October 6, 2023
How the Nationals’ star reliever turned the conscience of baseball.
Sean Doolittle might lack the notoriety of Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, or LeBron James, however he’s probably the most outspoken progressive skilled athlete of the twenty first century.
Doolittle won’t ever make the Corridor of Fame as a ballplayer, however he’s a Corridor of Fame activist and humanitarian. Sports activities Illustrated known as Doolittle “the conscience of baseball.” He spoke out for the rights of staff, ladies, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and army veterans, in addition to racism, gun violence, and DC statehood. He stood as much as Donald Trump and sat down studying to kids at bookstores. His joined the Democratic Socialists of America, which in 2022 hosted him discussing baseball and socialism.
“Once I was a child, I keep in mind my dad and mom would say, ‘Baseball is what you do, however that’s not who you might be’—like that is perhaps my job, however that’s not the end-all, be-all,” he told The New York Occasions. “I really feel like I would even be capable to use it to assist different folks.”
In 11 years within the majors, Doolittle was the ace left-handed reliever for the Oakland A’s and Washington Nationals. A two-time All-Star, he helped lead the Nationals to the 2019 World Collection championship. However his profession was hampered by fixed accidents.
Doolittle by no means totally recovered from his July 2022 elbow surgical procedure. He spent this season within the minors, however made solely 11 appearances, his elbow issues compounded by a knee damage.
Final month the 36-year previous Doolittle introduced on Instagram that he was retiring “with gratitude and a full coronary heart” from “the game I like.”
Doolittle was among the many hottest gamers amongst followers in Oakland and Washington. An enormous Star Wars fan, Doolittle calls himself “Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle.” His Twitter deal with—@whatwouldDOOdo—was stuffed together with his enthusiasm for sports activities, books, music, motion pictures, and politics. He and his spouse, Eireann Dolan, whom he met whereas she was a reporter overlaying the A’s and married in 2017, strategy life with a humorousness, usually poking enjoyable at one another and themselves of their fixed tweets.
On the College of Virginia, he was a slugging first baseman in addition to an impressive pitcher. Drafted by the A’s in 2007 as a primary baseman, Doolittle left faculty after his junior 12 months and spent three years within the minors. He missed the following three seasons to accidents and surgical procedure. The 6-foot-2 Doolittle started his comeback in 2012 as a aid pitcher for the A’s. By 2014, he made the All-Star workforce.
Traded to the Nationals in 2017, he had one other All-Star season in 2018 and the next 12 months had 29 saves, 66 strikeouts, and solely 25 walks in 60 innings, regardless of frequent accidents. In three World Collection appearances that season, he didn’t permit a run. He and Dolan made Washington, D.C., their residence, had been lively locally, and embraced the reason for D.C. statehood.
Doolittle has all the time been clear about his priorities: “Sports activities are just like the reward of a functioning society.”
In 2015, the couple organized a Thanksgiving dinner for 17 Syrian refugee households in Chicago, Dolan’s hometown. “We simply felt it was a method we may welcome them to America, to allow them to know there are people who find themselves glad they’re right here,” Doolittle recalled.
That 12 months, the A’s hosted their first Delight Night time. Some social media trolls threatened to boycott the occasion. In response, Doolittle and Dolan hatched a plan to purchase tickets from season ticket holders. They raised virtually $40,000 from over 1,000 contributors by way of a GoFundMe marketing campaign, which supplied tickets and buses for 900 LGBTQ youth to attend the sport.
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“There needs to be no discrimination or hate within the recreation or a stadium,” Doolittle stated.
In 2018, when the media uncovered antigay slurs tweeted by a number of ballplayers, Doolittle tweeted:
It may be powerful for athletes to know why these phrases are so hurtful. Most of us have been on the high of the meals chain since HS, resistant to insults. When all you’ve recognized is success and triumph it may be troublesome to empathize with feeling weak or marginalized. Homophobic slurs are nonetheless used to make folks really feel tender or weak or in any other case inferior—which is bullshit. Among the strongest folks I do know are from the LGBTQIA group. It takes braveness to be your true self when your id has been used as an insult or a pejorative.
On the Nationals’ 2019 Delight Day, Doolittle wore a trans flag on his proper baseball shoe, a rainbow flag on his left shoe, and a Nationals-branded rainbow shirt beneath his uniform.
“Everybody deserves to really feel secure and free to be who they’re and to like who they love. Love is love,” stated Doolittle.
In October 2019, after fellow Nationals pitcher Daniel Hudson confronted criticism for lacking a recreation to be together with his spouse for the beginning of their little one. Doolittle defended his pal on Twitter: “In case your response to somebody having a child is something aside from, ‘Congratulations, I hope all people is wholesome,’ you’re an asshole.”
In 2016, after then-candidate Trump dismissed his vulgar “seize their pussy” remark as simply “locker room speak,” Doolittle retorted: “As an athlete, I’ve been in locker rooms my complete grownup life and, uh, that’s not locker room speak.”
In January 2017, Trump signed a journey ban in opposition to Muslims, sparking nationwide protests. Doolittle commented:
These refugees are fleeing civil wars, terrorism, non secular persecution, and are completely vetted for 2yrs. A refugee ban is a nasty concept…. It feels un-American. And likewise immoral.
Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from People. But when we embody them, we are able to make the pie that a lot greater, thus guaranteeing extra alternatives for everybody.
When white supremacists descended on Charlottesville in 2017, Doolittle tweeted: “The C’ville I knew from my time @UVA is a various and accepting group. It’s no place for Nazis.”
When the Nationals received the 2019 World Collection, Doolittle and several other teammates boycotted the White Home celebration with Trump. He criticized Trump’s “divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide on this nation.” He instructed The Washington Put up, “I don’t want to hang out with somebody who talks like that.’”
In 2019, the New Period Cap Firm, which makes caps for all main league groups, introduced it was closing its unionized manufacturing facility in Derby, N.Y., to maneuver to nonunion services in Florida. In a Washington Put up op-ed column, Doolittle wrote that ballplayers “will likely be sporting caps made by individuals who don’t get pleasure from the identical labor protections and safeguards that we do.” He instructed ThinkProgress, “It’s mainly union-busting, plain and easy,” including that main leaguers needs to be “sporting caps made by folks incomes a union wage.”
When MLB put its season on indefinite maintain in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Doolittle and Dolan hunkered down in a Florida home, the place he may train and keep in form. They hosted a podcast about their day by day lives, discussing the books they had been studying through the lockdown. No participant was extra desirous to return to play than Doolittle, however he was the primary to publicly oppose MLB’s plans to revive play with out sufficient public well being protections and ensures that gamers and different staff can be compensated through the lengthy layoff.
Dolan, his alter ego, tweeted:
What concerning the non-millionaire resort staff, safety employees, grounds crews, media members, workforce touring staffs, clubhouse attendants, janitorial staff, meals service staff, and the billion different folks required to make that 3.5-hour recreation occur each night time?
Doolittle urged his fellow main league gamers to display “solidarity with these staff who’re in these supporting roles.” He added: “Sorry, I needed to get that out of my system. Keep secure. Hold washing your palms and sporting your masks. I hope we get to play baseball for you once more quickly.”
When MLB proposed shaving $100 from each minor leaguer’s $400 weekly paycheck through the pandemic, Doolittle and several other Nationals teammates pledged to cowl the misplaced earnings of gamers on the Nationals’ farm groups.
“Minor leaguers are an important a part of our group and they’re bearing the heaviest burden of this case as their season is prone to be cancelled,” Doolittle defined. “We acknowledge that and need to stand with them in assist.”
Gamers on different groups did the identical. Embarrassed, the house owners withdrew the plan.
In response to the mass capturing at a college in Uvalde, Tex., in 2022, Doolittle posted a collection of tweets that started: “The difficulty of gun violence is just too necessary and too pressing to remain silent. We have now to make use of our voices as a result of if we don’t, the individuals who revenue from gun violence will proceed to obfuscate and alter the topic.”
After Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in 2020, triggering nationwide protests, Doolittle tweeted:
Race is America’s unique sin…handed down from technology to technology. And we wrestle to acknowledge that it even exists, a lot much less to atone for it…. Racism and violence are killing black women and men earlier than our eyes. We’re instructed it’s accomplished within the identify of “legislation and order,” however there’s nothing lawful nor orderly about these murders. We should take motion and name it for what it’s. We should acknowledge our shared humanity and atone for our Unique Sin or else we are going to proceed to curse future generations with it. RIP George Floyd.
Doolittle—who in 2017 had stood by his former A’s teammate Bruce Maxwell, who refused to face for the nationwide anthem—talked to his teammates about protesting through the music. He concluded that the choice needs to be made by Black gamers.
“The objective needs to be to amplify the voices, to not be louder than them and steal the highlight away from what the motion is making an attempt to perform—making an attempt to finish police brutality and finish racism and injustice,” Doolittle defined.
Doolittle’s father served within the Air Drive for 26 years and taught aerospace science to ROTC highschool college students in New Jersey. His stepmother served within the Air Nationwide Guard. A distant cousin, aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle, led the primary assault in opposition to Japan after it bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“I got here from a army household, so there are lots of issues I take into consideration when the anthem is taking part in,” he instructed ESPN. “One factor that bothers me is the way in which folks use veterans and troops virtually as a protect. However the place is that outrage in taking higher care of veterans? The latest statistics say that we nonetheless lose 20 veterans to suicide on daily basis.”
In D.C. and through highway journeys, Doolittle usually visited regionally owned impartial bookstores, selling them on Twitter. The large on-line chains like Amazon, he stated, “is perhaps just a little bit cheaper, however they’re not furthering something so far as authors’ careers or supporting their staff.”
Doolittle usually participated in a studying program for the kids of troopers. After studying The place the Wild Issues Are to kids from D.C. space army bases, Doolittle noticed, “I hope they got here and noticed knowledgeable athlete that reads books. It exhibits that possibly studying shouldn’t be one thing that’s simply part of their homework. It may be one thing that you just get pleasure from as a lot as being exterior and taking part in sports activities.”
Doolittle and Dolan assist Swords to Ploughshares and Operation Lastly Residence, which assist veterans discover jobs and houses. The couple labored with Human Rights Watch and wrote a Sports activities Illustrated column urging the Veterans Administration to offer sufficient psychological well being companies to army vets with lower than honorable discharges, or “unhealthy paper.”
Doolittle criticized ostentatious shows of patriotism at ballparks. He claimed it wasn’t sufficient to “simply capitalize on folks’s patriotism, and promote hats and shirts together with your workforce’s emblem and camouflage on it.” He noticed that “so long as we’ve got an all-volunteer army, it’s on us—the civilians at residence—to advocate for our army households. To ensure they’re deployed responsibly and that they get the care they had been promised after they signed up.”
“There’s youngsters leaving the nation with M-16s and I get to play baseball on daily basis. You actually respect the alternatives you have got and a few of these issues different folks do for you getting little or no recognition for it.”
Peter Dreier teaches politics at Occidental Faculty and is creator of a number of books together with Baseball Rebels: The Gamers, Folks, and Social Actions That Shook Up the Recreation and Modified America, printed in April, 2022.