Image credit: USA Today Sports

If you let it, hate can get in anywhere.

The Red Sox invited Curt Schilling to their home opener ceremonies this year at Fenway Park. The reunion sparked a brief, intense debate about celebrating his accomplishments as a pitcher while ignoring his consistent statements as a bigot. This same argument typically arises when Schilling is at the center of any event, as it did last June when the Phillies invited Schilling to Citizens Bank Park for a 25th anniversary celebration of their 1993 pennant-winning team.

The Phillies’ official response to inviting Curt Schilling back to Philadelphia last year indicates that the organization feels able to separate the man from his beliefs:

Curt Schilling played a prominent role in Phillies history. When honoring past accomplishments, such as the 1993 team’s National League championship, the Phillies prefer to keep the focus on those accomplishments and not on political views.

We like to pretend someone becomes a different person when they put a ball cap on; that they tear away from their true selves and become a being that solely produces statistics, and never ignorance. The Phillies’ reponse is a diplomatic version of the most common reply to any criticism of Schilling: He deserves to be lauded for his pitching, who cares what else he’s said or done? But how much of someone’s words and actions must we ignore before we stop honoring them for any reason?

It shouldn’t be hard to like Curt Schilling: A goofy yet bullheaded pitcher who helped drag a last-place franchise into the World Series; always gaming for the camera, always cracking a joke, with a successful career on the field and a lot of personality off of it.

“Hi! I’m Curt Schilling, and I play for the Phillies, and I’m the ace of the staff,” Mickey Morandini says into the camera in the Phillies’ 1993 video yearbook, teasing his nearby teammate.

“But enough about me; what do you think of me?” Schilling playfully replies.

Schilling was part of one of the most beloved teams in Phillies history in 1993. “That was as politically incorrect a group of human beings as ever existed in the game,” Schilling told reporters in 2018. “It was fun.”

Bill Lyon of the Inquirer wrote in 1999:

Curt Schilling is easy to like. He is extroverted and gregarious, eminently quotable, sometimes to a fault. He is eager to please. If you’re a member of the news media, you wish for hordes like him.

In his post-playing career, Schilling has championed a cause against ALS, survived mouth cancer, and advocated for better treatment of homeless veterans. And yet, there is greater familiarity with the Curt Schilling who was described by USA Today writer Ted Berg in January 2019:

A right-leaning political firebrand whose failed video-game company cost Rhode Island taxpayers millions, Schilling has created headlines in his post-playing days by gleefully sharing specious xenophobic, transphobic, and conspiratorial memes.

Nobody in 1999 would have known what half of those words mean, let alone agreed with the sentiment they contain. In the years since he’d established a reputation as a fun interview and a great teammate, Schilling is now more commonly known through Berg’s description, which was constructed by a series of widely covered incidents, including:

April 19, 2015: Commenting on a meme that called for transgender women to be barred from women’s public restrooms, Schilling wrote, “A man who is a man no matter what they call themselves. I don’t care what they are, who they sleep with, men’s room was designed for the penis, women’s not so much. Now you need laws telling us differently? Pathetic.”

In response to complaints about his comment, Schilling wrote on his blog,

I care about people and how they treat others. You will NEVER in your lives find a single person who’s met me/knows me who would ever say I treated them as anything other than a human. None. Wouldn’t you assume that all of you offended folks would have heard of me treating people the way you needed me to treat them, to be what you so desperately want me to be?

I made a comment about the basic functionality of mens and womens restrooms, period.

August 25, 2015: Schilling shared a meme on his Facebook page comparing Muslim extremist population numbers to the rise of Nazi Germany. As an analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight at the time, he was suspended from the network and tweeted a statement in response.

November 7, 2016: In reference to an image of a shirt that read, “Tree. Rope. Journalist. Some assembly required,” Schilling tweetedOk, so much awesome here…” Schilling later said the comment was “100 percent sarcasm,” asking “Every single person that read it KNEW I was mocking. Do I have some sort of hidden passion for lynching in my past?

December 18, 2017: On his podcast, “Whatever It Takes” for Breitbart News, Schilling encouraged his listeners to support congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, of whom he was “a fan.” Nehlen had been described as an “anti-semite” by Media Matters in July 2018, and had begun using the phrase, “It’s OK to be white,” a motto used among white supremacists.

These actions, and others like them, have made Schilling into what many have called a “lightning rod for controversy,” which is accurate in that he is repeatedly at the center of damaging incidents, but inaccurate in that lightning doesn’t strike because of something the rod said or did. As a human with agency, Schilling makes a choice to vocalize his beliefs, and forces his former teams to decide whether, despite those beliefs, he should continue to represent them.

When Schilling came to Citizens Bank Park last June at the Phillies’ request, no one forcefully questioned his presence. Schilling was in some cases welcomed back as an old friend, an understanding seemingly in place that there would be no mention (outside of a playful context) of the hateful comments and actions that had come (and continue) to define him.

There is a cultural divide between between players and fans that keeps us mostly unaware of what goes on when they’re being themselves, and it seems like the “politically incorrect” culture that Schilling loved so much about the 1993 Phillies locker room was never supposed to leave the locker room. Or 1993. Or, ideally, exist in the first place. But it’s too late for even our quick glimpses of that culture to be erased; instead, they’re given unsettling new context by the trajectory of Schilling’s post-playing career.

“This is the concentration camp of baseball,” Schilling said about having to pitch at Mile High Stadium in a clip that made it into the 1993 video yearbook, too.

Schilling is an unarguable part of Phillies and Red Sox legends; a key figure in stories baseball fans will pass down to their kids. Being a fixture of the past is impossible to change. But every time he’s a part of their future, it is because of a conscious choice made by both teams after Schilling has proudly advocated against members of society that don’t fit his view of the world.

Any athlete who has political views is a walking example of the unavoidable intersection of sports and political beliefs. Schilling has chosen to be far more vocal with his thoughts, so if you want to blame someone for “making this about” anything other than baseball, blame him. Mickey Morandini opened a hardware store after his playing career was over. You may or may not know this, and if you do, you probably don’t care, because typically, we’re only asked to separate players and ex-players from their actions off the field when we know that they’ve done something wrong.

There is a limit to what the Phillies deem acceptable behavior off the field—Lenny Dykstra was not invited to that same 1993 anniversary celebration, and Pete Rose had his Wall of Fame ceremony canceled in 2017.

However, “There is not an official line of demarcation. Situations are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and a decision is made by senior management,” says Phillies VP of Communications Bonnie Clark via email.

Schilling has not yet reached the limit of what the Phillies deem acceptable behavior.

The Red Sox did not invite Schilling to a reunion of alumni from their 2004 World Series champion team last October, though the team said that the move “was not out of spite.” This year, when the Red Sox brought Schilling back to Fenway Park for their home opener, the media once more welcomed him back.

“HOF voting is not about politics,” Peter Gammons said while defending Schilling’s right to be there, bringing up Schilling’s annually debated Hall of Fame candidacy. This is a recurring trait in Schilling’s coverage: To have what he’s said and done zipped up in singular terms like “politics,” or as Jayson Stark did in his 2018 summation of Schilling’s Hall of Fame candidacy, “Twitter”:

OK, here we go one more time: We’re voting for the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Twitter.

Schilling was polling at about 74 percent on the Tracker, so he’s closing in. But he’ll have just three elections remaining after this year. If Mussina makes it this time around, it would stand to reason he’d be next in line. But then again … Twitter!

To refer to transphobia and xenophobia as “politics” legitimizes them as ideas. To refer to them as “Twitter” indicates a lack of understanding of the situation, creating a false equivalency of hate speech and grousing about the local team’s bullpen. And to not refer to them at all excuses them, and welcomes them to continue.

Without baseball, Schilling would simply live among other garden variety bigots; but because of his fastball, his message is amplified and his behavior is excused. The Phillies gave him a pass, along with a box suite and a round of applause, on 1993 Alumni Weekend last season. The Red Sox gave him a pass as they opened their home schedule this year. The press gives him a pass every time they choose not to breach the topic of his harmful statements or question what it says to have him treated as an honored guest by teams happy to look the other way.

And the last few years, despite Schilling not yet being enshrined in Cooperstown, many Hall of Fame voters have given him a pass as well, making sure you know that while they can’t get on board with his beliefs, they sure as hell aren’t going to hold him accountable for them.

It wasn’t until Schilling found the idea of lynching journalists “awesome” that the journalists of the BBWAA decided they’d had enough of him.

For one year. surveyed more than 50 writers who cast ballots this year, and only one (who chose to remain anonymous) said he gave the slightest thought to Schilling’s political orientation in casting his vote. Instead, evidence suggests a singular act six weeks ago might lie at the heart of Schilling’s dropoff in support.

The flashpoint came on Nov. 7 — amid the heat of the presidential election — when Schilling posted a tweet in response to a man wearing a T-shirt with the words, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” Schilling expressed his approval, calling the shirt “awesome,” before the comment disappeared from his timeline.

For writers like the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaugnessy, Schilling’s vitriol wasn’t serious enough to warrant a response until he became a victim of it:

I am not voting for Curt Schilling this year, and it has nothing to do with his politics. Schill was comfortable retweeting a despicable tweet promoting lynching of journalists. That is not a political issue. I’m sure he wasn’t serious, but it’s dangerous to promote that kind of rhetoric in today’s America. So I’m taking a year off from Schill.

This is not a points system, in which Schilling’s concern for the American education system or winning a town’s first World Series in 86 years earns him a wheelbarrow of bigot-bucks to spend at his leisure. Somewhere between 1999 and 2016, Schilling went from “gregarious” and “quotable” to a promoter of dangerous rhetoric, and all it took was a Twitter account.

When actually confronted about the hate he’s said or supported, Schilling has made a number of predictable claims—that it was just a politically incorrect joke; that he’s just using common sense; that people are just looking for a reason to be offended; that he is the true victim in all of this.

We should not be expecting Schilling, or the baseball writers who’d rather be his advocate or pal than his critic, to change. But every time a team presents Schilling to a crowd and lets him bask in applause, they are celebrating someone who they’d never retweet.

For a league that wants to “let the kids play,” Schilling offers a hell of a lesson on what those who play can get away with. If we say baseball is for everyone, but honor the men who only want their definition of “everyone” to matter, then the sport remains only for them. Teams like the Phillies and Red Sox would never give public approval to the things Schilling has posted in the past, but they are content to honor the man as long as he keeps a lid on himself for a couple of hours at the ballpark.

If you let it, hate can get in anywhere. And these teams are sending their current and prospective fans a clear message: We will open the door for hate, if it’s quiet enough.

Thank you for reading

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I don't agree with his politics, but a significant portion of America (maybe a quarter?) does, and excluding such a large portion of America from public life really doesn't work.
Steve Gozdecki
When "politics" is code for hate the likes of Schilling should be shunned. He can think what he likes and feel how he feels and share his views with his wife and bar buddies, but once he broadcasts it he's asking for the consequences of free speech to push him off to the margins where he belongs.
This isn't a 'wisdom of the crowds' situation. Just because "maybe a quarter" of the population has Fox News brain worms, doesn't make them fit for broader society, or for recognition. He's a bigot. That's the whole story.
John Johnston
“Maybe a quarter”? LOL. Try at least half. Did you miss the last presidential election? Or the fact that the GOP controls the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court?
John Johnston
Schilling is NOT a bigot. He simply holds political opinions that you disagree with. That’s fine, this is America, he has every right to hold his political opinions and you have every right to hold yours. But when you call him a bigot then you are the one who is being bigoted.
Except that political opinions can be bigoted. "Separate but equal" was both a political opinion and a bigoted opinion. Everybody does has the right to state his or her opinions but also the responsibility for the consequences of stating those opinions.
Steve Gozdecki
Great piece! I actually skipped it in my morning perusal of the site, assuming from the title that it was an interview with Schilling or something. But the subhead on the email newsletter clued me in and I'm glad I read it.
Bobby Borges
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I choose to recognize his baseball ability, not his politics or comments about journalists.
David Yeager
This piece gave me a lot to think about, and that's worth something. Thanks for writing it.
Maybe most of us don't really give a sh*t what he says? Also any dumbass reporters that brings up his t-shirt is a f**king idiot.
dwight billingsly
so it's liberal opinions and positions that are not hateful but conservative and non-liberal opinions are? who gets to define hate and who has the right to apply that term to political opinions? liberals have tried to silence conservatives by labeling what we say as hate, thereby trying to remove the need to debate conservatives. nothing i've seen in this column spoken by schilling is hate by any reasonable definition. right now we have two democrat congresswomen (omar and tlaib) who have openly expressed absolute anti-semitic rhetoric. but i see no condemnation from this author. bottom line: unless you can debate those opinions you consider hate, which this author does not do, you are only arguing for silencing other points of view. and that is never going to happen in this country.
Advocating transgender segregation, support for neo-Nazi political candidates, and "jokes" about lynching journalists made by a public figure with a platform can and should absolutely be called out. I encourage you to consider why these kinds of "conservative opinions" are problematic - maybe have one of those debates of which you speak with somebody who gets it.
John Johnston
“So it's liberal opinions and positions that are not hateful but conservative and non-liberal opinions are?”

Got it in one. Welcome to left-wing baseball, where a man trying to keep another man out of the bathroom that his nine-year-old daughter is in is somehow a “bigot” and all conservative speech is pre-defined as hate.
By all means, if a person walks into the bathroom to prey on a child, they should be stopped. You are neglecting the danger that trans people face every day, though. If a trans woman - who you may not even realize is trans - walks into a men's bathroom, her physical safety (and even her life) may be at risk. If a trans man walks into a women's bathroom, he also faces risks. You're asking people to live a lie - which poses risks of mental illness and suicide - or to out themselves in a world where that is not safe. Please take some time to listen to them and think about what they go through on a daily basis.

Getting back to the point of this article, though. Baseball as an institution should be as inclusive as possible. Honoring people who do not share that goal is not a good look.
Well stated. It's worth noting that teams would never allow this rhetoric from an active player, but they (and their fans) essentially chalk it up to Grumpy Bigoted Old Grandpa when it comes to former players. Wish this big baby would just go away for good.

Question: how has Arizona handled him since he went off the rails?
I clicked on this article hoping for something interesting about baseball and instead got some social justice warrior's blog that Vox wouldn't publish apparently. Its unfortunate this sort of thing gets published by BP; just make a different site or some identifier for it, its not difficult.
John Johnston
Excellent idea. Every baseball site seems to want to be Vox these days.
Byron Hauck
This was really nicely written, gaining force as it went along.
A well-written article. Thank you.
Edward Martin
Well done, Justin.
Alejandro Rodriguez
Great article, plenty to think about.
Imagine what the Twitter feed of some of the older (early-mid 20th Century) HoFers would look like? Schilling's not the first jackass that will be enshrined, but with the environment of social media access, his may be one of the loudest voices...
Albert Flexcellence
This site used to try to get people to think about things from different angles than they had before. Now it demands that all everyone must share this opinion in lockstep, and those who don’t should be banned from polite society.
This sorry excuse for an article would have never appeared back when BP was actually good (going on 8 years now). Do better.
Had you thought about this issue from this angle before?
Albert Flexcellence
Yes, it’s mentioned every time Schilling does anything at all and has been for years. There was no new information contained here, nor was a new idea provided on dealing with it; only the scary demand for the de-personing of a ball player and the removal of him from public life because of WrongThink. I know that this is the new way to silence people, and I will in no way agree with it or support venues who do.
John Johnston
I support this site. If it doesn’t rediscover it’s political balance I will cease to do so. This is supposed to be BP, not Vox.
Mark Majd
Excellent article. Curt can go f*ck himself and his bigot friends.
John Johnston
Look up “irony” and then take a really hard look in a mirror.
John Johnston
I was there when Schilling was originally falsely accused of hate for posting a fact. I have seen his honest opinions, shared by about half of the nation, falsely described as hate.

Schilling’s crime is that of loudly expressing conservative opinions in a time when the utterly intolerant left half of America is doing it best to see that no one is allowed to express such opinions. (FYI, the hate speech schtick is dead; SCOTUS has ruled that there is no such thing as hate speech, only speech, and that it is all protected.) “The court has said that because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, the First Amendment forbids discrimination against any class of speaker.” And yet here you all are, still trying to practice discrimination. Schilling has committed no crime whatsoever. He deserves to be treated with the respect he earned on the field.
Ross Fortner
As a centrist (I know, everyone hates that now), I'm going to give my two cents. I'm a classical liberal, whose liberal views as a young man have morphed into something a bit more conservative as I've aged. I also have a son I am raising who just turned 15 (imagine being newly 15 in today's world and our country's current political climate). To me, this article and the topic therein is a sort of microcosm of the larger problem we are facing as a society..the "Culture War," the "coming Civil War," the borderline-frightening battle between Left and Right in this country. I call myself a centrist because that's what I actually am; I try to find the common ground, to see both sides, to put things in perspective. It's not at all surprising that all this has spilled over into our beloved baseball- the one thing that everyone in this thread has in common. It's always been a fact of life that people are not always going to agree, not always going to share the same views; why it is being made out to seem like a new thing lately is beyond me, but I don't like the direction things are heading in. I completely understand the viewpoint of the author here; I don't share all his/her views but I understand and do agree that baseball, as all things in life, should be as inclusive as possible. That being said, the "social justice warrior" mentality concerns me greatly...we are seeing, in AMERICA, a profound lack of understanding between people, that is saddening given the strides we have made (or thought we had made) in recent decades. The Right has become very reactionary and extreme in their views, as has the Left. The problem that Conservatives have is, is that the Left controls the big businesses/Silicon Valley/Google/whatever, and are using that power to silence right-leaning voices, and it's a fact that's just not up for debate. Making Schilling "just go away" is just like banning Alex Jones et al from social media far are you prepared to take it? You have always known that some people do not share your views, and that some people have views that are not nice, racist, etc., but you cannot make everyone that's not like you "go away"...! Don't you see the hypocrisy in that, the IRONY? The social justice left has gone so far past reasonable bounds that they are becoming the very things they rail and protest against! It's a very troubling time to be alive. My wish is for us all to get back to finding that common ground. And when/if someone that you think, or know, is a bigot, transphobe, etc, is on the ballfield- you don't have to cheer or clap or praise them. "Ugh, there's Curt Schilling-hes not hurting me personally, I don't like his views, but he's a fellow human being, fellow AMERICAN, with his right to free speech, same as me..." don't have to like him. But to exclude him from events etc. because you don't agree with his views is simply not acceptable to me. You can't just ship everyone you disagree with their views off to Mars...we all have to live together, and I suggest we all start getting back to finding the common grounds....