Lawyers and HR professionals weigh in on Josh Donaldson’s ‘Jackie’ comment. So does Major League Baseball.


On Monday, I blogged about a weekend incident in which New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson in which Mr. Anderson claimed that Mr. Donaldson referred to him as “Jackie,” a reference to Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.

Mr. Donaldson admitted calling Mr. Anderson ‘Jackie.’ Still, he claimed it was part of a running joke between them, dating back to a 2019 interview with Sports Illustrated in which Mr. Anderson said, “I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson.”

While Major League Baseball investigated, I asked readers of the blog how they would approach the situation. Here’s a bit of what I got back:

“‘Jackie’ to an African American professional baseball player could be viewed as disrespectful, aggressive, and racist. We are told to use the reasonable standard when determining behavior impact and reactions when someone does or says something to another. Would a reasonable person get mad? It depends on your life experiences, past history, and tone.

There are many words and phrases that African American individuals use in self-reference or in conversation with other members of the community that feel culturally inappropriate and disrespectful when used by people who are not African Americans. The “Jackie” reference may have seemed harmless to Mr. Donaldson because he did not get a negative reaction the first time. But Mr. Anderson may have been silently cringing and giving Donaldson a pass, hoping that Mr. Anderson would not do it again.”

If indeed this was a joke they had shared in the past (I have not heard Anderson deny that), Anderson could have gone to Donaldson and explained that to him that was offensive or no longer funny. It would have at least provided Donaldson the ability to apologize and correct his behavior once he understood his feelings had changed. If at that point he doubled down or minimized how Anderson felt, I think you could more accurately blame Donaldson at that point for his behavior or ignorance of how his words impact others.”

…Mr. Donaldson needs to be counseled that, regardless of prior mutual joking about this, it needs to stop immediately, and any further incidents like this will result in more serious disciplinary action.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in.

Now, here’s how MLB addressed the matter:

MLB has completed the process of speaking to the individuals involved in this incident. There is no dispute over what was said on the field. Regardless of Mr. Donaldson’s intent, the comment he directed toward Mr. Anderson was disrespectful and in poor judgment, particularly when viewed in the context of their prior interactions. In addition, Mr. Donaldson’s remark was a contributing factor in a bench-clearing incident between the teams, and warrants discipline.

The outcome: MLB suspended Mr. Donaldson for one game.

ESPN reports that Mr. Donaldson, who was also fined an undisclosed amount, is appealing the punishment. He can play while his appeal is pending. Although, Mr. Donaldson is currently on the COVID-19 injured list.

One of the readers offered a sound takeaway:

Bottom line, those jokes were never OK. Participation and acceptance of bad behavior do not make it OK. The target of these jokes can indeed decide that they no longer want to participate. Everyone is cool until they’re not.” 

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