Orioles VP John Angelos: Trump Can’t Hijack Presidency to Stifle Free Speech
The Orioles’ Executive Vice President John Angelos responds to Trump’s attacks against black athletes and the groundswell of opposition across the nation
Jaisal Noor: NFL players, coaches and owners sat out, knelt and linked arms during the pre-game National Anthems played across the country and in London on Sunday after a weekend of tweets by President Donald Trump criticizing protesting players.
John Angelos: The weekend showed a powerful outpouring of solidarity by and from people across the sports world and across this entire country at all different economic levels, all different ethnic backgrounds, all different points of view by and large, who came together around a simple idea. I think two ideas: First, that freedom of speech is an inalienable and non-cancelable right of all Americans. And secondly, that right cannot be canceled or abridged in any appropriate public forum. And then third, the government in the form of the highest office of the country, the White House, the presidential administration cannot hijack American institutions, like the White House which is owned by the taxpayers, not by any one person, like the powers that come along with a presidency or a political office, which is conferred by the people, not owned by individuals. They cannot hijack those institutions and those assets and use them to kill or destroy the ability of individual Americans to express themselves.
Whether one agrees with that individual American, Colin Kaepernick or someone at the other end of the spectrum who thinks what Colin Kaepernick is doing and what others have done with respect to kneeling during the National Anthem, or standing during the National Anthem or what have you. Whether you agree or disagree with those people we should all come together around the idea that we all have that inalienable right. No one can take it away from us. And certainly, no governmental institution or governmental elected official can attempt to abuse and distort their powers to take that right away from us. And I think that was very powerful this weekend, to see, as you said, owners and players and front office executives, and artists and musicians and people from every walk of life. The extraordinary, those that don’t get a lot of attention coming together around those ideals. That’s what the United States of America is supposed to be about.
I think if we keep pushing, as so many people did this weekend, the United States will be able to as a country, come together and restore and reinforce and restate that the country is about those things.
Jaisal Noor: Some owners, like Robert Kraft said they were disappointed by Trump and they expressed solidarity with the protests. But he’s among the owners that also gave heavily to Trump, a million dollars. He’s also among the NFL owners who have refused to hire Colin Kaepernick, who many say is as or more qualified to play in the NFL as many starting quarterbacks today and many say that Kaepernick has been blacklisted for his political stance. How do you respond to that?
John Angelos: Well, as for the second part of that, of the question and the theories on why any one player is not in a league at any moment, or why Colin Kaepernick’s not in the NFL, I’m not a football executive. I’m not from the football world. And I’m certainly not an expert on football talent. Nor do I have any knowledge or understanding in order to form a conclusion in any way as to whether there’s some collusive or conspiracy to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL. I couldn’t say one way or another on that. That would be for other people to say.
As to owners who have supported political candidates, whether they supported this particular president when running for office or supported other republicans or other democrats, it certainly is a powerful statement when someone who is an owner in the NFL and who supported a candidate says that they are, find the comments that they made to be unacceptable. That says a lot. And similarly, I believe this morning, Tom Brady came out and said that he did not support the comments that were made and that they were divisive and so forth without at the risk of misquoting him, I think that’s the thrust of what he was saying.
I was at an event this weekend, which I think should have appeared in the news by now, where Eddie Vedder, front man for Pearl Jam took a knee right before his performance started at a music festival that was not an Eddie Vedder show. He was just one of the acts there. It wasn’t that he did it in front of a crowd that was 110% Eddie Vedder fans or Pearl Jam fans. It was a diverse crowd. He took a knee and he did it in Nashville, Tennessee, okay. So, not in a part of the country that’s necessarily known for one political leaning or another. If anything, maybe people would say it skews more conservative. I don’t know if that’s the case.
You saw some NASCAR owners come out very strongly in saying they would fire people who knelt during the anthem and then you saw, I believe Dale Earnhardt, Jr. come out this morning and saying the exact opposite. That he was supportive of the right of free speech and that that’s a right that every American has and diversity and descent and so forth, are important. There are many people that have rallied to this idea. It shouldn’t be a controversial idea. It’s the foundation and the bedrock of the country.
Jaisal Noor: But during the Uprising in Baltimore over the police killing of Freddie Gray, you defended the protests. You said, Instead of focusing on a few cases of property damage, the outrage should be focused on the economic plunder of the middle class over the past some half century. It’s plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, eroded civil rights, impoverished the public living under a militarized surveillance state, to sort of paraphrase your thoughts on Twitter. The whole protest was against police brutality, the killing of an unarmed black man in Baltimore. I wanted to get your reflection on what’s changed in Baltimore over the past few years since Freddie Gray’s death and if you maintain those thoughts today. We’re looking at a nation that is, you know those protests since the killing of Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Michael Brown, those protests have continued. And unarmed black men continue to be killed by police. And you have a president who has defended police brutality, essentially and empowered police, many say.
John Angelos: Well, let me first say that my comments at that time were in reaction to initially a conversation that was being held between some other folks on Twitter, where they were focusing on the inconvenience that potentially was being caused or that was being caused to fans trying to attend the game. My broadest comment, or point, was that shows a lack of perspective. The issues here are multiple and they’re deep and broad and they go to the edges of systemic poverty, again, among people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Yes, poverty skews in a variety of ways. Poverty mostly follows lack of economic opportunity. That is color blind. Lack of economic opportunity will destroy any communities or subcommunities. It leads to poverty and in turn, leads to crime and drug addiction and a depressed morale and point of view, generally.
So that was the origin of my comments. Let me say something about police brutality for a second. That was not really my primary focus. At Camden Yards, we only use Baltimore City police officers for security. We don’t use private security because we think it’s best to use Baltimore City police officers. We’ve also used Maryland State Troopers because properly trained and well-intended, which the majority of police officers are. Well-intended, properly trained, and people just like any other group of people that are out to do their job, do it well, go home and take care of their families. There are, of course, people that break the code and engage in police brutality. Just like in any profession, you have people that don’t uphold the standards that are required.
The question on the table for society, in this society recently has been, well to what extent has that percentage of people who break the code that the overwhelming majority of police officers do uphold every day? To what extent has that group grown or not grown. And what are the police forces doing to self-regulate and to get rid of the people that are committing these terrible acts and only bring into their ranks people who are like the majority? I think that was the larger context of that.
The other issue was that, yes, there were some people engaging in illegal acts of vandalism and violence. Although that was primarily confined to a couple of days here and there. There were a lot of peaceful protests. There was this large student protests as you know, which I think originated at Johns Hopkins or Loyola, I’m not sure exactly where it started and culminated at City Hall. And that was really interesting because it was young people from all different colleges and universities, clearly at different economic backgrounds. Students and non students. Again, we’re back at the same issue of constitutional right to free speech, not to be abridged by the government in any way. I was speaking out in support of people coming together and saying, “Let’s fix what’s wrong in society.”
I think, from Freddie Gray in Baltimore to, you mentioned Adam Jones, you talked about these larger protest areas, protest topics. It’s the same issue keeps coming back. Is the government acting appropriately and responsibly and responsively to the needs of the community? You’re not seeing it today. It’s encouraging to see people coming together as they have over the weekend. Hopefully that will translate to something that people here can react to and feel better about.
Jaisal Noor: Talk about how the Orioles would react to a protest by an Orioles’ player. We know that Adam Jones heard racial slurs, had a bag of peanuts thrown at him while playing in the outfield in Fenway Park earlier this season. Last year, speaking to USA Today, responding to Kaepernick’s protest, he said quote, “So you might not as well kick yourself out of the game in football. You can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us. Baseball is a white man’s sport.”
John Angelos: Well, Adam has been throughout his career, a very thoughtful person who has not been averse to expressing his point of view and utilizing his right to free speech to engage in dialogue and discourse. I think those comments were made in a larger context of being asked about the changing demographics of baseball and sports. Baseball is, I think you know, the demographics of baseball have changed somewhat. It’s often focused on the percentage of African American players has declined. What isn’t often focused upon is the percentage of white American players and white players has also declined.
The reason for that is two-fold: Hispanic players and Latin American-based players and Asian players have increased in participation in the league. The league is becoming a more global league, and there’s a finite number of jobs. Unless we expand and have more clubs which has been talked about by the commissioner’s office. You have 30 clubs, 750 jobs. To the extent that players are being scouted and drafted and recruited from all over the world, which is the case today, far more so than just five years ago or certainly 25 years ago.
Those proportions are going to change. The best example of that would be a player, a great hall of fame, or will be a hall of fame player, Ichiro. Before Ichiro decided to leave the Japanese league, bring his immense talent to major league baseball, there was a job for another player that could have been an Asian player, a Latin American, African American or white American or ethnic background from any part of the world. As soon as Ichiro comes, obviously, he takes someone’s job. That’s not really related to any other forces other than the game is globalizing.
I think Adam’s concerns about the decline, especially in lower income groups, whether that’s, sports has become, whether that’s African American or white American. There are more poor white people in the United States than African American poor. Poverty in this country is an immense problem. The ability of poor communities to participate in sport has become incredibly problematic because in particular baseball, but in many other sports, because of the rise of elite travel sports in the youth sports industry, which is incredibly expensive. Middle income folks and even wealthier people, it’s a large chunk of their disposable income, so when you’re talking about people that live in poverty, whether it’s urban poverty or rural poverty and again more poor people live in rural areas than urban areas. It’s very hard for those parents to enable their children to participate in this youth sports industry. That has fenced out a lot of African American kids and a lot of poor kids generally.
That’s how I view Adam’s thoughts on that. I share his concerns about the fencing out of opportunity in pro sports for particularly people from diverse backgrounds and even more so, people from poverty stricken areas.
Jaisal Noor: All right. Thanks so much. Appreciate your time.
John Angelos: Okay, great. Thanks.