Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond announced he won’t be participating in the 2020 MLB season for a myriad of reasons, including the game’s broken and intolerant culture.
In an exceptional Instagram post, Desmond outlines why he won’t play in the shortened 60-game season, which is slated to begin later this month. While the 11-year veteran mentions his trepidation about playing baseball amidst the worst pandemic in a century, he presents a poignant critique of the game, and rips the prejudice that runs through clubhouses.
As a biracial man, Desmond talks about the racism that he says pervades all levels of baseball. He recounts dark memories from high school, when his teammates would chant “white power” before every game, while the two Black kids on the team sat in “stunned silence.” Today, fewer than eight percent of MLB players are Black. There are just two Black managers in the game, and not a single Black general manager. They have only been five Black general managers in the game’s entire history.
“Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers,” Desmond writes. “A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it.”
Desmond goes on to share his troubling experiences in big league clubhouses, mentioning the prevalence of “racist, sexist and homophobic jokes.” Though MLB hired Billy Bean as its ambassador of inclusion in 2014, and nearly every team hosts some sort of Pride Night, it is apparent homophobia is still ingrained in the game’s culture.
Desmond says this troubling reality reflects America’s problems as a whole.
“Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war. We’ve got rampant individualism on the field,” he writes. “In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down.”
The entire essay is powerful, and diagnoses all of baseball’s central cultural issues. Sports are supposed to unite and uplift, but as Desmond spells it out, baseball’s culture is meant to divide.
During this shortened season — provided there even is one, with coronavirus cases continuing to surge in most areas of the country — MLB will try out several different rule changes. There will be a universal DH, a runner on second base at the start of every extra inning, and pitchers will be mandated to face at least three batters.
But the biggest changes MLB can make are cultural. Wipe out racism, prejudice and homophobia. Desmond has sent out the call. We’ll see how baseball responds.