What should Major League Baseball do about a white baseball player calling a black player ‘Jackie’ [Robinson]?

noun-baseball-2493735During the third inning of Saturday’s game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees, Yankees’ third baseman Josh Donaldson and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson had to be separated after an exchange of words (and some earlier in the game) in which Mr. Anderson claimed that Mr. Donaldson referred to him as “Jackie,” a reference to Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.

Mr. Anderson found the comment “disrespectful.”

After the game, Mr. Donaldson told reporters that he called Mr. Anderson’ Jackie’ in the first inning of the game. Here’s Mr. Donaldson’s explanation:

“In 2019, (Anderson) came out with an interview and said he was the new Jackie Robinson of baseball and he was going to bring back fun for the game. And in 2019, I played for Atlanta, we actually joked about that — all in the game. Um, I don’t know what’s changed from — and I’ve said it to him in years past. Not in any manner than just joking around for the fact that he called himself Jackie Robinson. So if something has changed from that, my meaning of that is not any term of trying to be racist…It was just off an interview that what he called himself. And, when he said that before, we joked about it. He laughed. Whatever…”

Indeed, in a 2019 interview with Sports Illustrated, Mr. Anderson did say, “I kind of feel like today’s Jackie Robinson.”

But other members of the White Sox did not dismiss Mr. Donaldson’s ‘Jackie’ comment as a joke.

According to this report, White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks could not “understand how [Mr. Donaldson] ever thought of it like that. It’s just straight delusional.” White Sox Manager Tony Larussa went a step further and called Mr. Donaldson’s comment “racist.”

The Athletic reports that Major League Baseball “is looking into the incident and speaking to all relevant parties.”

Presumably, you would do the same as a business owner, manager, HR professional, or employment lawyer. But let’s assume that what you see is what you get. Mr. Donaldson called Mr. Anderson’ Jackie,’ and he meant it as a joke because of Mr. Anderson’s interview in 2019.

We know that in the context of a discrimination investigation, the impact of one’s words far outweighs the intent of the person swaying them. Indeed, courts adjudicating hostile work environment claims focus on whether a reasonable person in the victim’s position would find the work environment hostile or abusive — not whether the individual accused of fostering a hostile work environment intended to create one.

Then again, a reasonable person may not take offense if the two previously joked about Mr. Anderson calling himself ‘Jackie.’

Then again, perhaps Mr. Anderson no longer found Mr. Donaldson’s comments funny, and neither would a reasonable person in his shoes.

So, what do you think? Putting aside the constraints of the MLB collective bargaining agreement, how would you handle and resolve the matter? Please email me and let me know. I may take some of the emails, anonymize them, and incorporate them into a follow-up post tomorrow.

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