This morning, I was discussing Dexter Fowler’s situation with my girlfriend (don’t be shocked, neither that I have a girlfriend, nor that she’s an exceptionally patient person who tolerates me talking about baseball over breakfast bagels). If you haven’t been paying attention, Fowler explained the other day about how the new President’s proposed immigration ban is affecting him and his family, given that his wife was born in Iran.
Fowler told ESPN’s Mark Saxson that he, his wife, and his daughter would not be traveling to Iran to visit his wife’s family. “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunate.” Note that this is not a controversial statement. It doesn’t mention the President. It doesn’t discuss the constitutionality or the fairness of the immigration ban. It’s a personal response about his disappointment over being separated from his inlaws.
Naturally, this brought down the worst of Internet’s commentariat to weigh in on Fowler’s statement. Some of those were caught and posted by Cardinals schadenfreude twitter feed @BestFansStLouis. They included telling Fowler to “shut up and do your job,” demands to “trade his black ass,” and the assertion that Fowler is “the property of the St. Louis Cardinals.” And, to be clear, Cardinals fans weren’t alone in condemning Fowler. Nor, thankfully, were they uniformly outraged by his statement; Fowler also received positive feedback.
My girlfriend, understandably disappointed at the response Fowler’s comments drew, asked me, “Seriously, what’s wrong with people?”
The world has turned mean, I told her. I’m not saying that there aren’t still beautiful people who do beautiful things for one another. Nor am I saying that we used to live in some kind of paradise where everyone was afforded the respect they deserve. Quite the opposite.
But the world seemed, by and large, friendlier (says the straight white man). Simply by dint of living in a world where we weren’t as connected, we were incapable of seeing more of the ugliness that was surely out there. A horse with blinders on, after all, can only see straight ahead.
Now, of course, so many of us are connected. We can speak to each other and we get exposure to the rampant hordes of trolls and degenerates who traffic in meanness. Social media didn’t invent meanness, but it turned its volume way up to the point where it can’t be ignored. Where the world is filled with their meanness.
And it’s not just on social media. On Saturday, Yankees president Randy Levine picked a fight with ace reliever Dellin Betances after New York won its arbitration case against the big right hander. Outraged that Betances would ask for $5 million (a fraction of what he would be worth on the open market), Levine called a press conference to denounce Betances’s agents, call his pitcher a “victim” being used by his representatives, and saying that, in the words of Fanrag’s Jon Heyman, “the case for Betances to be paid like an elite closer would be like [Levine] saying ‘I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut.’”
It was as unnecessary as it was mean, essentially kicking an opponent after he’s been beaten and belittling Betances’s skills. And Levine proved again why he is widely derided as one of the biggest boobs in Major League Baseball. He chose to aggrandize himself over the best interests of his team and the feelings of his player.
And if you think that Fowler and Betances didn’t notice the responses they received, you’re wrong. Betances, for instance, told reporters:
"You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes." - Dellin Betances— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 18, 2017
And Fowler doubled down on his comments, reiterating his point and describing his critics as ignorant and sensitive.
So, what’s the point? People are jerks? Hope is lost? Is this how things are in Trump’s America?
I don’t think so.
Because, by and large, people don’t like it when their employers are jerks. They don’t like being condescended to or yelled at by a misguided observers. Ballplayers are no different from you or me in that regard. As Dexter Fowler puts it:
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
Yes, ballplayers are people too. And they talk to one another and pay attention. And while the amount of money being offered to free agents will always play the largest role in determining where players go, happiness is also important. Players have and will go to teams and areas that welcome them and treat them well. Where they don’t have to deal with backbiting, angry mobs, or the occasional death threat. If this continues, there will come a point where teams like the Cardinals and the Yankees will essentially be assessed a meanness tax, or will be priced out of opportunities.
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Increasingly, as the world gets angrier, more vitriolic, and more unpleasant, you’ve got to be kind or, the first chance they get, your players will find a new team who will. Kindness and respect will become commodities.