When Alex Cora, the manager of the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, announced he would not accept the ceremonial invitation from President Donald Trump, he joined a host of other athletes and teams that declined that opportunity. The entire Golden State Warriors team, NBA Champions, refused the President’s offer, to which Trump responded by disinviting the team. This pattern of using a symbolic opportunity for a President to win public favour by positioning themselves next to championship athletes as a moment to engage in political advocacy did not begin with Trump. In 2011, Boston Bruin goaltender Tim Thomas refused to visit Barack Obama’s White House due to opposition to his domestic policies.
Alex Cora, a native Puerto Rican, argued that it was Trump’s inaction in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the ongoing problems on that Island that influenced his decision. He wrote in an open letter in a Puerto Rican newspaper “I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten and my absence (from the White House) is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.” Whether or not you agree with him on Trump’s policies isn’t important, it’s that his decision to skip was personal. But the reaction to his decision has unveiled a more disturbing part of this story.
Other members of the Red Sox team have also declined the invitation, while other members are going. We’ve seen this before when the Washington Capitals visited the White House after their 2018 Stanley Cup Championship victory. Washington forward Devante Smith-Pelley, a black player, refused to accompany his team over racial politics. Given Trump’s perceived racism (not the point of this article), black athletes have been uncomfortable visiting and engaging in this long tradition. This is the same division now being sown on the Boston Red Sox. All of the players who will visit the White House are white, all of the players who aren’t attending are not white. Trump has effectively divided the clubhouse into racial camps.
Boston sport writer Steve Buckley forced the racial dynamic when he tweeted the following.
David Price, a half-black half-white star pitcher for the Red Sox then amplified the message to his 1.8 million followers.
His sentiment seemed to suggest that indeed there was racial discord in the club house over the issue of Trump. He later clarified for the Boston Globe that “It was an insensitive tweet that needs to be seen by more people. That’s what it was.” He tried to mollify the nasty racial element, downplaying that part, but it’s bigger than that. Given previous athletes evocation of racism and the clear racial lines other teams and the Red Sox experienced over this trip, we should pause to consider the implications.
That this is happening to the Boston Red Sox is strange poetry. Boston, despite its reputation as a Progressive haven has a long troubled history with anti-black racism, especially in baseball. The Red Sox in particular have a sordid past on this issue. They were the final team in the Major Leagues to break the colour barrier. A full twelve years after Jackie Robinson desegregated the Major Leagues in 1947, Boston finally included a black player on their roster. Owner Tom Yawkey would not voluntarily integrate his team and was essentially forced to include a black player through lawsuits and public hearing initiated against the discriminatory practices. How Progressive.
These problems creeped up again in 2017, when Baltimore Orioles black outfielder Adam Jones received racist taunts from fans in the stands. Jones was slurred with the N-word and had bags of peanuts thrown at him on the field. People in Boston are aware of the issue, a Suffolk University poll from 2017 indicated that 42% of residents believed Boston to be a racist city, and 45% disagreeing with that suggestion. This doesn’t mean that Bostonians are racist to the core, or that even the city itself harbours more racists than other cities. The point of this is to show that racial politics played out through sport in Boston seems to reflect other racial attitudes held in the city.
That is what makes Alex Cora’s decision and the uproar surrounding it all the more interesting. When Tim Thomas refused to meet with Barack Obama, he was mercilessly hounded over the decision by his partisan allies and dogged by his partisan opponents. It’s the same with the visits to Trump’s White house. Like Trump, chastise Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr of the Golden State warriors and praise Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (refrain from Putin/Trump joke).
Hate Trump, reverse the position. Making everything black and white about blacks and whites reduces the nuance of the situation. It’s complex to see a Boston Red Sox team engaging in a type of self segregation by race given the legacy of racism in the organization. One wonders if this is a negative sign of further racial disintegration in a national institution (baseball) or just another blip in the era of Trump. Can the two be separated? Is it significant that it’s the Boston Red Sox, or would it be similar for any other team? The casualty of the culture wars, and by extension their manifestation in sport world, is we look at everything through that lens. When David Price wants to reduce the insistence on race, we read his tweet the wrong way and focus on the racial divide even more.
Sport and politics will never be separated and have never been, but something else is happening today than in the past. If want sports to be respite, an escape, we have to do better when something we perceive as furthering the culture wars inside sports ruffles our feathers. There are too many people who want to turn sports into an extension of politics, rather than a place where they sometimes collide. We shouldn’t play that game.