(Disclaimer: I’m completely in the tank for Barack Obama. I will vote for Hillary Clinton if I have to; John McCain is the least nutty of an often nutty GOP, and I don’t agree with him one bit on economic or foreign policy.)
Page 2’s Jeff Pearlman wrote his latest column about the political apathy surrounding the 2008 election in baseball clubhouses, using the Texas Rangers as the example — apparently reliever C.J. Wilson is an Obama supporter. Pearlman considers the indifference “inexcusable,” and personally, I find the civic level of participation in these sorts of things problematic, but really, you can understand why ballplayers still in the game would like to stay out of making too much of the political arena.
Baseball is slightly unique in this regard because so many of its players only work in the U.S. and are citizens of other countries, so talking about American politics, in a campaign you ultimately have no say in, might be kind of awkward. Wilson tells Pearlman that education has something to do with it, too — and even those of us who finish college are going to have a hard time wrapping our heads around the nuances of economic and foreign policy. Not everyone can be as committed as, say, the Washington Wizards’ Etan Thomas.
But there are bigger, more fundamental reasons why baseball players and athletes tend to stray from open political discussion.
While a few Rangers profess moderate interest (“Obama’s inspired me,” says outfielder Jason Ellison. “I have a 2-year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in a healthy country”), most merely shrug their shoulders or offer a half-hearted “I’m just focused on playing ball and helping the team win,” when asked about the upcoming election.
In an environment with scribes looking to document every word, the option of espousing phrases from the Crash Davis School of Public Relations is always the most attractive, not only because anything not bland gets blown way out of proportion, but because politics is such a minefield — and fans across the spectrum will jump on you if you happen to let your preferences be too well known. It’s nowhere close to declaring yourself openly gay in the locker room, but it might have a similar effect with certain segments of the fanbase: “God, that guy’s a dick for believing that. He should have kept quiet.” Sure, there are former athletes who become politicians — but very, very few can actually express their politics without some form of casual blowback if they’re still in uniform (Curt Schilling is a very good example of someone who can get away with it — political conservatives are able to be a bit more free about it. Carlos Delgado, as a Puerto Rican, is a U.S. citizen — and he caught a hell of a lot of shit for sitting down for the national anthem as a protest statement a while back.)
There’s obviously money involved too: the bigger names don’t want to offend potential sponsors and such, but when all you have been trained to do is to excel in a sport from a very young age, it’s hard to find the time to have a political opinion and interest when you’re going to make well above a certain pay level for your career. And if your station as an athlete verges on the notable up to the star quality, you’re better off keeping your preferences, if you have any, to yourself until you retire.