“You’re nearly a real treat
All tight lips and cold feet
And do you feel abused?
You got to stem the evil tide
And keep it all on the inside.” — Roger Waters
Occasionally, the world of sports gives us an interesting parallel to the real world. After all, we are talking big bucks here. Any time you have a business that makes billions with a capital B you are talking big business. What people do and what people say matters. Kevin Mather learned that lesson the hard way this past week.
Mather was the president/CEO of the Seattle Mariners. The emphasis is on the word was. He resigned this past week after public pressure from fans, the baseball community, and the organization itself. This followed some unfortunate comments that were shared with the Rotary Club. It was a bizarre situation since it wasn’t in a press conference setting. He shared these thoughts with no pressure on him. He volunteered if you will.
Going into the comments themselves gets us a little too far into the weeds for those that don’t follow baseball much. He said what people know to be true out loud for everyone to hear. Those out loud parts weren’t supposed to be out loud. What brought the story out of the baseball world and into regular society were his comments about certain players and their ability to speak English. Apparently, a multi 100 million per year company resented paying an interpreter $75,000 a year for one of their pitchers turned coach.
The opinions are not the story for me. The story for me is always the reaction. The resignation was predictable and probably the only place this story could go. Yet, it was the commentary from those observing outside the organization that seemed most fascinating. No one was really defending his rights to free speech. At least that part was refreshing.
The debate was over what mistake was actually made. Some argued that believing these things was fine, but uttering them out loud was the huge blunder. Others pointed out that believing these things in the first place is what is most horrifying. There is a lot to unpack here as we dive into the so-called maze of political correctness and cancel culture.
The odd thing about political correctness is that it implies that people know what polite society deems acceptable and what polite society deems out of bounds. It’s odd because if I know that people don’t want to hear my opinions on issue X then wouldn’t I also know that my opinions on issue X were wrong? In other words, if stating an opinion makes me sound like a bigot then wouldn’t I be a bigot whether I voiced that opinion out loud or not?
Therefore, if we are to tie a bow around the Mather situation, the question comes down to whether it is worse that he said those things or worse that he actually believes them? Naturally, the Mariners threw out one of those obligatory “the opinions expressed by Mr. Mather do not reflect….” but is that really the case? How can you have a CEO/President that has wildly different views than everyone working under him or her?
I’ve maintained throughout most of these posts that if cancel culture is in fact a thing, it is certainly not a new thing. Public shaming and ostracization is a common tactic that has been employed for hundreds if not thousands of years. The only shift that occurs is what exactly you get shamed or ostracized for. Certainly, the societal goal (I don’t think this has ever really been about governments or official laws) is to help everyone understand what is in bounds and what is out of bounds.
The trouble has always been that we don’t necessarily learn the lesson. Some of us use these opportunities to grow and change for the better. Certainly, I can attest to the fact that my attitudes about these issues and others has changed over the years. Whether that’s an improvement is certainly open to everyone’s individual interpretation. Still, we can say without hesitation that a lot of people still carry those beliefs. They have just learned not to say them out loud.
That brings us back to the original question. Is it worse to say those things out loud or is it worse to believe them in the first place? Can you be a good person and believe horrible things? I think it’s worse to believe horrible things, but what do we do with that? It’s impossible to change everyone’s mind, but I think we have to try.
One thing we can do is punish those in public life that believe these things by withdrawing our support. We can also withdraw our support from those that are willing to feed that beast even if they don’t believe it. At the end of the day, there really is no different between a racist, sexist, homophobe, or xenophobe and someone that isn’t but makes their bones courting their support. Ultimately, isolation is probably the best path forward for those that believe horrible things. Critics can call it cancel culture if they want, but it has been a part of our culture forever and a day.