Ian Desmond to Skip MLB Season; Cites COVID, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia

Ian Desmond, here hitting a double against the Dodgers at Coors Field last July, took to Instagram to explain why social justice concerns and COVID-19 will keep him off the ball field this season.
USA Today Sports via Reuters/ Isaiah J. Downing

Ian Desmond, a biracial two-time All-Star who plays for the Colorado Rockies, wrote an emotional Instagram post on June 29 in which he opened up about issues of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia in baseball as part of an announcement explaining why he plans to sit out the 2020 season.

Desmond, a three-time Silver Slugger who has also played for the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers in his Major League career dating back to 2009, started off by first conveying his tendency to bottle up his emotions in turbulent times. However, he said, “The image of officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd, the gruesome murder of a Black man in the street at the hands of a police officer, broke my coping mechanism. Suppressing my emotions became impossible.”

Two-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger outlines reasons why he’s not playing baseball this year

The 34-year-old two-time All-Star then reflected on his childhood, painting a then-and-now juxtaposition contrasting his own youth baseball experience to the commercialized travel ball environments that permeate the youth sports landscape today. And yet, he also peered back on his teenage days, remembering a time when his high school baseball teammates would openly hurl chants of “White Power!” before games.

“Two Black kids on the whole team sitting in a stunned silence the white players didn’t seem to notice,” he recalled.

As his Instagram note progressed, Desmond conveyed grim realities of the state of baseball in America today. He pointed out that there are only two Black managers, two Black general managers, and no Black people with majority ownership stakes in teams. He invoked the ongoing labor war featuring billionaire owners who hold immense power over players.

Perhaps the most explosive of Desmond’s points was his description of a clubhouse culture rife with bigotry, all while the on-field culture is governed by white gatekeepers who maintain old-school precedents that must be followed by Black players or else they risk being ostracized.

“The golden rules of baseball — don’t have fun, don’t pimp home runs, don’t play with character. Those are white rules,” Desmond wrote. “Don’t do anything fancy. Take it down a notch. Keep it all in the box.”

He continued, “In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems.”

Finally, Desmond emphasized the dangers that come with playing a national sport during the coronavirus pandemic, saying it “has made this baseball season one that is a risk I am not comfortable taking.”

“But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving baseball behind for the year,” he said. “I’ll be right here, at my old Little League [field], and I’m working with everyone involved to make sure we get Sarasota Youth Baseball back on track. It’s what I can do, in the scheme of so much, so I am.”

Desmond, who played 140 games for the Rockies last season and tallied 65 RBIs, hit 20 home runs, and posted a .255 batting average, will be missed on a Rockies squad that is preparing for what is anticipated to be a short season — if it happens at all. But Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich offered support to Desmond in response to his announcement.

“Ian is extremely thoughtful in what he does, he’s thoughtful in how he prepares as a professional athlete, he’s thoughtful as a husband and a father … he’s thoughtful about things that are bigger than him,” Bridich said, according to ESPN. “And to this point, the reference has been the team or the clubhouse or the locker room, or things that affect the organization, his charity work, passion projects of his outside of the game of baseball. He’s willing to devote a lot of time and energy and thought to all of the things that he does. And so when you have somebody like that who is a professional athlete who is in the thick of it every day and trying to do the very best that he can to hold up his end of the bargain as an athlete, a teammate, a performer, and then he’s always willing to think about other people on the team, in the organization and outside the organization, it’s easy to gravitate to people like that.”

While many teams have come around to hosting an annual Pride night, a culture of intolerance dates back more than a century before teams even started to integrate. The homophobia permeating the sport remains on display, as evidenced by a complete lack of queer players.

Dodgers and Athletics player Glenn Burke, the league’s first player who was out to his teammates during a career that included stints with the Athletics and Dodgers in the mid-1970s, was driven out of the game due to homophobia. His manager, Billy Martin, voiced anti-LGBTQ slurs and then-Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was unhappy with Burke because he befriended his out gay son. Furthermore, Dodgers general manager Al Campanis went as far as offering to pay for a honeymoon if Burke would marry a woman. After he was pushed out of the game, Burke fell on hard times and subsequently wound up dying of AIDS complications in 1995.

Billy Bean, who is now MLB’s vice president and special assistant to commissioner Rob Manfred, came out in 1999 after a playing career with the Padres, Dodgers, and Tigers. He sat down with Gay City News late last year to discuss his playing days, his current role in baseball, and the outlook for queer representation in sports.

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