How a Donald Trump tweet controversy inspired pro softball players to speak out and form a new team

·5 min read

The Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team based in Texas, walked into the locker room Monday with no idea what was waiting for them. All of their phones were bombarded with text messages asking similar questions. “Have you seen this?” “Are you OK with this?” “What happened?”

Hours earlier, team general manager Connie May tweeted out a photo of the team’s players lined up for the national anthem. May tagged President Donald Trump in the tweet, making sure to let him know the picture featured, “Everyone respecting the FLAG!” The tweet was eventually deleted.

The players — many of whom will represent the United States in the Tokyo Olympics next year — were furious. They felt as though their voices were taken away, and that they were used to make a political statement that they didn’t support. In the ultimate move of solidarity, the entire team, its coaches and some staff members vowed to never play for the Scrap Yard Dawgs again.

The players may have left the Scrap Yard Dawgs behind, but had no intention of walking away from softball, especially after what happened. So they did the next best thing: They started their own team.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, athletes have banded together to use their platform to enact change within their sport. NFL players and employees got commissioner Roger Goodell to say “Black Lives Matter,” and allow sideline protests after years of discouraging that behavior. The University of Cincinnati said it would remove Marge Schott’s name from its baseball stadium after athletes spoke up. This was professional softball’s moment.

On Friday, the former members of the Scrap Yard Dawgs started This Is Us Softball. It’s the same roster and coaches that made up the Scrap Yard Dawgs, but with a much different message.

“It’s really the same team, we’re just dropping the Scrap Yard portion of it because we no longer want to represent the organization after how we were treated,” outfielder Haylie McCleney told Yahoo Sports. “So we’re going to continue to play for the awareness, the empowerment and the unity.”

The players explained how they intend to uphold those values in a video released Friday. The video features players from This Is Us explaining exactly what their new team is all about.

Leaving the Scrap Yard Dawgs behind was the obvious choice. May attempted to explain the tweet in the locker room following the game, saying she believed it showed the team was unified. Some members of the team thought the apology was tone-deaf.

Pitcher Cat Osterman was one of the first players to declare she was done with the team, as was Kiki Stokes — the team’s first-ever draft pick. Stokes was one of the two Black players on the roster, along with Kelsey Stewart. The entire team followed after that.

“It wasn’t really a question,” says Stewart. “No one questioned the decision. I believe Cat was one of the first people to say it, and then after that, everyone was like, ‘You go, I go,’ and then everyone obviously supports Kiki Stokes and myself.”

May attempted to apologize over the phone, but that only made things worse. At one point during the call, May apologized and then used the phrase “all lives matter.” That let the players know she wasn’t listening to their concerns.

“I was on the call,” says Stewart. “And she was apologizing and she kept saying, ‘But my heart was in a good place.’ She went as far as to apologize and then say ‘all lives matter,’ At that point, people were like, she’s really not understanding what we’re trying to say.”

McCleney says she heard May used the phrase, “I’m sorry, but …” numerous times during the call. McCleney says players felt there was “no genuineness” in May’s apology. McCleney adds she’s disappointed May hasn’t made a public statement on the matter.

The players’ biggest public statement came Friday. With the creation of This Is Us, the players declared they weren’t going to stay silent. They wanted to use their platforms to make a change.

“Not just in the softball community but in this country,” says McCleney.

Multiple companies reached out to the team to help secure funding and equipment. The USSSA Pride, the team the Scrap Yard Dawgs played against Monday, also offered their full support to the players, coaches and staff that left the organization. The Pride — who were set to play a seven-game series against the Scrap Yard Dawgs during the summer — condemned May’s tweet publicly, and postponed games as a show of solidarity after what happened Monday.

“The Pride is 100 percent behind us,” says Stewart. “They support everything we’re doing.”

By starting This Is Us, both McCleney and Stewart hope meaningful conversations about racism can take place. McCleney urges people to listen to Black voices, saying, “If our GM was listening to Black voices, she would have known that that tweet was unacceptable.”

Stewart believes those conversations are necessary for people to change their minds.

“It’s time to open our hearts and minds and really acknowledge the situation, acknowledge that racism is real and be part of that change,” she says. “Have those hard conversations and don’t be afraid to change your mind after you learn new information.”

For Stewart, one of the most discouraging side effects from Monday’s tweet is the number of young girls who have told Stewart they no longer feel like playing softball. Stewart wants them to know she — and the rest of This Is Us — is fighting for them.

“We are here to protect you at all costs. And we’re going through this now so you don’t have to go through this,” she says. “Keep swinging, keep playing catch and we’ll protect you the whole way.”

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