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Pro-Softball Players Quit Over General Manager's Politicized Tweet

Jun 28, 2020
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to continue with the subject of athletes and activism. At this point, it seems reasonable to assume that everybody is well aware of the debate over standing versus kneeling for the national anthem before professional sports games. It seems almost every sport has had its own reckoning.

Last week, softball was in the spotlight, and not because anybody broke ranks and knelt but because the general manager of the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team, tweeted a picture of the players standing at President Trump from the organization's official Twitter account. The last portion of the tweet under the picture read, quote, "everyone respecting the FLAG!" with flag in all caps and an exclamation mark.

That was on Monday night. The players were standing for the national anthem before the first game of what was supposed to be a seven-game series, the first for professional softball since the pandemic began. But that series would not continue. After the game, when the team was alerted to the tweet, every single player walked away from the organization.

Joining us now to tell us more is Kiki Stokes. She is a catcher and outfielder and was the first draft pick for the Scrap Yard Dawgs when the team formed in 2016.

Kiki Stokes, welcome. Thanks so much for talking to us.

KIKI STOKES: Yes. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So I understand that this tweet was posted while you were out playing your first game since the beginning of the pandemic. So when did you see it, and what was your reaction when you first saw it?

STOKES: Yeah. So we had just gone into the locker room. And I had kind of noticed out of the corner of my eye our media director was, you know, kind of upset. And I didn't really know what was going on and kind of just tried to give her her space. And so I sat down at my locker, and I picked up my phone, and the first thing that I had saw was a screenshot from Kelsey Stewart, one of my teammates. And it was the tweet that our general manager had put out. And my immediate reaction was just, you know, what the heck? Like, we were blindsided.

About 10 minutes into everybody being back into the locker room, the emotions kind of started to be felt. Myself - I was the only Black athlete in the room, and so for me, I was just feeling almost, like, betrayed.

I had - I've been with the organization, you know, for five years, and the fact that COVID had, you know, stumped everybody, and this was the first time that we were out there and had hoped to be able to play, and the fact that now all of the attention was on this one thing was, like, really disheartening for me as well as my teammates. And so in the moment, you know, we're all just raging - you know, just furious at what's going on.

MARTIN: Well, could you just talk more about what those feelings were? Did you - like, you felt like you were being used to make a political point without your permission. Was it...

STOKES: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...Like you felt like you were being used to make a racial - like, some racial overtones? Like, just describe...

STOKES: Yes.

MARTIN: ...What it was that you were feeling.

STOKES: I think the first and the biggest one was that we were spoken for. This was coming from - it wasn't like it had came from our general manager's personal account. It had came from the organization's account. So the fact that we were all being spoken for - it felt like we were being used as, like, political pawns for her own agenda. And so I think that was where the anger started - is just that we didn't even have a voice in this. And it's not like we even talked about it prior to the game, whether we were going to stand or kneel as a team.

MARTIN: So Connie May, the general manager of the Scrap Yard organization who was responsible for this - I gather she heard that there was a reaction in the locker room. And did she come in to talk to you about it? How did that go?

STOKES: Yes. So after we had talked as a team - one of the coolest parts was, you know, everybody in the locker room was, like, you know, Kiki, what do you want to do? And for me, I didn't want to play. I knew that I couldn't play for an organization that would do something like that. And so for me, it was very - it was a very easy decision, very clear to me that I had to walk away.

And then so as she came into the locker room, the first thing that she tried to do was justify what she had said. And it didn't feel like there was any, you know, apology. There was nothing. She just had started the conversation with, I personally believe that all lives matter. And at that point for me, that was when I started packing my bags because I realized in that moment that she did not understand what the rest of us understood.

And she also mentioned being uncomfortable in that situation. And for me, that was another red flag. I'm just, like, here I am really, really upset and the only Black person in the room. And to hear that you're uncomfortable just kind of goes to show me that, like, you have no empathy towards me and how I might feel right now.

So I had left the locker room at that point. And I don't really know what was said after I left the locker room. I mean, it was only a minute, maybe two minutes after I had walked out, that everybody else started walking out of the room. So I don't think the conversation went very far after I left the locker room.

MARTIN: I do want to ask you about one thing. I mean, this whole thing started because all the players - well, it didn't - who knows why it all started, right? I mean, who knows why she felt the need to tweet directly at the president, who's made such an issue of this, who's been so demeaning to players who have expressed themselves by kneeling.

But her specific point was, all - look, all these players are standing. I was wondering about that. Was that - was standing a conscious decision on your part? Was that something that all of you or you in particular had thought about in advance? Or was it just habit to stand?

STOKES: I think it was just, like, a habit. Like, you know, you come to game day, and you just - you do it. I don't think it was even a thought for me whether to kneel or stand. However, I think I was just also wrapped in the moment of we get to play softball again.

MARTIN: So on Monday night, you all walked out. And then last night, you all had the opportunity to play again as a team with new jerseys and a new name, This Is Us, which is quite moving, I have to say. How did all this happen? I mean, how did that all come about, and so quickly?

STOKES: Yeah. I mean, the last week has been very overwhelming for all of us - the fact that we don't have a general manager, we don't have somebody overseeing any of the things that we are doing other than our head coach and the assistants - it's just us. And so honestly, every single day we had meetings upon meetings upon meetings about, what do we want this to be? What is our statement? What do we want this to look like?

In five days, I mean, we figured out a way to have jerseys, figured out a way to have a statement. So we got to play last night, and it was - it's one of my proudest moments if not my proudest moment. It was an awesome night.

MARTIN: That was Kiki Stokes. She is a catcher and outfielder for the new This Is Us softball team.

Kiki Stokes, thanks so much for joining us.

STOKES: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: We should note that we reached out to the Scrap Yard organization for a comment or a response, but we have not as of yet received any response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.