BALTIMORE — Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora recently discovered the “mute” function on Twitter, which has come in handy in the aftermath of his decision, first revealed over the weekend by a newspaper in his native Puerto Rico, to skip the defending World Series champions’ scheduled visit to the White House on Thursday.
But to date, no such button exists for real life. And so, on Monday afternoon in the visitors’ dugout at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Cora patiently answered questions for a third straight day about that decision — as the team’s White House visit is increasingly framed as a story about race, ethnicity and politics.
“I learned conviction from my dad and mom,” Cora said Monday. “The last text I got before the game was from my mom, and it was a powerful one.”
The manager or coach of a championship team rarely, if ever, skips the traditional White House visit the following season (provided they are still employed by the franchise). As such, Cora became the highest-profile member of the Red Sox to announce his intention to skip the visit with President Trump, whose stance toward aid for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 remains a flash point for residents and natives of the island territory.
But Cora is not the only uniformed Red Sox personnel to opt out of the trip. Among players, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, Sandy Leon, Eduardo Nunez, David Price, Christian Vazquez and Hector Velazquez have said they would be declining the invitation. The other roughly 20 players (a few of whom are on the injured list) have either announced their intention to attend or were presumed to be attending.
It was impossible not to notice one significant difference between the two groups: Those opting out of the trip are all people of color, while those planning to attend (with the exception of designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who is of Cuban descent) are white. This dichotomy was highlighted by a tweet from longtime Boston sports columnist Steve Buckley, who noted, “[B]asically, it’s the white Sox who’ll be going.”
The racial divide was further underscored when Price, who is African American, retweeted Buckley’s tweet to his nearly 1.8 million followers, adding, “I just feel like more than 38k should see this tweet …” — a reference to Buckley’s Twitter following of roughly 38,000. Price’s retweet led to rampant speculation Monday that the racial divide of the White House visit had become a clubhouse problem for the team. Price, however, clarified his stance in remarks to the Boston Globe, saying the original Buckley tweet “was an insensitive tweet that needs to be seen by more people.”
Price previously had explained his decision to opt out of the White House visit, during an interview with MLB Network, by saying, “It’s baseball season.” Most players have been equally bland in their reasoning for skipping the event, although Velazquez, who is from Mexico, told reporters he was opting out because Trump “has said a lot of stuff about Mexico” and he did not want to offend anyone in his native country.
Boston management has framed the issue as one of personal choice, and not of politics. Having also won World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013, the team has previously visited the White House under both Republican and Democratic presidents. This week, the team will be operating separate charter flights back to Boston, one day apart, for those players choosing to skip the White House visit and those choosing to attend.
“We were concerned about that and understood it might be a possibility,” Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said in a telephone interview about the divide along racial lines. “We’ve just made it very clear to the players it’s their choice and it’s their right to attend or not attend. We’re pleased our players have not only talked about it among themselves in the clubhouse but also with us.
"I hope the players are happy with the way it has been handled, which is [by making clear] that this is an honor. This is not a political statement of any kind. We knew an issue like this could become divisive, so we addressed it. There’s no division in the clubhouse that we know of right now.”
Asked whether he sensed any tension among the players over who is and who is not visiting the White House, Cora said, “Not at all.” Red Sox players have echoed that sentiment, with Bogaerts telling reporters: “It’s a personal choice, and everyone respects that. It has no effect [in the clubhouse] or out there on the field.”
But Cora has been clear about his reasons for skipping the White House ceremony, tying the decision to the lingering resentment in Puerto Rico to the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which killed more than 3,000 in September 2017. On Sunday, he pointed out Puerto Ricans are “still struggling, still fighting” while lacking “basic necessities” almost a year and a half later.
“It was a decision I made with a lot of conviction,” he reiterated Monday. “… I think the message was clear [and] simple, and everybody understands. I don’t feel comfortable going to a celebration while we’re living what we’re living back home.”
Since the start of the Trump administration, the traditional White House visit of championship teams has taken on a more political tone. Previously, numerous members of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors decided en masse against the White House visit, only to have Trump subsequently rescind the invitations. The president also was criticized for serving fast food to members of the 2018 Clemson football team, while some members of the 2018 New England Patriots have made clear they wouldn’t attend a White House celebration.
On Monday, the same day Price’s Twitter controversy arose and Cora reiterated his reasons for skipping, golfer Tiger Woods, the reigning Masters champion who is of African American and Asian descent, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom — one of the nation’s highest civilian honors — from Trump in a ceremony held outside the White House.