When football was in full swing, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick took advantage of the spotlight by kneeling during the national anthem.
Now with Major League Baseball’s spring training starting and the regular season just a little over a month away, it’s the baseball player’s turn for the spotlight.
Similar to Kaepernick, the players who have spoken out, whether staunchly in support or opposition of the travel ban, have received backlash from fans regarding their comments.
Dexter Fowler is entering his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals after playing an integral role in the Chicago Cubs’ World Series run last year. His decision to sign with the Cardinals surprised many due to the fact that the Cardinals and Cubs are sworn enemies within the NL Central division.
Fowler also happens to be married to an Iranian immigrant. His wife, Aliya, came over with her parents at age five.
Given that Iran is one of the seven countries included in Trump’s immigration ban, Fowler felt the need to speak out, telling ESPN last week that the ban was “unfortunate.”
Though Fowler’s comments went no further in criticizing the President or his policies, he was still met with a barrage of scrutiny from fans online.
"It's huge. Especially any time you're not able to see your family, it's unfortunate." – Dexter Fowler pic.twitter.com/eDLRleURzE
— Baseball's Best Fans (@BestFansStLouis) February 19, 2017
“Stick to what you know young man. Baseball,” said one fan.
It seems that “stick to your sport” has been the message sent by fans for years now. It’s getting more unrealistic to expect this of athletes, however.
For the record. I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy, but athletes are humans, and not properties of the team they work for.
— Dexter Fowler (@DexterFowler) February 19, 2017
— Outside The Lines (@OTLonESPN) February 21, 2017
One MLB player who very obviously doesn’t stick to sports is Oakland Athletics relief pitcher, Sean Doolittle. An LA Times article that outlined the work he does with refugees (Doolittle and his now-fiancee sponsored a Thanksgiving dinner for 17 Syrian refugee families back in 2015) also touched on the political environment of an MLB clubhouse. The Pitcher explained that his stance hasn’t hampered relationships with coaches and teammates, but rather started a dialogue.
Doolittle, who was an All-Star in 2014 and is entering his sixth season with the A’s, had the following to say to the Times as well:
“But a thing I wish people kept in mind more is that if you engage with someone, don’t go into a conversation trying to change their mind, because if you try to explain to them how they’re wrong—it’s just human nature, they’re gonna dig their heels in and become more entrenched in what they already thought. They get defensive. That’s not productive for anybody.”
oh no sorry I didn't #StickToSports
— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) February 20, 2017
Apparently we can learn a thing or two from athletes outside of throwing a curveball or hitting to the opposite field.
The ironic link between baseball and the immigration ban is how much the sport has been shaped by immigrants, and vice versa. According to an MLB.com release, 26.5% of players on 2015 Opening Day rosters were born outside the U.S.
For a league that has been shaped by immigrants ever since its inauguration in 1869, I’d expect more players like Fowler and Doolittle to continue speaking their minds, regardless of whether fans would like them to stick to sports.