for the army with, for the nearest military base, a noisy flying over the stadium by fighter planes. On the podium of major American sports, baseball is not the one that generates the most revenue (it’s American football) or exports the best (it’s basketball). But it’s the one who sees himself as more than just a sport, an integral part of society, and calls himself “the hobby of the Americans”.
In none of the fields, however, will be seen what has become a habit in those of the other two major American sports: gestures or messages of a political nature. No player kneeling or fist raised during the hymn as in American football, no action condemning police violence or hostile post-match interview with Donald Trump, as in some basketball teams.
In 2018, many American athletes made their sport a platform, sometimes going against the wishes of the league and the owners. While some media support this activism, others urge them to “Shut up and continue to dribble,” and the president himself uses it as a cleaving political marker, shouting at “Lack of respect to (our) flag “. Politics interferes with every gap in American society, including sports, but seems to stop at the gates of baseball fields and locker rooms.
“I do not want to offend my teammates …”
So far, only one baseball player had knelt down during the anthem, as former football player Colin Kaepernick began in August 2016 to protest police violence. On September 20, the wrestle Oakland’s A’s, Bruce Maxwell knelt down, according to him, “For those who have no voice”.
“My hand on my heart symbolized the fact that I am and will always remain an American citizen. But it’s my knee down that caught the eye. (…) It goes beyond the black community or the Hispanic community. Today, there is a certain indifference and a racial gap between each type of people. It is defended in the highest spheres of power in this country, and that is tantamount to saying that it is OK to treat people differently. “
Maxwell, 26, was born in a German military base of a black father and a white mother, raised in Alabama and described as someone “extremely patriotic”. For his gesture, he has received the support of teammates, his club and a very neutral statement from the MLB that says “Respect each of our players as an individual with their own background and opinions”. But no one followed his example. “It took someone really special, with a unique course, to get started”, said Chris Archer, a pitcher African-American Rays of Tampa Bay.
He himself hesitated to follow this path, but decided to do nothing after talking to his teammates. “Given the feedback I’ve had, it would not be the best thing for me right now. I do not want to offend anyone “, he confessed to USA Today. Then he had a seemingly innocent sentence that says a lot about the non-politicization of his sport:
“I do not want to offend my teammates with my personal opinions, which have nothing to do with baseball. “
“Baseball is a white man’s sport”
As African-American baseball players, Bruce Maxwell and Chris Archer rightly feel concerned about the mobilization drive by the Black Lives Matter movement, Colin Kaepernick and others. But unlike NFL or NBA athletes, they have less leeway and weight to act as part of their sport.
According to a study from the University of Florida, African-American baseball players accounted for only 7.7% of professionals at the start of the 2017 season, behind white (57.5%) and Latin American (31.9%) players. In the NFL and NBA, African American players account for nearly 70% and 75% workforce.
“The specifics of political protests in American sport are the racial issue of police violence and systemic racism against African-American minorities.”says Peter Marquis, a senior lecturer at the University of Rouen, a US historian and author of a thesis on baseball. Mass mobilization around these themes can not exist in baseball, largely because the demographic situation is different. “
This balance of power is brutally described by Adam Jones, Afro-American Baltimore Orioles player. When asked about the political inertia of his sport, he has answered :
“In American football, you can not fire them. You need these players. In baseball, they do not need us. Baseball is a white man’s sport. “
A sport “conservative and interwoven with American customs”
This does not prevent some baseball players, regardless of their background, from being politicized, says Peter Marquis. “The difference is that they do not use their sport as a platform”, he recalls. historically, “Baseball is a conservative sport, deeply embedded in American society and morals. he is built on the myth that sport and politics are two separate spheres “says the historian.
Even when he’s not in uniform, the baseball player is brought back to the idea that he has to be politically neutral. Dexter Fowler, whose wife is of Iranian descent, had the misfortune to say on Instagram account that Donald Trump’s anti-immigration decree was “Regrettable”. Under the post, hundreds of negative answers, often insults, demanding that he stop talking politics and just be a player of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Among the large Latin American contingent, some might have also felt targeted by the measures and words of the American president, as his description of some nations as “shitty countries” or Mexicans as “rapists”. One of the few to have publicly responded was David “Big Papi” Ortiz, a legend of the Boston Red Sox whose recent retirement has released a little speech.
The relative silence of the other Latino athletes is explained, according to the specialized magazine remezcla, not by indifference, but “Because they prefer to focus on the political situation in their home country rather than the United States”.
For some, like the political journalist and big fan of the sport Chuck Todd, the specificities of the baseball force him to take his responsibilities in a country more and more divided politically. “Baseball has the opportunity to heal this country, thanks to the racial, ethnic and political diversity in its locker rooms. No other sport has that », he writes, wondering if the players, coaches and owners want to be this unifying force or if they prefer to stay “The distraction of the United States”. The question will begin to arise again from the first pitching Thursday night.