In January 2018, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora brought a delegation that included team President Sam Kennedy, pitching ace Chris Sale and the mayor of Boston, Martin Walsh, to Puerto Rico.
Four months earlier, Hurricane Maria had devastated the island, killing more people than Hurricane Katrina and the Sept. 11 attack combined, according to a Harvard study. Cora and company brought nearly 10 tons of supplies, including water filtration systems, food, diapers and medical supplies.
After the Red Sox won the World Series, Cora brought the trophy to his home country to inspire a country still struggling more than a year after the storm hit.
Sunday, Cora decided to bring the heat.
“The government has done some things back home that are great, but we still have a long ways to go,” Cora said, as he announced he would not be attending Thursday’s White House celebration of the World Series champion. “That’s our reality. It’s pretty tough to go celebrate when we’re where we’re at. I’d rather not go and be consistent with everything.”
Cora added that many people still lack electricity in their homes, and schools are still in bad shape nearly a year and a half later.
On Monday, a day after Cora spoke about his protest, President Trump added another bizarre chapter to his adversarial relationship with facts. He took to Twitter, seemingly in response to Cora’s comments, attacking Democrats by mischaracterizing the post-Hurricane Maria aid given to Puerto Rico. He wrote that the island had been given $91 billion, “should be very happy,” and — after listing a number of red states he claimed Democrats threatened to punish in retaliation to his response to Puerto Rico — added “Dems don’t want farmers to get any help.”
More than an accounting of long-dispersed funds already in the bank, his $91 billion claim is actually more like an estimated IOU cobbled together across a number of government agencies.
As for the insinuation helping Puerto Rico doesn’t help farmers, farming income on the island grew 25% from 2012-2014 to the tune of $900 million.
In other words, helping Puerto Rico does help American farmers — lest we forget Puerto Ricans are Americans.
Cora is not the first sports figure to skip the traditional White House visit, and almost certainly won’t be the last. But his absence, as well as that of a number of his players, is part of a growing trend since the 2016 election.
Whereas before most players showed up if for no other reason than to respect the office of the presidency, we now see athletes and coaches openly protesting the man in the office, respect be damned. Members of the Golden State Warriors publicly debated not visiting the White House in 2017, leading Trump to tweet (of course) that the invite was withdrawn. In 2018, nearly all of the Philadelphia Eagles players and coaches said they were boycotting the visit in light of Trump’s comments about players protesting during the national anthem. Trump later canceled the visit.
For those who don’t remember, Trump has called black NFL players who were protesting police brutality during the national anthem “sons of bitches.” He said a Latino judge was not capable of doing his job simply because he was Latino. He also said “grab them by the [crotch].”
It’s inconsistent to ask athletes to be respectful of the office when the office is disrespectful to them. And, regardless of one’s political affiliation, it’s hard to imagine any rational adult reading these comments made by Trump and viewing them as respectful toward minorities or women.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not invite Jesse Owens to the White House, and in the lead-up to Brown v Board of Education, President Eisenhower told Chief Justice Earl Warren he could understand why white southerners wanted to make sure “their sweet little girls [are not] required to sit in school alongside some big black buck.” But at least we can acknowledge that flawed mentality was a reflection of American culture. We’re different now, especially in the sports community.
Cora, who has won a World Series as a player, coach and manager, is not going to be blackballed for his overt politics the way onetime Chicago Bulls sharpshooter Craig Hodges was after his visit to the White House in 1992. Hodges showed up wearing a dashiki and equipped with a letter for President George H.W. Bush that read in part:
“The purpose of this note is to speak on behalf of the poor people, Native Americans, homeless and, most specifically, the African Americans, who are not able to come to this great edifice and meet the leader of the nation where they live.
"This letter is not begging for anything, but 300 years of free slave labor has left the African American community destroyed. It is time for a comprehensive plan for change.”
Hodges, who at the time was winner of three consecutive All-Star game three-point shooting contests, was cut soon thereafter and never played in the NBA again.
The abrupt end to his career was the kind of cautionary tale that likely prevented athletes, particularly those of color, from using their platform to direct attention toward social ills and policy shortcomings. But it is undeniable that what began during President Obama’s administration has not waned but grown in strength. We know this because while Colin Kaepernick’s NFL career is essentially over, his popularity has not dissipated. In fact, Nike has monetized his stance.
Professional athletes are no longer content with being used as props to help a president appear more relatable. They are demanding a return on investment, a demand that perhaps comes with consequences. While media attention regarding the controversial visits for the Warriors and Eagles occurred during their respective offseason, the Red Sox are in the early stages of their regular season. The defending champions have a sub-.500 record, and one can’t help but wonder if the White House visit has something to do with team chemistry. Reportedly, 11 players have decided not to go. But Sale is going, as is Kennedy.
“We fully support Alex and respect his decision,” Kennedy told the Boston Herald.
It’s refreshing to see men and women of tremendous influence moving away from being self-serving and returning to behaving selflessly the way icons like Billie Jean King and Muhammad Ali did. The continued suffering of the people of Puerto Rico is back in the news and Cora’s stance is a big reason why.
Cora, who has used his resources to help in the recovery of Puerto Rico, isn’t disrespecting the office of the president by not attending the ceremony. He is holding it accountable. Fortunately, that’s no longer a career killer.