01 Sep Speaking Out and Playing with Pride: Sean Doolittle and Eireann Dolan
By: Kelly Wallace
This is the first part of a two-part conversation with Sean Doolittle and his wife Eireann Dolan.
Expanded Roster: Let’s just dive right in with the tweets. It’s happened a lot lately to a couple different players…when you hear about someone making bigoted comments in the past, how do you react to that?
Sean Doolittle: It’s really sad, it bums me out. I don’t know if this is fair to say, but it feels a little bit personal to me because my wife and I have done a lot of work to try and make baseball more inclusive and accepting. I don’t want to speak for any of them, but even if those comments were made a long time ago, as long as they’re on your social media page, people are going to assume, until otherwise notified, that you still hold those views.
There’s a lot of layers to it. Sometimes when you’re that age, you might not understand. Or you know those things are wrong to say, but you haven’t actually seen anybody be negatively affected by it. In baseball, locker rooms are incredibly diverse places. You meet all these people from different backgrounds, from different countries, from different parts of the United States, different religions. It’s a very diverse subculture, so there’s tons of room for growth.
One of the most disgusting things about it is when fans of rival teams use it as ammunition and then our fan base goes back to try and say, “Well, you’re not without fault either.”
ER: It’s sometimes done in bad faith.
Sean: It takes a long time to get past to that noise. It’s like, I think you’re wrong for bringing it up in that way, but now that it’s out there, we need to address it. It takes a little while to shift from outrage to actually addressing why this was wrong in the first place.
ER: It feels like people get a little distracted by how was it brought up.
Eireann Dolan: I think, regardless of how it’s brought up, it is important to recognize like there is a conversation and it’s a big conversation. When it’s weaponized, it doesn’t seem like their interest lies with the people who are affected by those tweets. It makes it like a fan rivalry thing versus a conversation that’s extremely important to have.
For whatever reason they went to some of his teammates at the All-Star game before they even seen the tweets. You’re putting the responsibility on other people. They are not going to say, “I found it disrespectful.”
ER: You’re referring to Josh Hader?
Eireann: This is the Josh Hader thing. They expected them to comment and put the burden on them to either absolve or condemn. That is entirely unfair in my view. Don’t try to make someone else accountable for comments they didn’t make.
If it’s still next to your name, on your social media, and you don’t remember that you did it, just do a quick brief search because as it stands, it’s on the record, next to your name.
ER: It is obviously it’s possible to change as a person from who you were in high school.
Sean: I did want to point out that so far Trea [Turner] is the only one to acknowledge the groups of people that he may have offended individually in his statement. I have a ton of respect for the way that he handled everything. He did say it wasn’t that I said these things when I was 17, it was that I said them at all.
His posts came out on Sunday night and we had Monday off and then Tuesday was our next game. I was wondering if the day off would temper things. I think it actually gave him a chance to reflect on it. By the time he came in, he was ready to meet it head on and talk about it. He put his first foot forward to try to start by making it right and showing that growth. I think it gave him time to understand the gravity of it and why people were upset about it.
ER: The thing I wrestle with is how can you, as a player, say things like that and know that these people are out there cheering and supporting you? The people who love them, who are like cheering for them, some of those people are the people you’re hurting.
Sean: Wow. I never thought about it like that before, actually. For all the things that have come out, there is a lot of speculation that baseball has a homophobia issue.
ER: The locker rooms or the fandom?
Sean: Just in general. I feel like so much comes from a place where you don’t necessarily understand the way that those words are used to hurt people. If they were to meet someone from the LGBT community, I really believe they wouldn’t treat them any differently. They’d welcome them, they would treat them the way that they would treat anybody else that comes through our locker room, or any other teammate, or member of the organization. They would be supported.
People always ask, but do you think baseball is ready for a gay player? I don’t know. I want to say, yeah. I want to be like absolutely, that’d be great. But we can’t know. I don’t know.
ER: Everyone is different, every team is different.
Sean: Right. I can’t speak for every locker room. I do believe if a player did come out, he would be accepted and supported. I think the issue is would a player feel comfortable coming out to that group? How does that group talk? Do they still make homophobic jokes? Do they still use slurs, even in jest? Maybe in a culture like that, he wouldn’t feel comfortable coming out.
So, that’s why I say I don’t know.
Eireann: The player also has to make it through high school baseball, college ball and minor league ball. There’s a lot of thresholds, it’s like a gauntlet that they would have to run even to get to the point, where they have to find themselves comfortable enough with the group, trusting enough in the group, that they will accept the person that they are.
ER: It’s hard even if you trust people!
Eireann: Honestly, I don’t even want anyone to know my Google search history. I wouldn’t want Sean to know my Google search history, and I trust him implicitly.
So, to think about revealing something that other people think is funny or a joke…at what point do we recognize that the intent is irrelevant to the impact that it would have?
ER: Good intentions don’t negate the effect.
Eireann: They could think it’s a joke, but, you know, my brother has a disability, and he asked me, did this person really use the r-word? He’s a fan, and I have to have that conversation with him and watch him reconcile it. That’s really painful. To have him think somebody thinks that of him.
ER: Tell me a little bit about what you did for Pride Day with the A’s, after there was some backlash there.
Eireann: I underestimated how Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook comments and replies are almost universally just horrible. When the A’s first announced it, this was in 2015. It was their first time ever having it, which I thought was surprising, but I thought it was good.
When I saw that they were having it, I was super excited. My mom’s partner, my stepmom, Elise, grew up in Hayward, California. She grew up an A’s fan, like a die-hard A’s fan. So I was like, “Oh my God, I can bring my moms to a baseball game.”
I think they’ve seen a couple A’s games before, but I was like, “This will be so much fun. Let me just scroll on through Instagram, and see if they’ve posted about it.” And some of the comments were really, really nasty. I saw a bad reaction saying, “I’m going to sell my ticket to that game.” I was imagining a stadium full of empty seats.
ER: That would’ve been disheartening.
Eireann: I catastrophized it and I thought, “Oh my god, there’s gonna be a kid who is newly out or thinking about coming out and sees a stadium full of empty seats and thinks that’s reflective of how the fanbase thinks of him or her.” I didn’t want that, so when we saw people saying, “I’m gonna sell my ticket.” We said, “Well, we’ll buy it and we’ll give it to somebody who could actually use it.”
ER: Baseball is great in the sense of that it creates small communities, you have this shared moment with these like thousands of other people, it feels good.
Eireann: It’s of a visceral experience when you all stand up and cheer the same thing or all see the same bad strike call or something.
Sean: Yeah, that’s what I thought. That’s how I think of sports. It’s supposed to be common ground where a bunch of different people from different backgrounds are all having the same experience and they’re all realizing that they have something pretty significant in common, something that is a defining characteristic. Like, “Yep, I’m a Nats fan.”
It should be a common ground. People from every part of the community should be able to come in and enjoy it together, because then you start to realize like, “Oh, we’re not really that different.”
Eireann: With the A’s pride game, the reason we did it so publicly is because we wanted to say in the loudest possible voice, “You’re welcome here. You are absolutely welcome here. We want to see you here and we want this to be a sellout and we’re not gonna have any barriers to entry.”
We wanted to say that as loud as possible, so that we could get people who agreed with us to join in and the fan base joined in. We raised almost $40,000, we donated 1,000 tickets from the fan base and we were able to match some of the donations and invite so many people that would not have otherwise gone. It was a sellout.
ER: Did you feel like there’s a responsibility to be public about it just because of the job and the public-facing aspects of your life?
Sean: Yes. That’s why we’ve tried to be really involved in the communities that we’ve played in. We do feel responsibility to speak out, and when we do, we want to say, “Now, this is coming from my experiences from the work we’ve done, the things that we’ve learned and the people that we’ve met.” We’re not just yelling into the void here and trying to be opportunistic. These are things we learned a lot about and we feel very strongly about.
There aren’t that many voices from within baseball that are gonna do that.