Why players don’t speak out on social issues

Associated Press
32 Comments

Adam Jones wading into the Colin Kaepernick stuff the other day was notable because baseball players don’t often wade into controversial topics, be they political, social or what have you. They don’t for a lot of reasons. Many are likely apolitical, as are a lot of people. Some simply don’t want the scrutiny talking about¬†such matters inevitably inspires.

Over at ESPN former MLBer Doug Glanville spoke with several current and former players, asking them about the calculus involved in speaking out publicly on social and political issues and the perils doing so can often bring. A notable takeaway is that, beyond merely not being political or not enjoying criticism, players are concerned with their message being misconstrued by misleading or context-free headlines and/or the difficulty of communicating complex thoughts on social media. I’d ad that communicating a complex thought is hard on TV and the radio as well, given that they work primarily on the eight second soundbite model.

We saw this even with Adam Jones’ thing the other day. The reporter, Bob Nightengale of USA Today, did a great job in giving Jones room to breathe in his article. He set forth multiple long quotes, allowing Jones to explain his views, without a lot of interjection or summing up. It was exactly how such a thing should be handled.

What happened, however? One small sentence that was not representative of the entirety of his comments was slapped on top and has led the conversation:

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Yes, Jones said that and yes he stands behind it. But there was a LOT of context to those words that, based on my conversations and arguments with people over the past few days, has been totally lost on them. People read headlines and summaries of stories more often than they read entire stories. Their takeaway here was that Jones said an inflammatory and, to some anyway, racist thing. The rest of his comments were dismissed or ignored completely and a very polarizing debate ensued despite the fact that the entirety of Jones’ comments were nuanced, thoughtful and the complete opposite of inflammatory.

Some players want to simply stick to baseball. Some don’t. But I bet a whole lot more wouldn’t if they had any confidence that their message would be accurately conveyed and fairly received. It very rarely is.