The Cubs traded for Daniel Murphy this week, hoping for a boost to their offense and a left-handed bat that could do damage to opposing pitchers over the last few weeks of the season. In the process, they acquired a player who has made homophobic comments in the past and has yet to apologize for them. If the trade was bad, their actions since then and the fallout with fans has been worse.
“I disagree with his lifestyle. I do disagree with the fact he is homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. I don’t think the fact someone is homosexual should completely shut the door on investing in them in a relational aspect.
“Maybe as a Christian … we haven’t been articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree with the lifestyle.”
For the record, you can’t love someone in the LGBTQ community and still disagree with their lifestyle. That’s decidedly at odds with how love works and just because someone tries to explain bigotry away in this manner doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable or logical explanation. At the time Bean, trying to be magnanimous in the situation, responded,
“The silver lining in his comments are that he would be open to investing in a relationship with a teammate, even if he ‘disagrees’ with the lifestyle. It may not be perfect, but I do see him making an effort to reconcile his religious beliefs with his interpretation of the word lifestyle. It took me 32 years to fully accept my sexual orientation, so it would be hypocritical of me to not be patient with others. Inclusion means everyone, plain and simple. Daniel is part of that group.”
On a simple human level Bean is not incorrect, patience and understanding as you try to change someone’s opinion about a marginalized class can be important. But this is also about a massive corporation in MLB and teams who have legions of LGBTQ fans among their supporters. When it comes to representing a professional baseball team, there should be less room for patience, and an effort to make sure all fans feel included and welcome rooting for their team and its values.
In the time since, Bean and Murphy have reportedly become friends and developed an understanding relationship. That’s great for them, friends are nice. But Murphy has never apologized for his comments, and in fact has attempted to bury them for good by saying he just wants to stick to baseball and nothing else. How convenient for him, a white man earning millions who has never had to own up to his actions in any measurable way and is now getting the opportunity to play on a third major league team in his career.
In the days since the trade many Cubs fans — LGBTQ or not — have made their voices heard in opposition to the roster addition. Remember, this is also a team who employs alleged domestic abuser Addison Russell and still holds Women’s Empowerment Nights. The team who traded for domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman and explained it away as the price of getting a World Series ring — which they did. (I am not equating Murphy’s comments with either of those two situations, but it is a pattern.) So it’s fair for fans to have been skeptical from the get go of how the Cubs would handle this.
The answer to that is not good.
During a Thursday press conference, Murphy talked about his current relationship with Bean but at no point walked back his comments from three seasons ago. Even worse, he then proceeded to answer the question “what would you say to gay Cubs fans” with “Oh dear. I would hope you would root for the Cubs.”
“OH DEAR. I WOULD HOPE YOU ROOT FOR THE CUBS.”
That’s the thing though. If the Cubs had handled this with any sort of tact, or maybe thought to double check if Murphy has ever gone through any media training in his life, they might be in a position to be forgiven. Then people might feel comfortable still rooting for them without questioning their enjoyment of the game.
But the Cubs betrayed a portion of their fans by trading for Murphy in the first place, especially without an assurance he could speak on those comments in a more respectful way than previously, and they’ve only doubled down on mistakes that would (and should) alienate fans since.
The Cubs asked Billy Bean his opinion on the trade before they made it and got a response centered around the fact that Bean specifically left baseball because he didn’t feel accepted by his teammates. Yet, knowing that, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer’s takeaway was that Bean “thought the organization could really benefit from his presence” and went forward with the trade anyway.
They couldn’t find anyone else hitting .305/.344/.440 with six home runs on the season who would actually benefit the clubhouse while serving as a positive role model for the team and fans? Maybe not. But they could have put a lot more emphasis on the second half of that sentence than the first.
Cubs board member Laura Ricketts told the Chicago Tribune Thursday, “It was not made in a vacuum. It was made thoughtfully.” Without more context than that (which the Ricketts have not provided) it’s hard to believe that is actually the case. Even if she did speak further, she would be doing so as someone with a direct financial interest in the team talking about a move that was already made. Taking any of it at face value is thus implicitly nonviable.
Because I am neither a Cubs fan or a member of the LGBTQ community, I talked to Kelly Wallace, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Expanded Roster, who said she felt like she was “punched in the gut” and “genuinely felt nauseous” when she saw the news that her team had acquired one of her “most-loathed players of all time.” She says,
I do not want Daniel Murphy on the team I root for. I do not want to cheer for him. And I think the front office handled it terribly.
Those are all legitimate responses to a move like this, and as we’ve seen a few days later they were warranted. What the Cubs don’t seem to realize is that those reactions are not that of one woman in their fanbase, they are the reactions of many people who take to heart what their favorite teams do — and make rooting decisions based on them over time. If the Cubs made the choice to acquire Murphy based on a business upsides of winning, then it’s fair to call them out on completely brushing aside the business implications of dismissing the concerns and feelings of a subset of fans.
As Wallace noted to me as well, the reasoning that Murphy being friends with Bean in 2018 absolves him of 2015 comments he hasn’t walked back nonetheless apologized for is extremely flawed. It’s the “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” of defenses and it has never and will never be enough for someone to be forgiven for something they show no remorse about.
Wallace’s experiences with the Murphy trade go deeper than just feeling shocked and betrayed by the move. She shared exchanges from an email conversation with Murphy’s agent Seth Levinson with SB Nation, which began when she reached out to see if Murphy would be providing a statement or answering media questions at any point after his arrival in Chicago.
Over the course of what could have easily been a mutually respectful conversation, Levinson’s responses devolved to the point where he claimed “Mob Justice,” accused those judging Murphy for his comments of being “hate mongers,” and at one point said “I am deeply uncertain whether speaking to anyone in the media will ever FAIRLY serve a good man’s best interests” and “deeply disturbed by those in the media who have taken his words of 3 years ago out of context and twisted them to create a problem where none exist.”
Levinson’s comments, to a member of the media who (as confirmed by copies of the emails) was professionally asking for comment from a player who may want to further make his case to Cubs fans after a disastrous Thursday press conference, is a sign of the type of people Murphy surrounds himself with and allows to speak on his behalf. If, after the bare minimum efforts Murphy and the Cubs have put forth to defend the trade and his comments, this is still how Murphy’s team reacts when asked to comment about something he’s been dealing with for three years now it’s a lot more difficult to believe there’s a drop of contrition to be found from anyone.
The Cubs can still fix this. But it will take a lot more sweat equity to regain the trust and passion of fans than it would have to find another trade target in the first place. Reminding them, and MLB, of that as often as possible isn’t an attack. It’s a step towards a future where the next time a team contemplates making this type of trade, they actually think twice about it instead of using that time to come up with PR-speak excuses to launch as soon as worthy questions start being lobbed their way.