In a predominantly left-wing sports media industry that thrives on controversial hot takes, it should come as no surprise to see Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis as the target of Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality Kevin Blackistone.
In his recent column, Blackistone argues that the 15 teams making up the Grapefruit League, a spring training club in Florida, should leave the state as long as DeSantis is governor and move to the politically obedient Arizona. His arguments diverted from the facts and leaned on the political talking points frequently used to attack DeSantis.
The column begins by referencing Florida’s history of racial challenges, including Jim Crow laws, around the time Cleveland’s baseball team moved the organization’s spring training operations to Arizona in 1947.
Blackistone’s column ignores Cleveland’s nickname at the time — the Indians — despite including nicknames for the Nationals, Brooklyn Dodgers, and every single other team he mentions.
He cites Florida as having three of the deadliest counties in the South in per capita lynchings at the time Cleveland made the move. Fortunately, Florida has rectified that type of crime against black players, players of any race, or even regular citizens. Under the leadership of DeSantis, Florida is experiencing a 50-year record-low crime rate.
Next, Blackistone criticizes DeSantis for taking issue with an Advanced Placement course in African American studies, which he called “indoctrination.”
But for anyone who cares to understand the issue beyond a headline or quick soundbite, DeSantis does not object to these courses being taught in principle. He takes issue with political propaganda being fed to students under the guise of historical facts. Teaching students that African Americans have wanted to eliminate jails and prisons is not historical or factual. As the governor stated, this is an attempt to “use black history to shoehorn” political ideologies into the curriculum.
Blackistone takes exception to DeSantis’ proposed ban on state funding for colleges that embrace critical race theory or racially divisive “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs.
He claims CRT has been “purposefully disfigured by DeSantis, an Ivy Leaguer, and others of his reactionary ilk into a boogeyman for white citizens who believe they are losing this country that wasn’t theirs in the first place.”
DeSantis and the Florida legislature have prioritized ensuring that the state’s students are not taught to hate one another or fed divisive political rhetoric meant to indoctrinate students. Florida is placing a priority on preventing children from feeling shame over immutable traits such as race because of events that happened generations ago.
A bill passed by the Florida legislature and signed into law in 2022 that bans teaching critical race theory also prevents the teaching that “one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex” and that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” Nothing about that is controversial to the majority of Americans, yet it is grounds for relocating the Grapefruit League’s spring training, according to Blackistone.
Blackistone repeats the false talking point that DeSantis is seeking to ban books in Florida. As evidence, he cites three books that were considered “under review” in Florida: “Henry Aaron’s Dream,” “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates,” and “Thank You, Jackie Robinson.” Obviously, nobody believes these books should be removed from schools.
But what Blackistone fails to acknowledge is that the very same NBC article he cites also notes that a whopping 1.5 million books were included for possible review — a better-safe-than-sorry approach.
Nobody believes that the people of Florida — including DeSantis, who was captain of the Yale baseball team — think those books are inappropriate.
Blackistone fails to discuss what precipitated the need to review materials in Florida schools. Last week, the governor’s office released a video showing some of the inappropriate and, in some cases, pornographic materials that had been discovered in Florida schools.
The article also points to teams moving west in the 1950s to find “more hospitable settings” for their nonwhite players. Major League Baseball has by far the highest percentage of Hispanic and Latino players — nearly 30 percent of the league — of any major sport in America.
There is perhaps no more hospitable setting in America for Hispanic or Latino players than Florida. The state is diverse, with its vibrant Hispanic culture and a population full of immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and other places whose people love baseball.
And in case anyone was wondering what those communities thought of DeSantis, he just won nearly 60 percent of the Latino vote and increased his share of that vote by double digits from when he was first elected governor in 2018.
Blackistone’s final grievance is that at a time when baseball has begun celebrating “Pride month,” the sport is “deeply rooted” in Florida, which passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While Blackistone acknowledges that the term is merely a nickname given to the bill by critics, he fails to show that the bill is aimed at prohibiting the sexual instruction of young children, grades pre-K through three.
People from all walks of life, regardless of their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation come to support their favorite sports teams. And all of those individuals are welcome in Florida and will have the freedom to achieve the American dream in the Sunshine State.
I look at my 75-year-old father’s sports heroes growing up, and many were black athletes like Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. These icons of baseball may well be DeSantis’ sports heroes as well. The governor knows as well as anyone the power of sports to unite Americans. And above all, he understands that sports transcend the identity politics that the media and a vocal minority on Twitter want us to believe must prevail in every aspect of our society.