When “Shut-Up and Play” Hits Home


St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, picture here with his wife Darya, who is from Iran,, received some hate-filled messages on social media for expressing concern that President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from coming to the U.S. would affect his wife’s family. Iran is one of seven countries listed on Trump’s executive order. Photo courtesy of Youtube.

When Black professional athletes are often told to stick to sports, sometimes it’s asking too much.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

I used to think of sports as a way to bring people of different backgrounds together with the possibility of getting to know each other and learning somehow to negotiate the things that divide us.

During my years as a sports writer, I’ve found that more often than not, that notion is still a long, long, way off, especially when it’s an African-American athlete who dares to speak out on race in a way that’s critical of American society.

Dexter Fowler, St. Louis Cardinals newly signed outfielder, recently found that out the hard way. During an interview with ESPN, Fowler was asked about the Executive Order President Donald J. Trump recently signed banning immigration and travel from seven Muslim nations.

This ban hit home for Fowler because his wife, Darya Baghbani is from Iran, one of the seven countries listed in the order. Fowler, like any husband and father would, expressed how the travel ban would affect his family.

“It’s huge,” Fowler told ESPN. “Especially anytime you’re not able to see your family. It’s unfortunate.”

Never mind that Fowler neither mentioned Trump by name nor said anything disparaging about him, the speedy Cardinals outfielder was hit on social media with “shut-up and play!”, a time-honored bon mot that’s been thrown at a who’s-who of Black athletes that includes Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, the Black players who boycotted the American Football League All-Star game in 1965 and more recently Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett.

That plantation mentality has been ingrained in the minds of some White sports fans and even sportswriters when it comes to African-American athletes. You can hit homeruns, slam-dunk from the free-throw line, and score touchdowns all you want, but once Black athletes veer off of that very straight line and talk about the ills they see in society, they’re told to remember their place and to be grateful that they live in a country that allows them to earn millions of dollars from playing a sport.

What’s really sad to me is that the White sports fans who spew this kind of vitriol seem to believe that Black athletes give up their First Amendment rights the moment they sign their first pro contract or even when they sign that collegiate letter of intent. You also have to wonder what their attitude toward the 13th Amendment is. I mean, it was former St. Louis Cardinals great Curt Flood who once said is a slave is still a slave even if he’s a well-paid one.

But even worse than telling a Black athlete to just shut up and play is the hypocrisy that sometimes comes with that statement. For example, when white athletes like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady refused to visit the White House when President Barack Obama was president, none of the fans criticizing Black Patriots players like Martellus Bennett for skipping the visit or giving Fowler grief would ever tell Brady to just shut up and play.  He’s an American hero to them.

That’s the folly of conflating nationalism, patriotism and racism in these situations. If an athlete like Fowler can’t even express concern for his family without being raked over the coals for making a “political statement”, we have a problem.

The larger issue in my mind is that Blacks, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, and Muslims are supposed to just lay down and take it on the chin in the face of bigotry. It reminds me of the mentality of calling out the Native Americans as “savages” for daring to fight back against the theft of their land.

In the end, all Fowler did was express concern for how a misguided policy decision on the part of a President who built is entire campaign and large chunks of his administration on fear and bigotry. To his credit, Fowler has managed to stand is ground despite the backlash.

But to the people telling Fowler to shut up and play I say this:

When you’re telling a fellow American to “just shut up and play”, you’re not only being a bigot, you’re also being downright un-American because the Constitution of the United States gives every American the right to speak his mind—

And that’s whether you like it or not.


Spring Training 2015: Phils Begin the Painful Process of Rebuilding

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn't get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cole Hamels had a career best 2.46 ERA, but didn’t get enough run support in 2014 and now wants out of Philadelphia. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is hoping to be at full strength after struggling last year.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

 Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—With pitchers and catchers reporting to the Phillies spring training headquarters in Clearwater, Florida this week, fans would like to believe that there would be some hope onthe horizon.

But, the Phillies are a team facing more uncertainty now than they did at the end of last season’s 73-89 finish.
Don’t get too attached to the Phillies current 40-man roster because it’ll probably change by the July 31st trade deadline or when the season ends. Heck, it may not be the same when the Phillies open the season against the Boston Red Sox on April 6 at Citizens Bank Park.

During the offseason, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to move veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard.

But the offers weren’t there. So guys, along with second baseman Chase Utley and his un-waved no-trade clause, remain on the roster.
While most of those guys will be gone eventually, Hamels is already looking at moving companies. The team’s ace pitcher told USA Today: “I want to go to a place where I can win again. I know it’s not going to happen here.”

On the other hand, that’s not to say Amaro didn’t make any moves this off season. He managed to jettison the team’s all-time hits leader, shortstop Jimmy Rollins (Los Angeles Dodgers), rightfielder Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati) and starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick (Colorado Rockies).

The most notable addition of the Phillies offseason was former Los Angeles Dodgers Chad Billingsley, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two years because of elbow surgery. He missed all of last season and a good chunk of the 2013.

That one was a bit of a head scratcher. I guess that Amaro is hoping Billingsley will be healthy enough to be a functioning part of the rotation or better yet be good enough to be a tradable commodity. From 2006 to 2013, Billingsley has an 81-61 record with a 3.65 earned run average.

Health is also concern for lefthander Cliff Lee, who is scheduled to make $25 million this season. Lee ended the 2014 season on the disabled list with an injured left elbow, something that scared off potential trading partners. Amaro is hoping Lee can give teams the illusion that he’s still good enough to get some young prospects for him.

Speaking of possible pieces to trade, a big question is will Ryan Howard be healthy enough to be the slugger that struck fear in the hearts of pitchers from 2006 to 2011. If Howard has a hot start in the spring and summer, Amaro might find some willing trade partners, especially in the American League where he could help a team as a designated hitter.

But the team that does it is going to have to swallow the last two years—and $60 million—of Howard’s contract.

Rebuilding is obviously the Phillies ultimate goal. Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg want to know if guys like Freddy Galvis, Ben Revere, David Buchanan, Cody Asche, Domonic Brown, Maikel Franco and Darin Ruf are ready and good enough to eventually become perennially contenders in the National League East.

The next few seasons will probably tell Phillies fans whether or not the light at the end of this rebuilding tunnel is attached to an oncoming train.

Last Place Phillies Looking For a Win Streak to Jump Start the Season

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA–With the Phillies still occupying the National League East cellar at 16-19, you have to figure that it’s a matter of time(remember it’s only May) for the team to put together a streak of games to put themselves back in the pennant race.

You know they have the starting pitching, but it’s going to be consistent hitting and their bullpen that’s going to move them up the standings.

After a horrendous sweep by the New York Mets earlier this week, the Phillies bounced back to win the series against a hapless San Diego Padres squad that they should have swept. Sunday’s 3-2 win was a grinder of a victory where the Phillies took advantage of enough scoring opportunities to put them over the top.

“Everytime you win a series, you’re doing your job,” said Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who led off the game with his 38th career lead-off home run. “Definitely, you like to bring some sweeps in, get on a roll where you win about five or six games in a row before you lose a game, but we haven’t done that yet.

“Win two out of three or three out of four in a four-game series is what’s going to be important is to keep moving up the win column one game at a time. In the second half of the season, you’ll find yourself in it.”

What’s hurt this team so far is not taking advantage of opportunities to get runs when they have runners in scoring position. In Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the Phillies were 1-for-12 with runners on second or third base. In the win on Sunday, the Phillies weren’t much better, they were 2-for-11 with runners in position to score.

“It’s definitely been that way so far, but we can always s change that with one swing of the bat,” Rollins said. “Not getting hits with runners in scoring position, not driving the guy with the runner on third with less than two outs. All those are showing up that in the past that we’ve been able to get away with, but don’t worry about we’ll get it next time.

“But we haven’t been getting that next time. I said at the beginning of the season, if we execute we’ll win. We haven’t been executing.”

Meanwhile, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is not only concerned about his hitters not taking advantage of opportunities to score, but he also wants bullpen, especially his middle relievers and set-up men to hang onto leads in the late innings, something they did a poor job of doing in the series against the Mets in the first three games of this homestand.

The goal for the Phillies bullpen is to get to closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound to seal the victory. So far, this season, the former Boston Red Sox closer is 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the Phils.

“Somehow, some way when we’ve got the lead, we have to get to Papelbon,” Manuel said. “I think everybody in baseball knows that. We’ve got to improve in our bullpen. We have to do better.”

If the Phillies offense can give their starting rotation the kind of run support that they’ve given Cole Hamels (5-1), that would certainly help them get back on track. In his first start since his suspension, Hamels allowed just one earned run with five strikeouts in seven innings.

“It’s nice to get some runs and obviously when you get runs, you can win,” Hamels said. “If I go out there and battle, I can pitch deep into the game, we can win games. It’s helpful to go out there and know that you’re team is going to come through.”

While the Phillies obviously want to jump start the season and start winning games, there are still players on this team with enough experience to recognize that now it’s not the time to panic.Juan Pierre, who played for the then Florida Marlins team that won a World Series in 2003, said it’s something that he has been through before with other teams.

“If you stay around .500 in August, you’ll have a chance to win,” said Pierre, who RBI double driving home catcher Brian Schneider turned out to be the game-winning run. “I’ve been on teams like that and we’ve ended up winning the World Series. I know a 102-win season is good and dandy, but this is real life baseball, that don’t come around too often. You usually gotta battle and bust your butt. That’s the teams that I’ve been on.”