Will the “cival war” umpire lose his job?

“The head of Major League Baseball has said the organisation is investigating a tweet from an umpire that threatened civil war if US President Donald Trump was impeached,” BBC reported a few days ago. (Story: here)

Other news outlets also picked up the story about Rob Drake, 50, who has been a big league umpire since 2010. He allegedly tweeted,

   “I will be buying an AR-15 tomorrow, because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020”

   “I’m going to learn from this. Once I read what I had tweeted I realized the violence in those words … I know I cannot unsay the words, but please accept my apologies.”
   The umpires union, which would be responsible for representing him in any disciplinary proceedings, only said “He chose the wrong way to convey his opinion about our great country.” (Source: here)
   Okay. We know the league intends to do something about it. Otherwise, why conduct an investigation? The question is, what will, or should, they do?
   Let’s dissect this. First of all, the time to edit your comments is before you post them, because once they’re out there, they’re out there forever. Sure, it’s a little star in his favor that he’s sorry afterward — remorse counts for something. But does anyone believe he didn’t “realize the violence” in those words before he tweeted them? He’d have to be illiterate. (Hm. When you look at how he spelled “civil war,” there might be an argument for the defense there.)
   Also, when people get blowback for what they did and say they’re sorry, what it usually means is they’re sorrier about getting the blowback than about what they did; that’s just human nature.
   Now let’s put this episode in context. This would matter a lot less if the author of this tweet was some stupid kid working in a fast food joint. But major league baseball is a public relations-sensitive business, and at least some fans might feel this remark was directed against them. (See, e.g., this video for evidence this might be so.) Would you attend a ballgame if you knew one of the umpires on the field threatened to kill you because he disagrees with your political views?
   Players, managers, and umpires are human, and I don’t think anyone would argue they can’t have opinions on politics and other subjects. But it should go without saying they shouldn’t mix politics and sports, for reasons that should be obvious to the readers of this piece.
   Occupational restrictions on expressing personal opinions isn’t unique to those employed in sports. It applies to other occupations, too. For example, you have every right to be a racist, but you have no right to be a cop, and it’s not reasonable to expect a police officer with racist beliefs to leave those beliefs in his locker when he dons his uniform, badge, and gun. Bottom line, I don’t want my local police department employing racist cops. That same reasoning, with modification, applies to working for a sports league, too. Especially if the job position involves officiating, which requires impartiality and steady temperament, and the ability to earn the trust of players, managers, and fans.
   I don’t think MLB can or will let this incident pass; that would send the wrong message. Even his union acknowledged his conduct was “wrong.” Although Drake has apologized, and appears to be remorseful, I think some sort of disciplinary action is likely. So then the question becomes what the discipline should be. The possibilities are reprimand, suspension, or termination.
   In weighing that, we must return to context. These are tense times in our country, with a highly charged political atmosphere, and it might not take much to touch off political violence. In that respect, what Drake did is somewhat like lighting matches in a dry forest. Even if the forest doesn’t burn down, that’s a punishable act. If the forest does burn down, the punishment is more severe, that’s all.
   Intent also plays a role in determining punishment. Did Drake really intend to start a civil war? Almost certainly not, although MLB’s investigators probably should look into whether he did go out and buy an AR-15 the next day or shortly thereafter, as this would be evidence of whether he was just blowing off steam or planned to follow through on his threats.
   Assuming he’s just a big mouth plugged into a small brain, we still can’t ignore the fact he’s a public figure,  a role model for the countless kids who dream of growing up to become ballplayers, umpires, or managers, and a potential source of inspiration to spur other people to action. See, for example, the Christchurch shooter, who was inspired by (among others) Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 75 people, mostly children. (Source: here) Also, the Comet Pizza gunman was inspired by the words of others; in his case, from social media. (Source: here)
   Drake’s tweet is considered social media, and he knew it would be seen by an unknown number of strangers who might pose an unknown degree of risk if encouraged or goaded into committing acts of political violence.
   Of course, Drake didn’t cause the political polarization that now exists in our country and the heightened risk of political violence it brings. The principle offender in that respect is Trump himself. But again, even though Drake didn’t cause the dry forest, he’s the guy holding the matchbook. Or one of the guys holding matchbooks.
   Still, taking everything into account — the forest didn’t burn down, his motivation was stupid rather than evil, and he apologized and appears remorseful — I don’t think the case merits the maximum penalty, but a reprimand doesn’t seem sufficient. The middle ground — a suspension without pay — probably is where MLB should, and I think will, come down. In this respect, this article about recent comments by Obama is timely and relevant. How long a suspension is for MLB to determine. Maybe bar him from spring training and for a portion of the season, plus slap him with a hefty fine.
   I think MLB needs to demonstrate that such conduct by its employees, on or off the playing field, won’t be tolerated and send a clear message that there’s no place for it in professional sports. I can think of an NBA team owner who was banned for life, fined $2.5 million, and compelled to sell his team for private racist remarks that later became public. (Source: here) If that’s an indication of how sensitive professional sports leagues are to bad behavior within their sports community, then Drake may be lucky to get off with only a suspension and fine, and MLB may in fact terminate his employment. We’ll see what they do.
Photo: Is umpire Rob Drake on his way out? (Photo credit: USA Today)

1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Mark Adams #

    MLB should support free speech.

    Billy Martin is chuckling somewhere,

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