The sport of baseball has commonly been called America’s national pastime for its widespread popularity and deep roots in shaping this country’s cultural identity dating back the 1800s before the Civil War. Baseball, specifically Major League Baseball, has also been a microcosm of America’s sins of slavery, racial oppression, segregation, systematic inequality and gender discrimination.
So when derogatory tweets posted several years ago by three MLB players recently came to light, the sport’s dubious past and its current predicament in increasing the number of African-American players in the Major Leagues, as well as attracting a younger, more diverse fan base converged.
Two weeks ago, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader should have been celebrating being a member of the National League All-Star team despite surrendering a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game as the American League earned an 8-6 victory. Unfortunately for the 24-year-old Hader, the homer was insignificant in comparison to what came after.
During the game, racist, misogynistic and homophobic tweets posted by Hader in 2011 and 2012 when he was in high school were retweeted. Snippets of the tweets read “White Power,” “KKK” and “I hate gay people.” Hader also frequently used the N-word and objectified women as only serving the purpose of providing him sex and cooking.
As one would have expected, Hader characterized the tweets as acts of youthful indiscretion. “I was 17 years old. As a child, I was immature,” the Millersville, Md. native said in being questioned by reporters after his All-Star appearance.
“I obviously said some things that were inexcusable,” he continued. “That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today. That’s just what it is.”
The visual of fans in Milwaukee showering Hader with a standing ovation at Miller Park four nights later as he took the mound for the first time since the controversy was a stark reminder of the primary composition of MLB’s fan base.
Statistically, MLB has the oldest, whitest, male dominated demographic of the three major United States-based leagues, which includes the NFL and the NBA. With only 8.4 percent of all players being African-American on MLB Opening Day rosters this season, the perception of the league is unfavorable across a wide socio-economic spectrum of Black men and women in this country.
The Hader firestorm was followed by the exposing of comparable tweets by the Washington Nationals 25-year-old shortstop Trea Turner, also from 2011 and 2012, and the Atlanta Braves’ 25-year-old lefty Sean Newcomb, who had to address his past posts minutes after coming within one strike of pitching a no-hitter last Sunday.
Turner, who had previously expressed contrition, made a tearful apology Tuesday reiterating his regret. Similarly, Newcomb conveyed remorse. “I just want to say I’m sorry for the language that surfaced on my Twitter account,” said Newcomb. “It’s not a reflection of the person or who I am. I don’t think that’s any kind of language that should be used in any context. … I know it was hurtful.”
Hurtful for Newcomb and optically damaging for Major League Baseball.