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What the standing ovation for Josh Hader really meant


Last weekend Brewers pitcher Josh Hader made it into his first game since the firestorm over his old tweets erupted during the All-Star break. You likely recall — and were likely unsurprised — to hear that he got a standing ovation from the Milwaukee fans.

I certainly wasn’t surprised. When a hometown player gets in trouble the local fans usually circle the wagons and defend him. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they agree with him or what he did. It doesn’t make them bad people. It’s just a thing that happens in the extraordinarily tribal landscape of sports.

But that does not mean that the ovation is not worth examining a bit. Today Michael Powell of the New York Times examines it a bit and makes a point that seems so obvious upon reading it that I’m rather ashamed of myself for not thinking about it at the time:

This, however, is a white behavioral moment worth exploring, and I type these words as a lifelong member of that race.

Let’s pose a counterfactual: Josh Hader is black, and an excavation of his Twitter account reveals that he called whites “crackers,” wrote of his hatred for them and endorsed an organization that engaged in genocidal violence against whites. One of his tweets included a picture of a clenched black fist. That black pitcher had also expressed hatred for gays and made graphic, misogynist statements.

I’m trying to imagine thousands of white fans rising to their feet and giving him a standing ovation, even after he apologizes and blames youthful indiscretion. Or, rather, I’m trying and failing. We know what happened when a few black football players of good character took a knee to protest police violence against black Americans: They were pilloried by the president of the United States and received no standing ovations . . . Some are now unemployed.

Again: the folks who stood and applauded Hader are not necessarily bad people. I’m sure many are, in fact, wonderful people. They were simply doing us-against-the-world fan stuff, the sort of which has happened in most home ballparks for players who find themselves mired in controversy.

But only some players. Almost exclusively white players, including the ones who do far worse things than kneel for a flag. Sports fans — primarily white fans — find it in their heart to defend or at least least support white players who step in it while rarely if ever doing it for athletes of color. And make no mistake, if the hypothetical Powell described actually happened, we know DAMN well that player would not get an ovation.

Not because everyone in the stadium is a racist. But because our empathy and understanding for people of color is sorely lacking and, in most instances, we refuse to put ourselves in their shoes. And we’re far too quick to let white people off the hook for stuff we’d never forgive if done by someone else.

Minor League Baseball teams sold over $70 million in merchandise in 2017

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Every so often here, we discuss the criminally low pay of Minor League Baseball players. Most of them make less than $7,500 a year, which includes the regular season as well as spring training, playoffs, and offseason training. The abysmal pay forces minor leaguers to eat unhealthy food, live in cramped quarters, and forego consistent, quality sleep, among other things.

What makes this situation worse is that Minor League Baseball is a huge money-maker for their parent teams in Major League Baseball. Josh Norris of Baseball America reported yesterday that Minor League Baseball teams sold $70.8 million in merchandise in 2017. That represented a 3.6 percent increase over the previous record set in 2016. This is just merchandise. Now think about concession and ticket sales.

Minor League Baseball COO Brian Earle said, “Minor League Baseball team names and logos continue to be among the most popular in all of professional sports, and our teams have made promoting their brand a priority for their respective organizations. The teams have done a tremendous job of using their team marks and logos to build an identity that is appealing to fans not just locally, but in some cases, globally as well.”

You may recall that Major League Baseball had been lobbying Congress to pass legislation exempting minor league players from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Doing so classified baseball players as seasonal workers, which means they are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay. That legislation passed earlier this year. Minor League Baseball generates profits hand over fist and it is now legally protected from having to share that with the labor that produced it.

Many points of divergence led us to this point, but the question is how do we change it? Minor leaguers are routinely taken advantage of because they don’t have a union. Compare the minors in baseball to the minors in hockey, where minor leaguers have a union. As SB Nation’s Marc Normandin pointed out last month, the minimum salary for American Hockey League players is $45,000 and the average salary is $118,000. They receive a playoff share of around $20,000, and receive health insurance that covers themselves as well as their families. Furthermore, the minor league hockey players’ per diem is $74, about three times as much as minor league baseball players’ per diem of $25.

Major League Baseball and its 30 teams have shown no inclination towards treating minor league players simply out of moral obligation or good will, so the minor leaguers need union coverage to force their conditions to improve. This could be as simple as the MLBPA expanding its coverage to the minor leagues because, after all, some minor leaguers do become major leaguers, right? Or the minor leaguers could themselves create a union. It’s easy to say, but tougher to do, which is why they still don’t have a union.

At any rate, every fan of baseball should be enraged when they read that Minor League Baseball keeps setting records year after year when it comes to selling hats and t-shirts, then refuses to share any of that wealth with the labor responsible for it. It’s morally reprehensible.