Column: Reaction to Fowler’s comments overblown

Yesterday ESPN’s Mark Saxon, who covers the Cardinals, reported that their new outfielder Dexter Fowler was “not thrilled” with the recent executive order that President Trump issued regarding immigration from seven primarily Muslim countires. This is what Saxon reported:

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler is among the people not thrilled with President Donald Trump’s attempts to institute a travel ban. Fowler’s wife, the former Darya Aliya Baghbani, was born in Iran. Her sister, Fowler said, recently delayed her return from a business trip to Qatar because she did not want to be detained. Also, the Fowlers have discussed traveling with their young daughter to visit his wife’s relatives in Iran, but they feel this is not the right time. “It’s huge. Especially any time you’re not able to see family, it’s unfortunately,” said Fowler. President Trump said last week he plans to issue a new executive order after his first banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries was blocked by the courts.

Of course, the reaction was swift. Any athlete or anyone with any sort of celebrity speaking up on politics creates a negative reaction in general. “Stay out of politics,” and “Stick to baseball,” or something to that effect was a common response on Twitter. Some responses dipping into racist epithets. But what I think is important to note here is that nothing Fowler said was a political stance.

He didn’t criticize President Trump. He didn’t rail against it as bad policy. He didn’t advocate for immigration or Muslims or refugees. He didn’t do any of that. He didn’t even advocate for it to change. He simply shared how President Trump’s executive order impacted him and his family directly and decisions they’ve made a result of it. The day we aren’t willing to listen to the real life experiences of people who are impacted by policy is the day that America is lost.

In my opinion, the majority of the reaction is a projection from poorly written headlines. After all, up to 60% of people admit to only reading headlines, so even seemingly innocuous headlines like “Cardinals outfielder Fowler disappointed with Trump travel ban” like the one at drives conclusions based on the reader’s own bias. For one, they’re likely expecting a much deeper discussion than one direct quote. I certainly was when I went to see what the fuss was about.

But for all the innocuous headlines, trust that there are many more out there that are driven to incite clicks and sway opinion to make Fowler’s comments out to be much more than they are.

I find the hypocritical nature of responses to Fowler’s statement intriguing.

We want our athletes to “stay in their lane” and only talk about their given profession. We don’t want them to express their opinions on anything else, mainly because sports is an escape from reality in many ways for many people. But we don’t place those same restrictions on ourselves.

The people telling Fowler to stay out of politics aren’t politicians. And they aren’t professional athletes either, but I’m sure they still voice opinions on professional sports.

Just like any of us, Fowler has thoughts and opinions, especially about things that have impacted his world directly, as that executive order has. Given Fowler’s follow up comments today, it’s safe to assume that he was asked about the immigration ban specifically because his wife is from Iran, one of the seven countries on the list. But even if he took the conversation there, I have no problem with him speaking up and speaking out.

First, when most of us are discussing a policy like this, we’re talking about it in a conceptual sense. Most of us does not have a direct link to anyone who has or will be affected by such a ban. But Fowler does.

When he says the ban is unfortunate, he is literally talking about his little girl not being able to go see their extended family—great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—because of the issues surrounding this executive order. Whether or not you agree with the immigration ban, if you don’t agree with Dexter that the situation is ‘unfortunate” then the nicest thing I can say to you is, you need to take a deep look at yourself because you’re the problem.

Second, if an athlete can articulately discuss politics on an authentic level, he or she is free to speak out in my book. I don’t care what your day job is. We live in a world of too many inarticulate comments on politics already, we don’t have to scroll very far on Facebook or Twitter to find them. Thoughtful discussion on politics left the building years ago. Just look at the reaction his comments got for evidence.

But for Dexter, this wasn’t politics. This was his life.

Keep talking Dexter.