Hurricane Maria was one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history, killing nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans and ravaging the poverty-stricken island. In response, President Donald Trump has insulted the territory’s political leaders, continually rebuffed relief efforts, lied about how much aid money Puerto Rico has received, and falsely claimed the death toll was exaggerated to make him look bad. And people really expected Alex Cora to go to the White House Thursday and shake his hand?
The Red Sox’ manager confirmed Sunday he is skipping the team’s celebratory White House trip due to the Trump administration’s callous response to the storm that destroyed his homeland. "Puerto Rico is very important to me. During the winter I spent a lot of time back home, visiting my family and friends. Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting,” Cora told the Spanish newspaper El Nuevo Dia. “Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane Maria struck.”
Cora publicly equivocated about the visit, originally saying he was going to accompany the club and then telling reporters in Spring Training he was undecided. Eight players, including David Price and Xander Bogaerts, have also said they’re going to stay home. It is noteworthy that all abstaining players are either black or Hispanic.
Trump uses sports to further stoke racial animus, whether it’s calling protesting NFL players “sons of bitches” or mocking LeBron James’ intelligence. Professional sports are a melting pot of diversity; it is quite a statement that all but one of the players expected to stand behind Trump Thursday will be white.
Red Sox ownership keeps stressing the event is apolitical, but that is wrong. Participating in a photo op with Trump is endorsing the status quo. There is nothing to endorse about the way Trump has behaved in regards to Puerto Rico.
For Cora, this is above politics. The President of the United States is using the largest bully pulpit in the world to smear the island, not slowing down for 18 months. “Puerto Rico has been given more money by Congress for Hurricane Disaster Relief, 91 Billion Dollars, than any State in the history of the U.S,” Trump tweeted Monday. “Puerto Rico should be very happy.”
That, of course, is wrong. Puerto Rico has received $11.2 billion in federal assistance for its recovery efforts, which is far less than the $29 billion Texas received in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Lawmakers are fighting to unlock an additional $17 billion in relief money, but have been met with resistance from the White House. It is downright cruel, and makes it seem as if Trump believes the island’s inhabitants are subhuman. Or at least, not part of the U.S. In an interview last month, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley twice referred to Puerto Rico as “that country.” He was seemingly saying the quiet part out loud.
It’s easy for a billionaire business mogul like John Henry to separate his feelings towards Trump from the event. He is not personally affected by Trump’s incompetence or cruelty. For Cora, that’s impossible. Just imagine how you would feel if a hurricane devastated your place of birth, and the president’s response was to throw paper towels and express nothing but contempt.
Red Sox players say Cora’s decision will not divide the clubhouse, with Mitch Moreland telling the Boston Globe they “respect each other and the individual right to make a choice.”
He added: “Maybe everyone else should be taking their cues from baseball.”
Cora is taking a stand, and his players appear to support him. The notion that Cora would receive some sort of extended sit-down with Trump to discuss Puerto Rico is fantastical. He would be there as a prop, tacitly endorsing an administration that’s waging verbal warfare against his home.
It would be demeaning to expect Cora, or anybody, to do that. Pride is more powerful than superficial solidarity.