Over the past two weeks, we have seen protests across the world in response to Minneapolis police killing George Floyd. Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, as well as most of the individual teams, released statements committing to fighting against racism. Some of the players, too, have spoken out.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto joined the chorus of players in the fight, but did so in a noteworthy way: he admitted fault. In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer published on Sunday, Votto describes his initial reaction to the Floyd news as wanting to give police the benefit of the doubt. But after watching the video of Floyd having his neck stepped on and losing consciousness over nearly nine minutes, he realizes he had been wrong all along.
Votto thought about his interactions with black teammates, saying that he “did not hear them” when they faced prejudices and racism. He admitted not initially understanding the reason for former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel for the national anthem. He admitted that his privilege made him “complicit” in Floyd’s death along with “other injustices” black people face. Votto closed, saying, “Only now am I just beginning to hear. I am awakening to their pain, and my ignorance. No longer will I be silent.”
Votto has always been a thoughtful person. That he would pen a very well thought out op-ed like this isn’t surprising. His essay should be instructive to white players across the league, to white members of the media (including myself), and white people in general to understand how to respond in this moment. We have all had moments, whether we realize it or not, where the system benefited us in ways it is designed to never benefit people of color. By not speaking out against it, by not working to change it, we become complicit in maintaining institutional racism. Votto and a rapidly growing number of people in the U.S. are starting to realize this.