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Ian Desmond, Baseball, and Living in Someone Else's Home

Illustration for article titled Ian Desmond, Baseball, and Living in Someone Elses Home
Photo: The Rockies’ Ian Desmond posted on Instagram about race, COVID, and his decision to sit out the 2020 MLB season. (Getty Images)

A friend messaged me early this morning about an Instagram thread by Ian Desmond that I had to read.

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“One of the more honest and heartfelt things I’ve ever read from an athlete,” he texted.

It truly was. And if you haven’t seen it, you can read it below.

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These are feelings I know all too well.

The impetus for the thread was Desmond’s anger and frustration over the murder of George Floyd. Desmond admits that voicing opinions on social justice issues aren’t something he’s felt at liberty to do, and that it hasn’t been a part of how he manages his pain.

But this moment was different.

“The image of Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck George Floyd, the gruesome murder of a Black man in the street at the hands of a police officer, broke my coping mechanism,” wrote Desmond. “Suppressing my emotions became impossible.”

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In a wide-ranging stream of emotion and insight, Desmond, who is 34, broke down not just his anger but the way systemic racism affects Blacks individually, the daily macro and microaggressions Blacks experience, like when his white high school teammates would form a circle, put a hand in the center and yell “White Power” before each game, unconcerned not only about the racism behind such a statement, but the fact that two players on the team were Black, “sitting in stunned silence.” All this done right after The Lord’s Prayer.

Desmond addresses the baseball field that he grew up playing on in Sarasota, Fla., now in disrepair, and how expensive travel teams have supplanted community leagues, creating an economic chasm that separates those with means and free weekends, typically white families, from those surviving week-to-week, typically Black and brown families.

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Desmond touched on a number of issues about race in baseball and race in America that hit home for me in particular. Like Desmond, I’m biracial and was also raised by a white mother. So many of his experiences mirrored my own.

Being biracial and attending an all-white high school and a university that was just 2 percent Black among 50,000 students, I heard all the jokes and dismissed them, much as Desmond describes. You become accustomed to letting things slide and ignoring outright racial stereotypes. It’s easier to just ignore them and play along. I was also often asked a question that I never had a subtle answer to: What’s it like to be Black?

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I never faulted the ones who asked me, because I believed they were actually trying to learn something. For them, I was the first Black person they’d had any sort of relationship with, and I felt a responsibility to make sure they felt comfortable when reaching out. Over the years though, I found a way that has best described the experience to white friends in a way that we all can relate to.

I ask folks, “Have you ever lived in someone else’s house for a period of time?” Everyone always says yes. Then I say, “Now imagine you had to live there your entire life.” The first thing I notice is the expression change, which goes from curious to strained in an instant. Then comes the audible “whoa” as the thought of being subject to someone else’s dwelling in perpetuity hits home. It’s like for the first time they can wrap their brain around what it’s like to be a second-class citizen, where you don’t make up the rules, you are subject to them. Where your feelings come second, as do your opinions. Where you have no say, just suggestions.

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Immediately my friends are transposed to that time when they had to live on a friend’s couch or in a spare bedroom. The anxiety, the frustration, the bubbling resentment that compounded daily returns, feelings that need to be suppressed beneath a veneer of acceptance at the risk of appearing ungrateful. Because the last thing you can be is ungrateful. That ungrateful factor is what all Blacks understand when they express displeasure with systemic racism. What comes next is being told, “If you don’t like it here, go back to where you came from.”

That’s the voice of someone comfortable in their own house.

It’s the same when living in someone’s else home. If you don’t like it here, there’s the door.

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Why are cops so willing to use excessive force with Black protestors and not whites? It’s not their house. When it’s your house, your aggression, anger and threats must be tolerated. A perfect example of this can be seen in the Michigan State Capitol when an armed white mob stormed the building. They were not hit with tear gas, or forcibly removed. Their grievances must be tolerated in their residence. The words used to describe such groups are different.

They’re patriots fighting for their homes, not rioters protesting against it.

That’s the perceived difference.

A lot of chronic health issues Blacks experience in America can be attributed, I believe, to this feeling of constant repression of self, such as hypertension and strokes.

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At once, my friends are able, for a brief moment, to understand where the anger and frustration come from, before going back to their lives, their oppression lasting the length of a conversation.

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Desmond touches on these emotions throughout his post. He talks about having to contain his emotions as to the many instances of racism he’s experienced throughout his life. But he also writes about how it’s impacted him in baseball and its “Golden Rules.”

“Don’t have fun, don’t pimp home runs, don’t play with character. Those are white rules. Don’t do anything fancy. Take it down a notch. Keep it all in a box.

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“It’s no coincidence that some of my best years came when I played on Davey Johnson, whose No. 1 line to me was ‘Desi, go out there and express yourself’. If, in other years, I’d just allowed myself to be who I was — to play free and the way I was born to play, would I have been better?

“If we didn’t force Black Americans into white America’s box, think of how much we could thrive.”

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Desmond, whose wife is pregnant with their fifth child, has decided not to play baseball this year, the coronavirus making it too risky a proposition. Instead, he plans to use this time to do something about the dilapidated ballfield he grew up on and make a difference in someone else’s life.

“I’ll be right here at my old Little League,” writes Desmond. “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.

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“So, I am.”

This is his home after all.

Been editing/writing sports for some time, mainly in NYC and a stint in LA.

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