News & Politics

Nationals Pitcher Speaks Out Against Charlottesville Rally and Trump’s Response

Most baseball players avoid talking politics in public. Nationals closer Sean Doolittle didn't hesitate after Charlottesville.

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Unlike their counterparts in the NBA and NFL, Major League Baseball players aren’t known for chiming up on politics and current events off the field. But that’s not the case—at least for the Washington Nationals—in light of the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left one counter-protester dead after a member of a racist group allegedly rammed a crowd of people with his car.

Relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, whom the Nationals acquired in a trade last month, broke baseball’s usual code of apolitical silence and shared his revulsion of the events in Charlottesville. In a string of tweets, Doolittle—who attended the University of Virginia before going pro—condemned the white-supremacist demonstration as well as President Trump’s initial response rebuking protesters “on all sides.”

Doolittle, who has eight saves in 12 appearances with Washington, also addressed the events in Charlottesville before the Nationals’ 2-1 win over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday. “It’s past the point of hearing what they have to say, spreading this kind of hatred,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “Saying, ‘You will not replace us.’…You aren’t the ones at the risk of being quote-unquote replaced by some of this administration’s policies. And it’s just white fear. It’s the worst kind of hatred. It’s disgusting.”

Doolittle says he’s an independent and has tweeted that he’s tried to refrain from getting political since his trade to DC. Regardless, he did build up a bit of a progressive reputation during his five-and-a-half seasons with the Oakland Athletics. In 2015, he and his fiancée, Eireann Dolan, hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for refugee families from Syria. Last October, Doolittle was also among the professional athletes who blasted Trump’s explanation that his 2005 comments bragging about sexual assault were “locker-room talk.”

Doolittle’s response to what happened in Charlottesville is undoubtedly due in part to his days as a student athlete there. But his blunt, unvarnished reaction also sticks out because it goes against MLB’s institutional reputation for avoiding political talk at all costs. Compare that with the NBA, where players and coaches have routinely spoken up against the Trump Administration’s actions and actively participated in social movements like Black Lives Matter.

Baseball—in both the clubhouses and stands—is whiter and more suburban and rural than most other pro sports. But its attempts to stay away from politics also comes from the front offices. There are no official MLB policies against players, managers, and coaches from making their positions public, but there’s definitely some discouragement. In February, as players reported for spring training, ESPN reported that several teams, including the New York Yankees, were advising their squads to steer clear of partisanship at a time when everything has the potential to be politicized. Doolittle, to his credit, has not heeded that message.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.