For a few hours this week, softball had a shot at something it has pursued for decades: the spotlight. The USSSA Pride and Scrap Yard Fast Pitch, two independent professional softball teams that feature some of the top players in the world, began what was supposed to be a seven-game series in Melbourne, Fla., facing little competition from other live sports.
Instead, the first day of the series ended with all 18 players for Scrap Yard Fast Pitch cleaning out their lockers and pledging to never play again for the organization, after its general manager bragged to President Trump on Twitter during the game that the team was standing during the national anthem.
The tweet, sent from the team’s official account by Connie May, the team’s general manager, said: “Hey @realDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live … Everyone standing for the FLAG!”
After Monday’s game, players said, they returned to the locker room to discover a slew of text messages and alerts about May’s post.
“It was a shock,” said pitcher Cat Osterman, 37, an Olympic gold medalist. “An actual, genuine, speechless shock took over our locker room.”
Then the players started talking to one another, pinpointing what they felt was most troubling about the post: that May had spoken for all of them without their consent, and that she ascribed political intent to their actions during the anthem that suggested opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The tweet was quickly deleted, apparently after it had drawn backlash online. May and Scrap Yard Fast Pitch did not respond to requests for comment.
The players spent an hour discussing the issue in the locker room, and decided that they could no longer play under the Scrap Yard name. “The more we talked about it, the angrier I got, and I finally just said, ‘I’m done, I’m not going to wear this jersey,’” Osterman said. “We were used as pawns in a political post, and that’s not OK.”
The players were supported in their decision by the coaching staff.
It was not the first time that May’s politics had been a topic of discussion among the team, which is made up of 18 women ranging in age from 22 to 37. When Scrap Yard released a statement about the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, it read, “We believe black lives matter, as do all lives,” causing some consternation among the players.
The tweet on Monday, though, struck a raw nerve. “I never really thought that she didn’t care about my life or Kiki’s life until that post,” said Kelsey Stewart, one of two black players on the team, along with Kiki Stokes.
Most Scrap Yard players are white, but Stewart said they still forcefully challenged May’s comments both directly and on social media.
“It was nice to know that Kiki, who’s black, didn’t have to do all the talking — that I didn’t have to do all the talking,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who was set to play in her first Olympics this summer before the Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021, said racism in softball “has been an issue for me as long as I can remember,” from assumptions that she plays outfield or is unusually fast to racist slurs on social media. The sport is mostly white, especially at the highest levels, and after Floyd’s death that imbalance seemed more urgent than ever, she said.
“I talked to some of my black softball sisters like, we can’t be quiet anymore — it’s not really an option for us,” Stewart said.
The players said they felt confident in their decision despite the fact that Scrap Yard is one of very few organizations sponsoring top-tier professional softball teams.
“We’re not going to tolerate that in our sport,” Osterman said. “It wasn’t as hard of a decision as everyone thinks it was, because we knew it was the right thing to do.”