DOMINIC SMITH’S PAIN

I like Dominic Smith.

I’ve always liked his positive attitude as a New York Met; his tenacity in battling adversity; his team-first attitude even when his own playing time was limited; his willingness to work hard to learn a new position, left field, when rookie sensation Pete Alonso displaced him at first base last year; and finally, his fighting his way into the everyday lineup this season, when he has emerged as the team’s most productive hitter.

It also didn’t hurt that, whenever he crosses home plate, he blesses himself with the sign of the cross.

And then there is his backstory: growing up amid inner-city poverty in south central Los Angeles, drafted by the Mets after participating in a Major League Baseball inner-cities youth program. Now he gives of himself to help other youngsters in south central LA, through the Baseball Generation Foundation, which uses baseball as a tool to “foster character, cognitive skills, social skills, and self-confidence in youth from elementary school to college.” 

So when, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week, Dom Smith took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, I, for one, sat up and took notice.

Yes, Smith had some strong things to say after the unconscionable police killing of George Floyd, recounting some of his own experiences with racism and mistreatment by police. 

But this was not Colin Kaepernick or LeBron James, condemning America as oppressive while stuffing their pockets full of Nike dollars obtained on the backs of slave laborers in China. It wasn’t James, while raking in untold millions himself for playing a game, accusing NFL owners of having a “slave mentality” toward the players to whom they pay countless millions. 

Watching Dom Smith openly weeping as he explained his action after the Blake shooting, I saw a responsible, caring young man, a man who is working to better the lives of poor black youth in his neighborhood, now in deep pain over another police shooting of a black man. 

To be sure, we don’t know all the relevant facts of the Kenosha shooting. While Jacob Blake’s supporters say he was trying to break up a domestic dispute when police arrived, authorities say police were called because he was violating a restraining order related to a pending sexual assault allegation against him. That’s serious stuff.

A police union claims Blake had a knife and had violently assaulted one of the officers. The Wisconsin attorney general’s office will neither confirm nor deny the union’s version as it investigates, and caution is warranted. Recall that after the George Floyd killing, even the staunchly pro-cop New York Post deplored the tendency of police unions to automatically defend the cops in virtually every situation.

While we should all hold the vast majority of police in high regard as courageous men and women who put their lives on the line for us, we know there are also bad, even criminal, cops. I’m not certain how often racism is what motivates such cops (I suspect it is often just a lust for power) but then I don’t have the same experience with police that Dominic Smith has had as a young black male. And so I can appreciate the intense pain he feels, as he works to improve life in black America, over one more police shooting of a black man.

At the same time, it is to be hoped that he also feels intense pain for all those innocent black victims who have been killed in recent weeks as street crime soars in America’s cities in the wake of current anti-policing policies. It is to be hoped that he feels the pain of black small business owners who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by looters and rioters ostensibly protesting racism. It is to be hoped that he feels the pain of so many young black males growing up without the love and guidance of fathers—making them especially vulnerable to the lure of gangs, drugs, and violence, and surely contributing to the wildly disproportionate incarceration rate of young African Americans.

I am hopeful, without knowing him, that Dominic Smith does feel the pain of those realities, as he strives so hard to give black inner-city youth a chance. We need to support him in that work, as well as in his efforts to protest police brutality and to eradicate racial intolerance. And whatever our feelings about his decision to “take a knee” during the national anthem, we should be grateful to him for sharing his heartfelt pain, as he urges us to work together to make America a better place for all.  

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

8 thoughts on “DOMINIC SMITH’S PAIN

  1. Hi Rick, Two things- first, excellent opinion piece on Smith although I haven’t followed sports since it became another American “god” like Hollywood, higher education, and overall materialism. I would like to know if Smith made that aforementioned sign of the cross when he took a knee and if he actually said a prayer. If not, then in my opinion, he negates that wonderful social justice work by putting God in second place. Greatest commandment- God first, then your neighbor. (But no problem, he’s right in line with the USCCB- it’s all about the marginalized, but very rarely about Almighty God.) I will quote from my new U.S. Grace Force T-shirt – I kneel for God alone! Second thing- Have you heard of or listened to Fr. James Altman in La Crosse Wisconsin? (St. James the Less Parish) He preaches the Truth like I haven’t heard in years. You can find him on you tube and the best one I’ve listened to is “You can’t vote for Democrats”. I’m not sure of the date but it is recent. His parishioners are so blessed to have him! Take care and keep posting- I’m enjoying your commentary! Love, Arlene

    On Mon, Aug 31, 2020 at 11:25 AM Rick Hinshaw: Reading the Signs wrote:

    > Rick Hinshaw posted: ” I like Dominic Smith. I’ve always liked his > positive attitude as a New York Met; his tenacity in battling adversity; > his team-first attitude even when his own playing time was limited; his > willingness to work hard to learn a new position, left field, ” >

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    1. Thanks, Arlene. I don’t know whether or not Dominic Smith made the sign of the cross when he took a knee, as I only saw a photo and heard it reported, I didn’t see it live on TV. No one reported that he made the sign of the cross, so I’m thinking he didn’t, but of course most media would not be inclined to report it if he did.

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  2. Rick – I applaud your comments about Dom Smith and your call to support his efforts to protest police brutality and to eradicate racial intolerance. At the same time, I don’t think the comments about Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James were necessary, in fact they come very close to the “shut up and dribble” comments that have been tossed at LeBron since he started to become more vocal on social issues. It seems you have trouble with rich, high-profile athletes who are using their celebrity to protest police brutality and to eradicate racial intolerance, while being okay with it if they are not as high profile, like Dom Smith. LeBron James also rose from very humble circumstances and has been involved in many charitable activities, but it seems that his immense success and wealth disqualify him from having opinions and voicing them. For real change to take place in this country, it will require people from all parts of the spectrum, rich and poor, celebrities and unknowns, and everyone in between, to participate and lend support.

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    1. Bernie, as always thanks for your thoughts. I must say as soon as I saw you had posted a reply, I knew exactly what part of my post you would agree with, and what part you would take issue with. I find it instructive that you never disputed the main point of my criticism of James and Kaepernick–that while criticizing what they see as oppression in America, they are PROFITING from actual SLAVERY in China. That’s an inconvenient truth that you apparently chose to ignore. I would add that besides taking money from Nike’s profits gleaned from the slave labor of Uigher Muslims and other persecuted minorities in China, James was first out of the box in blasting one NBA owner who had the integrity to criticize China’s oppression of Hong Kong–the NBA, and thereby James, also benefit from lucrative financial deals with China. Instead of responding to that (I’d be curious to read your response) you accuse me of having trouble with high-profile athletes speaking out against police brutality or racial intolerance. What I have trouble with is HYPOCRITES who condemn what they see as injustice in America, while willfully PROFITING from far more egregious injustice–outright slavery–elsewhere. It’s easy to set up false straw men to attack, Bernie. How about instead trying to address what I actually write.

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      1. Rick – if you look at the photo of Dominic Smith on his knee, he is wearing Nike shoes, because Nike is now the official uniform and footwear supplier for MLB, under a ten-year deal that began this year. According to your reasoning, Dominic Smith and anyone who wears Nike shoes or does business with Nike should not be able to speak out against racial injustice in America, unless they also condemn Nike’s labor practices at the same time.

        I agree that Nike is not held to account enough for its labor practices by U.S. consumers and major sports leagues. This is true of many corporations including Apple with iPhones, which have also been linked to the use of slave labor in China. By your same reasoning, Tim Cook of Apple should not be able to speak out about racial injustice in America, and if you take this reasoning a little further, anyone who does business with Communist China, which is enslaving a minority population in its country, is complicit in allowing that to happen and should not be able to speak out about racial injustice in America until they first condemn China.

        What I was trying to address is something you actually wrote, which is the way you described Smith as a “responsible, caring young man working to better the lives of poor black youth,” while ignoring the fact that LeBron James is also a responsible, caring young man working to better the lives of poor black youth. You obviously think that James’ relationship with Nike and his huge financial success disqualifies him from speaking out about how poor black youth are treated in America, but I disagree.

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  3. I often wonder how I would react if I were of Afro-American descent. I would surely be outraged at the many, many years of discrimination and violence. I would speak out as I do for the millions of people killed and wounded by abortion. If I were a ball player like Dominic I might also take a knee in protest.

    But there is one thing I would not do and that is to ignore the herd of elephants in the room. By that I mean I would not ignore he black on black violence, the murdering and violence perpetrated disproportionally by our black brethren, the disproportionate killing of black babies by abortion. No, I would speak out against these evils and implore my black spokespersons to face these issues just as I implore those in power to admit that life is sacred from the moment of conception.

    Here’s a short story. When I was 15 years old in 1958 I made a visit to a friend who had moved to Roanoke VA. As I stepped off the train I was shocked as I saw a water fountain with a sign that said “Colored”. Later that week I was walking to my friend’s house when I encountered an elderly black man immaculately dressed in a white morning suit and walking with a cane. When he got close to me he stepped off the sidewalk, tipped his hat to me and said “Morning sir”. I was crushed. I still wonder what he had been through that had him lowered himself to a teen white like me.

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  4. Bernie, thank you for your response. You do of course have a point–but, I would suggest, only up to a point.

    It is true that we are all probably guilty (I know I am) to certain extent, of benefiting from China’s policy of slave labor. But I think you would agree that there is at least a difference in degree, and perhaps even in substance, between Americans of modest means who feel constrained to shop at discount outlets whose shelves seem stocked almost exclusively with Chinese goods made inexpensive by the absence of any labor cost; and very wealthy Americans and American corporations, like Tim Cook and Apple, who willfully increase their already immense profits on the backs of Chinese slave laborers.

    Likewise, I would submit hat there is a difference between a Dominic Smith who, still struggling to “make it” as a major league player, is constrained to wear Nike equipment as mandated by the league, and a LeBron James who–through his own enormous talent and dedication, to be sure–is in the enviable position where the NBA and Nike need him more than he needs them. Thus, he could be a powerful voice pressuring Nike to end its use of slave labor, and the NBA to end its lucrative financial arrangements with China. When instead he CHOOSES to profit from Nike’s slave labor policies–not just by wearing their equipment as mandated by the league, but by accepting their money to do actual advertisements promoting their slave-produced products (as has Colin Kaepernick, by the way); and when he ATTACKS the one NBA owner who had the courage to put aside profits in order to criticize China’s suppression of freedom in Hong Kong–then LeBron James forfeits any moral authority to criticize America as oppressive. Not because of his “huge financial success,” Bernie; I believe that anyone who achieves great wealth through their talent and hard work is deserving of it. I hope you agree. No, he forfeits his moral authority because of his collaboration with Nike in its profiteering on the backs of slave laborers, and his defense of China’s oppression of Hong Kong.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts, Bernie. While we don’t often agree, I do appreciate being made to think by those with a different perspective.

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