Max Kepler and the Cost of Silence
Image courtesy of Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY SportsOur city, and many cities around the nation, have been thrown into turmoil. Long-brewing tensions are at a boiling point in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, less than five miles away from Target Field.
I was heartened to see Twins manager Rocco Baldelli speak up immediately, tweeting last Wednesday, "George Floyd should be breathing right now. We have a lot of progress to make. A lot. Remember his name. Remember what happened."
Over the weekend, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton shared a heartfelt message on Instagram, accompanied by the image of a memorial for George Floyd. "It’s unbearable to even think about what’s happening in our city and throughout the country, but things have to CHANGE," Buxton pleaded. "African Americans have been slaughtered left and right for nothing more than the color of our skin. That is reality and it has been ignored far too long."
I can't help but wonder how Buxton feels about seeing the comparatively tone-deaf remarks from Kepler, who has long played alongside him in the Twins outfield.
To recap the events that went down: On Thursday, Kepler shared a picture on Instagram of himself wearing a "Blue Lives Matter" face mask he'd received from some company. Evidently, he got a rush of negative feedback because he quickly deleted the post, adding a follow-up: "wasn't aware of what the mask supported. still not into politics," along with a peace sign emoji.
Now, let me preface what I'm going to say here by being as clear as possible: I don't think Kepler had any malicious intent. Based on every interaction I've had with him, and every story I've heard from others, he's a genuinely good-hearted person. I can certainly believe he was unaware of what the mask represented, given the cultural disconnect from growing up in Germany. And I believe he means what he wrote in a later message: "Racism has no place in our world and I do not in any way support the actions that we all witnessed that led to George Floyd’s passing.”
But Max being a good person and actively choosing to stay silent is exactly the problem. What really grinds on me is that first follow-up message. "Not into politics [peace sign]." This is the attitude that has gotten our society to this point: comfortable white people choosing to excuse themselves from the conversation, because it doesn't affect them personally. While I know he didn't intend it as such, Kepler's comments come as a slap in the face to a grieving and enraged community where he's supposed to be a leader.
To paraphrase CNN's Chris Cuomo, what's happening right now isn't a political issue. It's a humanity issue. People like Buxton don't have the luxury of categorizing systemic injustice as "politics" and that's why Kepler's remarks, shared while the city of Minneapolis literally burned, landed with a total lack of empathy.
If Kepler wants to stand on the sidelines, defining himself simply as a ballplayer while rejecting any personal stake in the situation, that is his prerogative. But it's precisely what perpetuates a lack of change that is destroying us.
We live in a world now where the lines are blurred; Kepler and the Twins aren't playing baseball due to a global health crisis that has sadly been framed as "political" by some, but is much more fundamental to our civilization and society in general. What we now face here in Minnesota, and across America, is much the same.
I don't know if Kepler will receive this message. But I know, based on the demographics, that our site's audience is predominately white, and relatively affluent. We are the voices needed most in this fight. I say this not to be judgmental, or to point fingers – I myself recognize a serious need to be more outspoken and active in my support and advocacy. Writing this article, despite the backlash it will inevitably receive, is a small step toward that end.
Max: if you want the peace sign you included in your message to be anything more than a meaningless platitude, copping out with a "not into politics" comment is not an option. This isn't politics. This is life. This is the city YOU represent. Take a cue from your manager, who is again showing himself to be a true leader.
We need to confront these issues seriously, not obscure them behind images of a dog fetching a tennis ball. These aren't happy or carefree times. Acting like they are will only make your fanbase lose touch with you. This is coming from one fan who already feels like he has.
We're leaving the comments open on this post. We welcome a respectful and productive conversation around this vital topic. But we also need to look out for our overburdened moderators. If people can't keep things respectful, comments will be shut down.
Thanks for hearing me out y'all.
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