On Athletes and Politics
Twins minor leaguer Reggie Williams caused a stir yesterday when he Tweeted a string of comments about his views on homosexuality. While Williams is far from a high-profile player, his comments managed to attract quite a bit of attention from Twins fans and others on Twitter, a lot of whom strongly disagreed with Williams. The comments have since been deleted, and Williams has Tweeted an apology to anyone he may have offended, but it’s hard to unring a bell when it comes to such a politically charged issue. Williams’s Tweets came just a couple weeks after a much more publicized incident in which Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen made some unfortunate remarks about former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
This article is not about whether Williams and Guillen’s comments were right or wrong, because I am committed to keeping Puckett’s Pond 100% neutral on all political issues. Instead, I would like to offer some advice to Williams, Guillen, and any other Major or minor leaguers who have strong political opinions: it’s probably a good idea to keep them quiet.
I am by no means saying that players do not have the right to hold and express political opinions. They do, and that right is guaranteed under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or in the case of Toronto Blue Jays players, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I’m also not saying that players shouldn’t talk about politics with friends, teammates, and acquaintances. What I’m saying is that if a player expresses those opinions in a public forum, he is almost guaranteed to offend somebody, and that is probably more trouble than it is worth.
Remember the old cliche about never discussing politics and religion? People say that for good reason. The Minnesota Twins is an organization that has no political agenda. The Twins and their minor league affiliates want all fans, regardless of political belief, to buy tickets and merchandise to support the teams. Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party members, Communists, etc; all should feel welcome to cheer for the team, because baseball is inherently apolitical. When players start making their political beliefs known, it could potentially annoy or offend one segment of that fanbase. And that is not good for the team.
Guillen is a succesful manager with a four year contract, so his job is somewhat secure; he can afford to take some chances. But a player like Williams, things are different. Williams hit .234 at Fort Myers last year, so his position with the organization is probably already fairly tenuous. The last thing he should be trying to do is draw attention to himself for anything that is not baseball related. Whether you agree or disagree with his comments, it just is not a smart career move.
After their playing careers are done, it’s a different story. Many athletes have gone on to have successful careers in the political arena. On the Republican side, former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp spent 18 years in the House of Representatives and even became Bob Dole’s Vice Presidential choice in 1996. On the other side of the aisle, quarterback Heath Shuler was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 2006, and he still serves. But by the time they got involved in politics, both Kemp and Shuler were long past worrying about trying to win a roster spot. That’s probably for the best.