We hear it all the time: An athlete breaks a team rule – misses a meeting, breaks a curfew – and they’re suspended. “Shouldn’t have done that,” the coach says. “You hurt the rest of your team.”
In Game 3 of the World Series, cameras caught Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel making a racist gesture and uttering a racial slur. Whether his intent was malicious or not isn’t the issue. It was offensive to many. It was inappropriate. As baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said, “There is no place in our game for the behavior or any behavior like the behavior we witnessed last night.”
But then Manfred suspended Gurriel for five games NEXT season. Not now. Not when the games mean the most. A spineless move to make sure the competitive integrity of the World Series wasn’t hampered by a lack of social integrity by one of its competitors.
Manfred justified it, saying “I felt it was unfair to punish the other 24 players on the Astros roster. I wanted the burden of this discipline to fall primarily on the wrongdoer.”
That’s where Manfred is wrong. A fundamental part of playing team sports is being beholden to your teammates. Irresponsibility of one affects the whole.
Some argue if Manfred had levied a World Series suspension, the appeals process would’ve moved the suspension to next year anyway – and an immediate hearing would’ve overshadowed the entire series. But I think the optics looked worse this way: Major League Baseball talking tough, then backing it up with a gutless penalty. Officially levying a one-game suspension in the World Series would’ve sent a much stronger statement than a five-game suspension during the regular season next year.
It’s also important to note that twice this year, players were suspended for using homophobic slurs, but the Blue Jays’ Kevin Pillar was actually suspended by his own organization.
That means there was also precedent for the Astros to get ahead of the commissioner and impose a suspension as well.
Instead, they waited for Manfred, and then committed to donate Gurriel’s salary for those five games to charity. So a symbolic act down the road is fine, as long as we don’t sacrifice an immediate championship opportunity, right? Because racism or bigotry or anything having to do with respecting fellow humans is important, but technically, we can wait until next year...?
That’s what it really comes down to: Respect. Respecting teammates and respecting your opponent.
And while I understand we live in a world where the push for political correctness can be over the top at times, the issue isn’t whether you or I were actually offended.
It’s that Gurriel picked one of the most long-lasting, low-hanging fruit of a stereotype to mock, and he did so on the biggest stage and under the biggest spotlight.
That the punishment will be imposed months from now, away from that stage, and away from the spotlight is a joke.