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The Problem with Josh Donaldson's Comment

Updated: May 24, 2022

Donaldson in 2019 with the Atlanta Braves

In another era, it probably wouldn’t have been a story. Eighty years ago, there weren’t many baseball fans who knew the name Jackie Robinson. A lot has changed since the day in 1947 when Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Maybe Josh Donaldson hasn’t noticed.

The MLB has handed Donaldson a one-game suspension resulting from a comment he made to Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. Donaldson, who plays third base for the New York Yankees, made a point to say to Anderson, who is black, “Hey Jackie” at least twice as he rounded second base in the first and third innings. The second time, Anderson and Donaldson exchanged a few more pleasantries, with Anderson in particular needing to be restrained by teammate Leury Garcia and third-base coach Joe McEwing.

When Donaldson strode up to bat in the sixth inning, you-know-what hit the fan. Benches cleared. Players shoved and grappled with each other - you know - the way people fight when all they really want to do is look tough for their teammates.

Once the dust settled, both teams continued to play ball uninterrupted. But after the game, the White Sox players continued to throw shots at Donaldson.

“He made a racist comment, Donaldson,” said White Sox manager Tony LaRussa.

“There’s no way you’re allowed to say something like that,” said catcher Yasmani Grandal, “It’s unacceptable.”

“Basically tried to call me Jackie Robinson, ‘What’s up, Jackie?’” Anderson said. “I don’t play like that. I don’t need to play at all. I wasn’t really bothering nobody today, but he made a comment, and it was disrespectful, and I don’t think it was called for.”

It’s not a good look for Donaldson, who has had several spats with Anderson and other White Sox players in the past. In fact, maybe if it hadn’t been Donaldson who said it, no one would have gotten upset and we wouldn’t have to dissect a short exchange between two baseball players. Unfortunately for Donaldson, his reputation precedes him.

For his part, Donaldson does not deny calling Anderson “Jackie” but suggested to the media that it was an inside joke, and a reference to Anderson calling himself “today’s Jackie Robinson” in a Sports Illustrated interview in 2019.

“I called him Jackie,” Donaldson said. “He came out with an interview that says he’s the new Jackie Robinson. We’ve actually joked about that. I’ve said it to him in years past, not in any manner [other] than just joking around.”

He’s entitled to his opinion. So is the public, though. And let me say, Josh, the verdict is in: no one is laughing.

The problem with Donaldson’s comment is that it was totally and completely unnecessary. He was trying to antagonize Anderson by using his comments in the SI article against him. Donaldson may not have been trying to be intentionally racist to Anderson, but he wasn’t trying to avoid a racial confrontation either. He wanted to say something specific that would bother the White Sox’s All-Star. At least he succeeded in that regard.

Donaldson also succeeded in getting himself a one-game suspension. Even Aaron Boone, Donaldson’s own manager, didn’t seem too thrilled about having to defend the former American League MVP.

“I don’t believe there was any malicious intent in that regard,” Boone said. “This is just somewhere, that in my opinion, he should not be going.”

Bingo for Boone! Isn’t this obvious? Maybe obvious to everyone but Donaldson, and that’s exactly the problem. It’s very concerning when someone has such a lack of awareness, especially in 2022 after the entire country dealt with the upheaval of the George Floyd protests.

Now, I don’t mean to crucify Donaldson for this. He screwed up. Royally. That doesn’t mean he can’t learn from this.

At the same time, the past few years have been a learning experience for a lot of Americans. Baseball, and America, have come a long way since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Donaldson needs to start paying attention. The fact that he doesn't see this as a problem IS the problem.

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