(CNN)Major League Baseball player Ian Desmond is opting out of the truncated 2020 season. Coronavirus concerns factored into his decision, but so did the national reckoning with racism -- something Desmond says needs to happen within the league, too.
MLB's Ian Desmond, in a powerful post about racism and social injustice, opts out of the 2020 season
The Colorado Rockies outfielder, in a lengthy and emotional Instagram post, detailed how he made his decision and how racism impacted his life within the sport and outside of it as a biracial Black man.
Desmond, an 11-year MLB veteran, has played the past three seasons with the Rockies after signing a five-year, $70 million contract.
Desmond said he's been inspired to speak out about his experiences with racism since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. And in his Instagram essay, he outlined just how much of his life has been touched by racism, from his grade school hosting a meeting for White families to tell them Desmond and his sister would be enrolling, to his high school team chanting "White power" ahead of games and now, in his career in the MLB.
"I'm immensely grateful for my career, and for all people who influenced it," he said. "But when I reflect on it, I find myself seeing those same boxes. The golden rules of baseball -- 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 the box."
He's overheard racist, homophobic and sexist jokes in clubhouses. There are very few Black managers, he said, and a low percentage of players are Black. It's a problem in the league that Desmond said he's seen no concerted effort to fix.
By opting out, Desmond forgoes his salary for the season because he's not considered a "high-risk" player, MLB.com's Thomas Harding reported.
"We're fully supportive of Ian and of his family and of the decision they've made," Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said Tuesday. "It's the right decision for them and for him. ... What he put out there was quite heartfelt yesterday."
Desmond will still spend the season on a baseball field -- just a Little League diamond in Sarasota, Florida, where he grew up. He'll work to get the town's youth baseball league "back on track," he said.
"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," he said. "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."
Major League Baseball's rescheduled season will resume on July 23 or 24, league commissioner Rob Manfred said last week. The 2020 regular season never started because of the pandemic, and spring training was cut short.
Now, players are expected to report for training this week, on July 1.
But a few players have opted out of the season, citing health concerns.
Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross will not play, the team confirmed on Monday. Neither will Arizona Diamondbacks right-handed pitcher Mike Leake, according to a statement from his agent. Zimmerman and Leake both said family factored into their decisions.
"A few weeks ago, I told the social media world a little bit about me that I never talk about. I started it by saying why that was: I don't like sadness and anger. I'd found an even keel allowed me to move through my days with more ease than emotion did. So, I kept it inside. But that comes at an internal cost, and I could no longer keep a lid on what I was feeling. The image of officer Derek Chauvin's knee on the neck of George Floyd, the gruesome murder of a Black man in the street at the hands of a police officer, broke my coping mechanism. Suppressing my emotions became impossible.
In the days since I began sharing my thoughts and experiences as a biracial man in America, I've received many requests to elaborate. But, it's hard to know where to begin. And, in truth, there's a lot on my mind. Here's some of it.
Recently, I took a drive to the Little League fields I was basically raised on here in Sarasota.
They're not in great shape. They look run down. Neglected. When I saw a Cal Ripken Little League schedule tacked on a bulletin board, I walked over to check it out, and it was from 2015. The only thing shiny and new, to my eye, was a USSSA banner. Travel ball. Showcases. So, not so much baseball for all anymore... as much as baseball for all who can afford it.
I walked around those fields, deserted at the time, and my mind raced. I stopped at a memorial for a man named Dick Lee; Coast Federal Head Coach and manager, Sarasota Little League, 1973-1985. There was a quote from him on the plaque:
'Many men have cherished some of their greatest moments in life while stopping and taking time to reflect back on the young men they have helped develop, from childhood into manhood, with the ability to carry on in life. In no other activity has man been able to see this growth better than he has in the heart and character of this nation.
'To see our youth grow and develop in the knowledge and skills to play baseball is a reward that only one who has been involved with would know. Baseball not only develops the physical skills of our youth, but develops a person with a knowledge of fair play while always stressing a desire to win.
'That great moment comes when you look at the final product and realize the job done. There's nothing more satisfying when watching these young men than hearing that familiar voice call out "Hi, coach!" transcending that special spirit of pride.'
I know it sounds simple to say, as a Major League Baseball player, that these fields were important in shaping my life. But I don't mean my career.
I read Dick Lee's words, and I stood there and I thought about when I was 10, and my stepfather dropped me off for a baseball tryout. He never came back to get me. Later, as I sobbed alone at the top of the bleachers, a kind stranger offered me a chance to make a phone call to alert my mom.
I thought about the moment, not too long after that, when my coach, John Howard, seeing I was upset about an out or something, wrapped me in an embrace so strong that I can still remember how his arms felt around me. How it felt to be hugged like that; embraced by a man who cared about the way I was feeling.
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.
I went back to those Little League fields because I wanted to figure out why they were thriving the way I remembered. What I came away with was more confusion.
I had the most heartbreak and the most fulfillment right there on those fields -- in the same exact place. I felt the hurt of ra