[An open letter to Baltimore Orioles baseball player, Adam Jones, from Craig Fortier, a member of the Abolition collective.]
Let me disclose to you upfront – I am a die-hard Blue Jays fan – and while it must have been painful for you to see Edwin’s home run clear the fence last night (especially given the work that you did to come back from injuries this season and to push towards the post-season with the Orioles), I was absolutely delighted. But I’m not writing this letter to rub it in or to gloat.
As I’ve followed your career you’ve become one of my favorite players. Not only do you possess an exciting combination of explosive speed and extreme power, but you also relate to people, at least from what I’ve seen through the media and in the relatively few times I’ve seen you when I’ve come to watch the Jays and Orioles play in person, with a dignity and respect that is uncommon. It is uncommon not only for a well-paid baseball player, but for the average person on the street. In these interactions (including after tense spats with the Blue Jays) you have conducted yourself with humility and care.
However, and most importantly in my view, you have been unafraid to speak honestly and openly about issues of racism and social injustice within the game of baseball and in our society in general. I’ve heard you talk about how the percentage of Black baseball players continues to fall in the MLB because of the social conditions and opportunities available in urban communities. I recall the way you related to Black youth in Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray by the police. Once again you recently spoke out about your respect for Colin Kaepernick and the actions that he has taken (as well as so many other professional, college, high school and recreational athletes) to disrupt the narrative that “everything is ok”. You’ve spoken about how the lack of a critical mass of Black players in baseball constricts players’ ability to speak on these issues more publicly – and I see this as taking a stance granted by your respected standing within the game. A responsibility that you have not shied away from. This is why I voted and campaigned (despite the rivalry between the Jays and Orioles – and my personal admiration for Kevin Pillar) for you to be selected as this year’s recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award. And while I am too young to have met Clemente, from listening to his past interviews, I presume he’d have given you strong consideration as well.
And I saw you last night [on Oct. 4th], sticking up for your teammate Hyun Soo Kim, who was almost potentially hurt by an all too common occurrence in professional sports, the belligerence and disregard for safety of those who come to watch you play. There’s no mistake that this type of behavior constitutes a serious workplace safety issue. I’m sure the jerk who threw that beer can would likely not be so happy if someone showed up at his place of work and chucked a beer can at his head while he finished up a spreadsheet, etc. But the tweets that came from the crowd and subsequent media reports about the racist taunts to both yourself and Kim are a responsibility that we collectively bear as fans of the Blue Jays.
While it is true that the single action of one fan does not represent all those who did not throw anything on the field, the culture we create in these venues – a culture filled with toxic misogyny, trans/homophobia and racism – is our collective responsibility. And while the move to “dynamic pricing” by the Blue Jays ownership will work to exclude those of us who don’t have “dynamic paycheques,” there is much we can do in our communities and in our sporting venues to change this. While I know you said that dealing with racist taunts is an expectation of the job, for those of us who see this racism as part of a larger structure that allows people to escape accountability for their actions, we feel called to resist and to work to change this situation. This, as you know, is of life and death importance, given the rate at which young Black people are killed in Canada and the United States by authority figures with impunity.
So I’m not writing to apologize on behalf of some drunk racist jerks. Instead, I’m here to tell you that I see your commitment to struggle and that I will commit in my communities to struggle as well. In recreational baseball leagues, at the bars watching the game, and even in the stadium, I commit to pushing back against this dominant racist, misogynistic, trans/homophobic culture that permeates athletics. But I won’t and don’t do this myself. While we are still small and marginal, we are a growing body politic in the arena of sports at both the recreational and professional level with the goal of transforming these spaces. This sometimes means disagreeing with the players and teams we support on the field (we’ve had discussions in Toronto about John Gibbons comments about “playing wearing dresses” and about issues of violence and assault, including the actions of Jose Reyes and the allegations against last night’s hero Edwin Encarnacion). And this is not to vilify these folks who make their mistakes under the microscope of media scrutiny (the media is often as bad if not worse at perpetuating this culture), but rather it is to turn this back onto us – in our communities – to how we negotiate, transform and resist the cultures that maintain the power structures of our society.
Anyhow, you probably will never actually read this and even if you do it might not mean a lot, but I wanted to thank you regardless – for your commitment to the struggle from where you are positioned in society and in the outfield.
[This letter was initially posted on Craig Fortier’s Facebook page here, on October 5th, 2016. The image is a screencap from an masn Orioles video of a conversation between Adam Jones and Buck Showalter on the importance of Jackie Robinson Day.]