Editor’s Note: The Rays organization was delayed in comparison to their peers on releasing a statement in solidarity with the George Floyd protests, but have since released the strongest message of support across organized sports, including pledged funds and a statement of solidarity with both the protests and the Black Lives Matter movements. Accordingly, the headline of this article has been updated.
The Tampa Bay Rays silence over the past weekend has been unacceptable.
The global conversation over the past week has centered around the murder of George Floyd, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and the failed criminal justice system of the United States; conversations that can be difficult to have.
But for the Rays organization, for all but one major league player to choose silence in this moment is a dereliction of duty.
The Rays have a major platform and consider their organization to be community leaders when it comes to progressive issues like domestic violence and LGBT rights. And yet, at a time of great upheaval in the United States over racial oppression, the team has been silent.
The Rays team twitter account has over half a million followers; their Instagram account has more than a quarter of a million followers. They have a platform, and in the past they have used it to lead.
Perhaps Rays upper management is just dragging its heels the way large organizations often do, or — more darkly — perhaps silence is what happens when there is no representation. The team did just trade away its only major league player who had the experience of growing up Black in America. Either way, shamefully, there appears to be no sense of urgency to respond to this cultural moment.
Regardless of the Rays’ public face via its active roster construction, the organization should still feel a sense of responsibility. Protests in St. Petersburg are taking place just blocks from Tropicana Field. The city in which the team plays is 22.6% Black, and the neighboring Tampa is 24.2%. There are African-Americans working in the Rays front office, including near the highest levels. This is a relevant issue for the team and local community, and being a leader means making a stand.
And in this moment, when so many — in particular our Black neighbors — are in such pain, to stay silent is itself a statement.
This Desmond Tutu quotation lays it out plainly:
We have an oppressive and racist policing system in place in the United States. If you are unaware of this, now is the time to become aware. Learn the story of Emmett Till and Black Wall Street. Read The New Jim Crow. Do those things in that order as a means of realizing that this is not a problem from generations past, but a problem at our front door step. Realize that every single one of us feeds into that system every day.
It is the coward’s way out to have the privilege to make a stand but instead ignore it and choose presumed neutrality. This is what allows a corrupt system to remain in place, and it is wrong.
“There is no neutrality in the racism struggle,” writes author Ibram X. Kendi. “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
Major League Baseball goes out of the way to pat itself on the back every chance it gets for the impact Jackie Robinson had on society — and they should. It was a momentous moment in the history of this country. But the sport needs to continue on that track, rather than recycling it whenever it is convenient.
On the player side, there has been only one tweet thus far from any Rays player acknowledging the ongoing crisis:
On Instagram, three players shared corporate solidarity videos from their aligned brands to the temporary Stories feature — Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe shared an “equality” post from Under Armour, Daniel Robertson a video from Nike denouncing racism — but no posts to permanent Instagram feeds directly spoke out against the racial injustice embedded in our society.
Injustices that have existed forever but, thanks in part to social media, have been put under a more intense spotlight.
MLB itself, like the Rays organization, has also been silent, but some individual teams have done the right thing: Minnesota (at the epicenter of this crisis), San Francisco, Oakland, Toronto, Arizona, Miami, Houston, and the New York Mets have each posted on social media in opposition to racism in this country, although none have stood in opposition to police brutality like many NBA teams. Across the Atlantic, some teams have seen their entire roster of players respond in unity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s shameful the Rays have not followed suit with the bare minimum.
To be clear: This is not a call for the Rays to retweet police violence, nor is it asking the organization to take a political stance on either side of the aisle, but we do need to see something — and not just in the form of a banal Hallmark card about about how we are all humans and all we need is peace and love.
The Rays, as an organization, and the Rays players themselves need to take a stand.
To be honest, it’s a disgrace it hasn’t happened yet.
For those interested in helping out, here’s a link to resources to help protesters nationally.
Resources in the Tampa/St. Pete area (we’ll add if we hear of others):
You can support Black-owned businesses in the area, and this article provides a ton of links.
And don’t forget that many in our community are struggling with health concerns and loss of income. Pinellas Community Foundation and Feeding Tampa Bay are among the organizations providing direct aid to those in need.