The Seattle Mariners had yesterday off, so backup catcher Steve Clevenger decided to spend some time on the old social media and…oh, dear God, was it a dumpster fire of racist poop emojis. Clevenger tweeted:
Then he followed it up with:
And now, after reviewing their options, the Mariners are going to let Clevenger skip the anthem for the rest of the season:
Statement from Executive Vice President & General Manager of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto on the suspension of Steve Clevenger. pic.twitter.com/mgpQITiBy0— Mariners (@Mariners) September 23, 2016
First, let’s address the obvious: What this dipshit of a catcher said was undeniably racist. He calls the victim of a police shooting “a thug” without any kind of knowledge about what he did or did not do to prompt the shot that killed him. He compares protesters, who he notes are largely black, to animals. And he mocks the idea that there is a problem with innocent African Americans getting shot by police the same week a white cop in Tulsa shot an unarmed African American man with his hands up.
And, despite his relatively weak apology, Clevenger doesn’t deserve your sympathy. He doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. He said an awful thing and was properly chastised for it by the Mariners.
Next, let’s remember that Clevenger’s freedom of speech does not extend to his relationship with his private employer. He can, and should, be held to a high standard by his employer when his public speech has the potential to alienate fans or, probably more importantly, his own teammates. So this punishment isn’t a First Amendment issue.
Instead, it’s a collective bargaining issue. Clevenger is going to have the opportunity to appeal this suspension (particularly the part about him not getting paid), and the MLB Players Association will have his back. Which is their job. The penalty may very well get reduced, but at least the M’s get to say that they took a stand.
That said, the Mariners’ quick reaction to their backup catcher, who had hit .221/.303/.309 and who was already on the DL for the season does not exactly qualify them for sainthood. Nor does it somehow mean that Major League Baseball players and clubs are beacons of social justice. This is, as Jeff Passan reminded us earlier today, a profoundly conservative league, just one that’s generally more judicious about hitting send on their racist tweets.* Moreover, the Mariners’ discipline here is hardly a brave stand given that suspending Clevenger does nothing to hurt the M’s chances of winning an American League Wild Card. It’s convenient and it removes a distraction without costing them anything.
*Note: A reader on Twitter suggested that this sentence implies that I think players who are conservative are racist. To clarify, I do not. I believe some players say racist things. The things I would consider racist, which include Clevenger’s tweets, seem to me to come, overwhelmingly, from a conservative perspective. But that could be my own bias. But in no way do I believe there’s an epidemic of conservative ballplayers saying inherently racist things. Nor do I believe being politically conservative makes a person a racist person.
Clevenger is hardly the first Major League player to say or do controversial things. Tony La Russa spoke out against Colin Kaepernick and attended a Glenn Beck rally. Luke Scott was a birther. Torii Hunter campaigned against gay marriage. John Rocker was homophobic and racist. All of them kept playing until they weren’t useful anymore.
The real test would be for a team to suspend a player, any player, who is active and capable of helping a team win ballgames. It’s not hard to imagine this playing out very differently if Kyle Seager or Buster Posey or Noah Syndergaard, for instance, did something similar. That would be the true test of Major League Baseball’s resolve. And I think we all know, sadly, it’s a test Major League Baseball would fail.