Most of us know Ian Desmond simply as an MLB veteran who continually feasts on the San Francisco Giants. In 84 career games against the Giants, Desmond has strung together a slash line of .304/.348/.505, resulting in an .853 OPS that’s more than .110 points above his career mark.
Now he’ll be known for so much more. On Monday, in a long and powerful statement on Instagram, Desmond — currently a member of the Colorado Rockies — announced that he would be opting out of the upcoming coronavirus-shortened MLB season.
Desmond touched on his decision, on MLB’s xenophobic tendencies, on systemic oppression and overt racism in America, on privilege and inequality for our youth, and on his experiences growing up in the country.
I won’t paste his entire statement, which you can click through in the Instagram post, but I’ll post a few passages.
On thinking about unequal opportunity for children, while visiting the Little League fields he played on:
Then, another memory hit me: my high school teammates chanting “White Power!” before games. We would say the Lord’s prayer and put our hands in the middle so all the white kids could yell it. Two Black kids on the whole team sitting in a stunned silence the white players didn’t seem to notice. I started to walk the fields a bit, and that’s when I thought of Antwuan.
These fields are where I learned a game that I’ve played 1,478 times at the Major League level. It started when I was 10, 11, 12 years old — exactly how old Antwuan was (12) when I met him at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in D.C.
He couldn’t read. He could barely say his ABCs. One morning, when his mom was shuffling Antwuan and his siblings off to their aunt’s house at 4 a.m. so she could get to work, they opened their door to a man stabbed to death on the ground. So, no sleep, traumatized by murder literally outside their door, eating who knows what for lunch, they head off to school. And they’re expected to perform in a classroom?
Meanwhile, my kids fly all over the country watching their dad play. They attend private schools, and get extra curriculum from learning centers. They have safe places to learn, grow, develop. But... the only thing dividing us from Antwuan is money.
It just doesn’t make any sense. Why isn’t society’s No. 1 priority giving all kids the best education possible? If we seriously want to see change, isn’t education where it all starts? Give all kids a safe place to go for eight hours a day. Where their teachers or coaches are happy to see them. Where they feel supported and loved...
...But if we don’t have these parks, academies, teachers, coaches, religious institutions — if we don’t have communities investing in people’s lives — what happens to the kids who are just heartbroken and never get that moment of fulfillment? ...
... Antwuan was 12 years old when he started going to the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy — because that’s when it started existing in his universe as a resource. We got him a tutor, he got into other programs, and he learned to read. He was on the right track.
He died when he was 18, shot 31 times in D.C. A 16-year-old kid was just arrested for his murder.
It’s almost safe to say that the best years of his life came from that Academy... and yet the staff running it have to beg people to invest time and money.
On baseball’s problematic and prejudiced culture
Think about it: right now in baseball we’ve got a labor war. We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African Americam GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.
Perhaps most disheartening of all is a puzzling lack of focus on understanding how to change those numbers. A lack of focus on making baseball accessible and possible for all kids, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it.
If baseball is America’s pastime, maybe it’s never been a more fitting one than now.
On why he’s sitting out of the season
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this baseball season one that is a risk I am not comfortable taking. But that doesn’t mean I’m leaving baseball behind for the year. I’ll be right here, at my old Little League, and I’m working with everyone involved to make sure we get Sarasota Youth Baseball back on track. It’s what I can do, in the scheme of so much. So, I am.
With a pregnant wife and four young children who have lots of questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now. Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to guide. Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about Coronavirus and Civil Rights and life. Home to be their Dad.
Well, that’s certainly a powerful and incredible statement. The Rockies responded to it on Tuesday, supporting and applauding their player.
Thoughtful. Passionate. Teammate. Husband. Father.— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) June 30, 2020
Ian, we support you in your decision and know your family loves you for it. Stay home, stay safe, be well. pic.twitter.com/xWwaLaayNq
Way to go, Ian. May we all take note, and follow his lead in whatever ways we can.