The New York Yankees have been at the forefront of the Green-Sports world for more than a decade. They became the first professional sports organization in North America to sign on to the U.N.’s Sports for Climate Action Framework early last year.
That is the biggest reason why this lifelong fan of the Bronx Bombers was disgusted upon hearing Donald Trump — the worst environmental President by far (and that’s saying something) — announce that he was invited by team President Randy Levine to throw out the first pitch at a game at Yankee Stadium on August 15.
From a “My Favorite Sports Teams are Embarrassments Off The Field” perspective, this has not been a good last 48 hours for yours truly.
On Wednesday, a variety of news reports revealed that Woody Johnson, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, lobbied counterparts in the British and Scottish governments to award future Open Championships (aka the British Open) to Turnberry and/or other golf courses owned by The Trump Organization. Those same stories also detailed alleged racist and sexist statements by Johnson, the co-owner, along with his brother Christoper, of my New York Jets.
To be fair, it is often the case that the Jets are also an embarrassment on the field. That’s a topic for a different day, a different blog.
But that story, pathetic if not surprising, pales in comparison to yesterday’s announcement by the President during a White House coronavirus press conference that he will be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before a game at Yankee Stadium on August 15 at the invitation of team President Randy Levine.
“Randy Levine’s a great friend of mine from the Yankees” Trump said. “He asked me to throw out the first pitch. And I think I’m doing that on August 15 at Yankee Stadium. And I said, ‘How’s the crowd going to be?’ And, it’s like, ‘You don’t have a crowd. There’s no such thing.’ It’s gonna be interesting.”
The announcement came about an hour before the Yankees and the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals opened the 2020 MLB season a stone’s throw from the White House.
And, per Kirstie Ackert, writing in Friday’s New York Daily News, “Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also announced before Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, was to throw out the first pitch before that game. Trump has publicly doubted and downplayed Fauci’s expertise after the doctor has repeatedly sounded the alarm about about the virus while the administration has focused on restarting the economy.”
The Yankees have not, as of this writing, confirmed that President Trump will be throwing out the first pitch at the Saturday night game versus the rival Boston Red Sox.
But, assuming the President does end up going to the mound at Yankee Stadium that night, it will be a black mark for an organization that has led the way on Green-Sports since they moved into the current Yankee Stadium in 2009.
Just last year, the Yankees became the first major North American sports team to sign on to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework. Launched by UN Climate Change in December, a crucial tenet of the Framework is to bring the sports industry’s greenhouse emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and inspire others to take ambitious climate action.
Yet Yankees management appears to be giving President Trump — who announced he was pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017 — a much-needed PR boost during a period when his poll numbers, both nationally and in key swing states, have slipped badly.
Why are the Yankees doing this?
Perhaps it’s the “We Respect The Office of the Presidency” line of thinking.
After all, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, has been seen watching games from the owners’ box several times at Yankee Stadium. His Republican successor, George W. Bush, famously threw a strike from the mound on an October 2001 night before the first World Series game at the Cathedral of Baseball after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. And the team visited with President Obama at the White House to celebrate their 2009 World Series Championship.
If that is their rationale, I believe it is way off-base in this case.
Trump’s appearance would be within 90 days of the 2020 presidential election. None of the examples cited above had a whiff of electoral politics. No matter the intent, the Yankees will appear to be supporting the President.
And, in addition to opening the Yankees up for charges of hypocrisy regarding their greening efforts, they also would be thumbing their noses at their players who took part in a Black Lives Matter-themed ceremony with the Nationals before last night’s opener — as well as at many of their fans and sponsors.
It is inconceivable that the powers that be in the Yankees front office, from the aforementioned Randy Levine to owner Hal Steinbrenner, are unaware of the message that a Trump first pitch would send to residents of New York’s 15th Congressional District (CD), the district in which Yankee Stadium sits.
The 15th is among the poorest CDs in the country and sadly lays claim being home to some of the highest childhood asthma and lowest air quality rates in the USA. Over 90 percent of its residents are people of color¹. Those folks will not react well to the Yankees inviting a racist, anti-environment President who is pushing to kill the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) in the midst of a pandemic that has decimated the district.
HOW CAN THE YANKEES FIX THIS MESS?
It seems to me that the Yankees can choose one of three courses of action — if they agree that having President Trump throw out the first pitch in the middle of campaign season is indeed a problem:
- Do Nothing: They can hope that anger over the President’s appearance will subside quickly. It won’t. This is a bad option.
- Rescind the Invitation: This has its perils. The President, his political allies, the right wing media, and his supporters — many of whom are Yankees fans — would kill the Yankees for being “politically correct.”
- Invite Joe Biden to Throw Out a First Pitch: Would Biden say yes? I kinda doubt it. I’m not sure what he gets out of bailing out the Yankees. But inviting the presumptive Democratic nominee could have some marginal benefit.
If they were to ask me, I’d say rescind — most of the Yankees/Trump fans will eventually stick with the Bombers. And it’s the right thing to do.
And I have a bonus recommendation: Invite Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to throw out a first pitch.
To be clear, AOC represents New York’s 14th CD, not the 15. But, part of her district is in the South Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. And she, along with Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the Green New Deal. This would, at least in part, mute criticism of greenwashing that would come the Yankees way for giving the mound over to the POTUS who pulled the USA out of Paris.
And AOC, whatever one thinks of her politics, showed purpose, resolve and dignity — all qualities the Yankees prize in their players and staff — in Thursday’s must-watch response on the House floor to the sexist attacks leveled against her by Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL3).
¹ Per U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2018 data, 28 percent of residents from the 15th are black and 65 percent are Hispanic.
Photo at Top: President Trump plays catch with Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera on the South Lawn of the White House to mark Opening Day. He later announced that the Yankees invited him to throw out the first ball at their game vs. the Red Sox on August 15 (Photo credit: AP/Evan Vucci)