If you’re reading this you’re probably familiar with C.J. Nitkowski, former major-league pitcher and current color analyst for Rangers TV broadcasts. Two months ago Nitkowski got himself into a bit of a pickle when he liked a seemingly innocuous photo on Twitter. The tweet that Nitkowski liked was actually from The Proud Boys, a group founded by a white supremacist and loosely affiliated with the “alt-right”.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers The Proud Boys a hate group. (The link includes a number of abhorrent quotes from Gavin McInnes, their above-mentioned founder. When pressed McGinnes claims not to be a white nationalist, but his quotes suggest otherwise.)
The alt-right, for those unfamiliar, are generally scum. They believe in the superiority of the “white race” and often advocate for the violent removal of all people of non-European decent from America. It was the alt-right who organized the infamous Charlottesville rally where Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist drove into a crowd.
A lot more could be said about The Proud Boys and the alt-right, but the gist is that a public figure probably wouldn’t want to give anyone cause to think that they’re sympathetic to people with those sorts of beliefs. Which brings me back to Nitkowski.
It’s fair to say that Nitkowski likely didn’t know who The Proud Boys were when he liked their tweet (and also followed their account). In later statements he said he thought they were a parody account, which is a perfectly believable misunderstanding. But, when folks on Twitter started to point out who The Proud Boys are, Nitkowski made things worse by stubbornly refusing to unlike/unfollow until the Rangers’s PR staff convinced him it was a bad look.
Nitkowski’s own words:
“I unfollowed once I realized it was going to affect the organization. Otherwise, I would not have.”
Naturally, the controversy was covered by the local media. Nitkowski is a public face of the organization and it’s totally fair to ask him what intent his actions carried. I, as a supporter of the team, would like to know if he sympathizes with far-right groups like The Proud Boys.
Now we get into the reason I’m writing this. Nitkowski’s quote above was pulled from a piece written by Levi Weaver* of The Athletic. Levi, being a local sports writer, was obligated to cover the story, but some people saw it as Levi breaking the (entirely made-up) rule that sports writers must never address anything that isn’t about sports and sports alone.
Comments from two readers, whose names I’ve left out:
If The Athletic starts with left or right leaning pieces, I’m out.
It’s becoming obvious The Athletic is the same rag quality of the [mainstream media], Dallas Observer, DMN, and the like. Sad. I was hoping this place would be different, but it seems the temptation to dip into politics is too strong. All that is going on in Surprise and this is what I get. What a waste.
Mind you, those aren’t the only comments. There were a lot of comments and many were positive, but those comments in particular highlight some things I take issue with.
The piece wasn’t “left or right leaning” as the first comment suggests. For those who haven’t read it (and shame on you for sleeping on Levi’s excellent Rangers coverage) I’ll do a quick recap:
- Levi starts by explaining what the tweet was, Nitkowski’s reasons for liking it, and then who it came from.
- Levi then lays out who The Proud Boys are. He includes quotes from Gavin McInnes without commentary, leaving the reader to evaluate the quotes for themselves.
- Levi follows the controversy through the weekend and provides several direct quotes from Nitkowski.
To me, nothing Levi wrote leans in either direction on the political spectrum. The thesis of the article was “If you make a mistake, just apologize and move on.” That’s an opinion, sure, but not a political one. He even points out that some consider the Southern Poverty Law Center to be “too left-leaning.” I felt it was a very balanced piece.
There are those, however, who believe that sports and real life should never intersect. If it doesn’t happen between the lines it doesn’t matter. Keep politics out of sports. So on. So forth.
I used to be a very apolitical person myself. I figured both parties were basically the same and that nobody was ever really going to change anything. But the last 2 years have taught me that you can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that political ideologies are incapable of doing serious harm. If enough people ignore these problems for long enough we’ll all wake up one day to the horrible reality that Nazis are marching in the streets of Virginia and that one of those Nazis murdered someone with a car.
(Yeah yeah, I know The Left “call everyone Nazis.” Thing is, there were a lot of people in Charlottesville waving flags with Swastikas on them and chanting “The Jews will not replace us!”, so it probably is fair to call those people Nazis. Maybe some of the people marching with them weren’t Nazis per se, but they were, at the very least, Nazi-sympathizers, and likely not “very fine people.”)
With the rise of the alt-right we no longer live in a world where politics can be partitioned off from certain parts of our lives all the time. If C.J. Nitkowski shares something (whether intentional or not) from a far-right hate group, it’s up to Levi, Evan Grant, and the other local sports writers to cover it. Sometimes you can’t “just stick to sports” because sports and politics will inevitably bump up against each other. If that makes you uncomfortable then unfortunately you’re uncomfortable with reality.
As for The Athletic being “rag quality”…well, that’s just flat wrong. If you’re not already subscribed to The Athletic, again, shame on you. Don’t sleep on Levi’s work. If you want to track down his Nitkowski piece, it was published February 27th.
Press on, everybody.