Jack Flaherty on sitting out, creating change

ST. LOUIS — Speaking with the media for 25 minutes before Thursday’s doubleheader against the Pirates, Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty described what the past day has been like for him as athletes around the sports world have used their voices to sit out games, postpone games and demand change.
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ST. LOUIS — Speaking with the media for 25 minutes before Thursday’s doubleheader against the Pirates, Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty described what the past day has been like for him as athletes around the sports world have used their voices to sit out games, postpone games and demand change.

The 24-year-old was included in the team’s statement on Dexter Fowler, who chose to sit out of the lineup Wednesday in solidarity with other players around MLB — as well as the NBA, NHL, WNBA and MLS — deciding not to play in protest of racial injustice. Flaherty was not scheduled to pitch or take part in Wednesday’s game, but he said he appreciated that the team included him in the statement.

“I appreciated being included, but that was Dex’s way of — I don’t want to speak for him, but it was just about supporting everybody and to make that statement of not playing yesterday,” Flaherty said. “A lot of trying to gather thoughts and trying to gather feelings and emotions.”

Flaherty said he didn’t expect the team to not play Wednesday night because his and Fowler’s decision happened so close to first pitch.

“I said, ‘Look, you’ve got 20 minutes before the game,’” Flaherty said. “I love our guys for going out and playing and winning. And they texted us right afterward. This ain’t about me right now. I said, ‘Dex needs your support. I don’t want him to feel like he’s on an island. I’m not choosing to not play because I don’t have to make that decision tonight. He knows you guys support him and, but just let him know.’ I’m proud of the way that they went out and played the game and the way that they battled back, and they’re going to go out there and play today.”

When Flaherty went home Wednesday, his night was spent on the phone with other baseball players and athletes from other sports, trying to understand the situation and figure out the next steps to elicit change. He explained the message not playing is supposed to send.

“[The NBA players wanted to] not have basketball be a distraction,” Flaherty said. “To force everybody to face the reality of what’s going on. You see the comments on social media, of people saying that sports are supposed to be a distraction. ‘We want a distraction from the situation.’ That’s kind of part of the problem. People don’t like to face reality.

“By the NBA not playing yesterday, you literally had to listen. You had to listen to why. Well, because of what went on Wisconsin, what has gone on since George Floyd was murdered and what has gone on in the last 400 years. You had to listen. You were forced to listen to the situation, and if it was uncomfortable, then I don’t really know what to say to that.”

Flaherty talked specifically on Thursday about his desire to become more involved in the St. Louis community, sharing some of the conversations about his hope of helping Busch Stadium potentially serve as a voting venue in November — something the Cardinals have approached the city about with no decisions being made yet — as well as conversations within the clubhouse about what the Cardinals can do as a team beyond bringing awareness.

In his third year in the big leagues, and after a historic 2019 that saw him emerge as the Cardinals’ ace, Flaherty has found his voice off the field. He spoke Thursday about the balance of being a young player and wanting to speak up in the game. He was one of the game’s most outspoken players after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May sparked protests around the country.

Bringing awareness and having conversations are just the first step in making change, and now Flaherty wants to see action taking place. That starts with him, he said. One of the actions announced after Flaherty spoke is that members of The Players Alliance, a group of current and former Black players that Flaherty and Fowler are a part of, are donating salaries on Thursday and Friday — which is Jackie Robinson Day — to “support the group’s effort to combat racial inequality and aid the Black families and communities deeply affected in the wake of recent events,” the group said in a statement on Twitter.

“That’s just the honest conversation, I haven’t been involved enough,” Flaherty said. “I haven’t done enough. It’s hard for the young guys. What [is] us sitting out gonna do? We’re just a bunch of young guys still trying to make our name in this league. It’s hard because you just want to go about your business and get into the league, and then you’re like ‘OK, now how can I focus on what can I do to get in the community?’

“And it’s hit that point for me of like, OK, well, what can I do? It’s hard to look back and be like, well why haven’t I done anything up to this point? But now looking forward it’s, what can I do? What can I do to get involved in the community and in what’s going on in St. Louis? … I’ve missed on those opportunities and I truly don’t want to miss any of those opportunities going forward to make change.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.

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