In October 2004, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling — the hero with a bloody sock who, against all odds, led his team to victory in Game 6 against the New York Yankees for the American League championship — sat down with “Good Morning America” to celebrate the Sox’ World Series win. After 86 years, the Sox had broken Boston’s storied curse, and Schilling’s part in the saga had been one of the most memorable. The sky was the limit.
So Schilling, true to character, made a move that immediately infuriated about half of the country: He endorsed President George W. Bush for reelection. The pitch was as quick as one of Schilling’s four-seam fastballs: “And make sure you tell everybody to vote, and vote Bush next week,” he told Charlie Gibson.
For Schilling, a conservative loudmouth known for calling into radio talk shows during his time with the Philadelphia Phillies, speaking out was nothing new. But the high-profile Bush endorsement made politics part of Schilling’s brand — one which led to an ESPN commentatorship that ended Wednesday after Schilling tweeted an image of a man apparently in women’s clothing that many deemed transphobic amid an ongoing debate about transgender bathrooms.
“Let him in!” the tweet read. “To the restroom with your daughter or else you’re a narrow minded, judgmental, unloving, racist bigot who needs to die!!!”
After he was excoriated online for the tweet, Schilling went fangs out.
“This is likely the easiest way to address all of you out there who are just dying to be offended so you can create some sort of faux cause to rally behind,” Schilling wrote on his blog. “Let’s make one thing clear right up front. If you get offended by ANYTHING in this post, that’s your fault, all yours.”
ESPN, apparently tired of dealing with Schilling after comments comparing Muslim extremists to Nazis and the observation that Hillary Clinton “should be buried under a jail somewhere,” declared the game over.
“ESPN is an inclusive company,” the network said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post, as Des Bieler and Cindy Boren reported. “Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”
The outcome seemed destined. In the past decade, Schilling has been talking louder and louder about topics less and less related to baseball. And while his colorful commentary may be loved by as many as those who loathe it, it’s made it harder for him to be part of a pastime that, at least in theory, belongs to everyone.
After his “GMA” endorsement of Bush, Schilling backpedaled somewhat. Although he was scheduled to appear with the president in New Hampshire, he pulled out of the appearances at the last minute, claiming ankle problems even as some wondered whether the Red Sox, whose owners backed Sen. John F. Kerry, silenced him.
“Speaking as I did the other day was wrong,” Schilling said in a statement. “… It’s not my place, nor the time for me to offer up my political opinions unsolicited.”
This humility was short-lived. Schilling ended up recording radio spots for Bush.
”These past couple of weeks, Sox fans all throughout New England trusted me when it was my turn on the mound,” Schilling said in one ad that ran in Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. ”Now you can trust me on this: President Bush is the right leader for our country.”
Bush lost all of the states where the ad ran, but Schilling seemed only emboldened. If his strong criticism of steroid use before Congress in 2005 couldn’t really be characterized as political, the blog he launched in 2007 was.
“In my 20 years of baseball, I’ve been misquoted three or four times, and for someone who talks as much as I do, that’s incredible,” Schilling said at the time. “But I’ve been misinterpreted a billion times…. If I’m going to take s— for something I said, it’s going to be something I said.”
When Twitter was barely out of the womb, this was novel. An athlete talking directly to the people? Crazy! Schilling wrote, at great length, about “why the media sucks.” He wrote about being a Christian. Although he was asked to discuss politics, he said the blog “isn’t a forum to do that.” But it sort of was.
“Just hear Senator McCain speak,” Schilling, who stumped for the Arizona senator, wrote in January 2008 ahead of the candidate’s loss in the South Carolina GOP primary. “He may not give you the answer you are looking for, he may not be in agreement with you on a stance or an issue, but the man is honest to a fault.”
There was even talk that Schilling should run for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat after his death in 2009. Schilling eventually said a run “just doesn’t make sense” and endorsed Scott Brown. But he laid out his political philosophy as he mulled the choice. He was “independent,” he said — but he was antiabortion, was against gay marriage, would like lower taxes and was “absolutely for the 2nd Amendment.”
“I live in a state where I can’t drive 1/2 of a mile without a torn up road, or on a major highway without paying a toll, a large toll,” he wrote in 2009. “How in the hell is this state broke? How in the hell has a state with supposedly as intelligent a voter base as Massachusetts allowed itself to be run into the ground by entrenched and often times corrupt ‘me first’ politicians? How did that happen? All the way down to the community level our papers are littered with stories, daily, of unethical behavior, scandal and outright criminal acts, BY OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS!”
After Schilling signed on with ESPN in 2010, he was soon embroiled in what seemed like a most apolitical endeavor — a video-game company. But when that company failed in 2012 after releasing only one title, Schilling blamed the government.
“The governor is not operating in the best interest of the company by any stretch, or the taxpayers, or the state,” Schilling, who took the company from Massachusetts to Rhode Island after securing a $75 million loan from the state, said of Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. “We’re trying to save this company and we’re working 24/7. The public commentary has been as big a piece of what’s happening to us as anything out there.” He added: “I have done whatever I can do to create jobs and create a successful business, with my own income…. Fifty million dollars, everything I’ve ever saved, has been put back into the economy. The $49 million from Rhode Island has been put back in the economy. I’ve never taken a penny and I’ve done nothing but create jobs and create economy. And so how does that translate into welfare baby? I’ve tried to do right by people.”
If the failure of his company and cancer diagnosis in 2014 brought Schilling low, he was still willing to point fingers. Last year, he said his politics were keeping him out of the Hall of Fame, citing “bias and prejudice.”
“I know that as a Republican that there’s some people that really don’t like that,” he said. He added: “I don’t think that it kept me out or anything like that but I do know there are guys who probably will never vote for me because of the things I said or did. That’s the way it works.”
Schilling’s controversial Muslim/Nazi tweet came later that year. The blood on the sock was long gone — but now, whenever he spoke out, Schilling seemed to be going for the jugular.
“I’m a Republican,” he wrote last month. “I’m a former Red Sox. I have a nasty habit of talking, a lot, about anything anyone asks me and totally unconcerned about giving you my opinion. You will never question where I stand, right or wrong agree or disagree on anything.”