By Pershelle Rohrer
October 6, 2020
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball, and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
On June 22, 2020, the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team, played the first of what was supposed to be a seven-game series against Florida-based USSSA Pride. The game marked the return of softball, as the sport was one of the first to restart from the coronavirus-related shutdown that effectively halted sports in March. The New York Times writer Natalie Weiner (2020) noted, “For a few hours this week, softball had a shot at something it has pursued for decades: the spotlight” (para. 1). The sport did receive attention following the game, but it wasn’t because of the teams’ play on the field. Rather, a mid-game tweet from Scrap Yard’s general manager caused an uproar that led all 18 players and the team’s coaches to walk away from the team (Poe, 2020).
When the players arrived back in the locker room following the game, they were met with screenshots and texts about the tweet. Scrap Yard general manager Connie May posted a photo on Scrap Yard’s Twitter page of the team standing on the field during the national anthem, tagging President Donald Trump’s Twitter handle with the caption, “Hey @realDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live … Everyone standing for the FLAG!” (Poe, 2020, para. 3). The President has been critical of athletes who kneel for the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The tweet was posted at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, just shy of a month after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The tweet was deleted before the conclusion of the game.
The players quickly identified May as the poster of the tweet and met with her to discuss the issue. May used the phrase “all lives matter” during the meeting, a statement that is often used in opposition to “Black lives matter” in order to disregard the struggles of the Black community to find justice and equality (Weiner, 2020). Kiki Stokes, one of Scrap Yard’s two Black players, walked out of the meeting, and the rest of the team followed (Hays, 2020b).
Players expressed their frustration about the politicization of the post. Pitcher and Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman said, “We were used as pawns in a political post, and that’s not OK” (Weiner, 2020, para. 9). USSSA Pride player A.J. Andrews emphasized the freedom to express personal political beliefs but opposed speaking for an entire group without consent. “Any statement anyone wants to make regarding the national anthem — it’s their right to take their own personal stand. It’s no one else’s right to take that for them. So to have someone shift that and have it come out in a statement that does not represent you as a person — you feel violated,” she said (Brunt, 2020, para. 9).
The story spread through the players’ social media accounts, which they used to call out Connie May. Aubree Munro and Aubrey Leach both emphasized that “this isn’t us” and stated that they wouldn’t play for Scrap Yard again.
May’s tweet from the Scrap Yard page was a deviation from the norm. Jade Hewitt, a longtime employee of Scrap Yard, managed the team’s social media almost exclusively. It was unusual for anyone else to post to the Scrap Yard accounts, so when May’s tweet was posted, many people assumed that it was written by Hewitt (Hays, 2020a). May’s decision to tweet from the official account not only took away the voices of the players, but also caused Hewitt to receive backlash for something that she did not post (Hays, 2020a). It was a demonstration of how quickly a social media post can spread and the impact it can have on the image of the individuals involved with its creation.
Hewitt said, “I did not write or post that tweet. It is not what I personally stand for. I stand by our athletes, I stand by our players. And Scrap Yard is no longer an organization that I will be affiliated with” (Hays, 2020a, para. 13).
Scrap Yard’s players pledged to never represent the organization again, and many fans and media members assumed that their season was over. However, the players felt that they could continue to make an impact on the field. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik (2020) wrote, “The players may have left the Scrap Yard Dawgs behind, but had no intention of walking away from softball, especially after what happened. So they did the next best thing: They started their own team” (para. 3). The 18 players, 11 of whom are listed on the United States roster for the Tokyo Olympics, rebranded as “This Is Us” with the intention of continuing their series against the USSSA Pride (Poe, 2020). The team developed a mission statement, saying that This Is Us is “here to spark a necessary change in the softball community, gaining and sharing knowledge about racial injustice in our world” (Hays, 2020b, para. 4).
The team put their words into action following their first game under the new brand. This Is Us defeated the Pride, 3-1, on June 27. Kiki Stokes and Samantha Show took a stand against social injustice by kneeling for the national anthem prior to the contest, and Sam Fischer led a moderated panel discussion on the field following the game. Stokes, Show, Aubree Munro, and Taylor Edwards participated in the discussion about the events of the past week (Rosenberg, 2020).
Media members praised the players of Scrap Yard for making the difficult decision to leave the team behind despite the potential financial insecurity it could cause. The Orlando Sentinel’s Julia Poe (2020) talked about the risk behind the decision, explaining that, “Professional softball is a high-risk, low income sport in the U.S., with players coaching or picking up extra jobs on the side to support their careers” (para. 11). ESPN’s Graham Hays (2020b) wrote that Scrap Yard was one of the most lucrative options for softball players to compete professionally without going overseas to Japan. Natasha Watley, the first Black softball player for team USA, emphasized that, “We’re already getting paid pennies and now we’re going to get paid nothing to stand up for this. That’s how much it matters” (Poe, 2020, para. 14).
Despite the potential financial issues the walkout could cause, Cat Osterman explained that the decision to rebrand was easy. “We’re not going to tolerate that in our sport. It wasn’t as hard of a decision as everyone thinks it was, because we knew it was the right thing to do,” she said (Weiner, 2020, para. 20).
This Is Us played through donations and fundraising before Smash It Sports helped sponsor the team. USSSA helped provide uniforms for the team and planned on hosting the team for at least 20 games against the Pride with the season ending on July 24 (Rosenberg, 2020). However, the season was cancelled on July 8 after just five games due to This Is Us being exposed to COVID-19 (Hays, 2020c).
While This Is Us didn’t have the opportunity to finish their season, their story was covered by national news outlets such as the New York Times and Associated Press (Rosenberg, 2020). However, sports media, particularly ESPN, had little to no coverage of the series of events. Graham Hays was the only ESPN writer to cover This Is Us, writing three articles about their journey from quitting Scrap Yard to the rebrand to the season’s cancellation. ESPN’s social media accounts do not have any coverage of this story. Social media plays a major influence in fans’ perceptions of sports, and ESPN’s lack of coverage could be a cause of This Is Us’ story remaining virtually unknown in the sports world three months later. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik, Softball America’s Benjamin Rosenberg, and Sports Illustrated’s Jenna West also released stories about This Is Us, but it remains unknown how much more coverage an entire team’s disaffiliation would have received if it occurred in a more popular sport.
The rebranding of the Scrap Yard players into This Is Us helped inspire change in a predominantly white sport. “Playing would be really powerful, taking that control back that was taken away from us,” This Is Us player Sam Fischer noted (Hays, 2020b, para. 8). That goal should be considered a success, as the softball world united behind the 18 players who walked out and supported them on their goal for achieving racial equality. Although their season was short, This Is Us looks to continue to fight for social justice in 2021 and beyond.
Aubree_Munro1. (2020, June 22). Tonight we were misrepresented by Connie May who acted on behalf of @ScrapYardFP I’m appalled by the insentivity & will not represent Scrap Yard ever again. I’m so sorry to all my friends & teammates and the future softball players that are hurt by this. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Aubree_Munro1/status/1275247782648053760?s=20
aubrey_lynne10. (2020, June 22). THIS ISN’T US! What has happened was incredibly inconsiderate, we do not condone, and will no longer be supporting @ScrapYardFP due to the actions taken behind our backs. This season was ment to be something special, to be a light in the darkness. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aubrey_lynne10/status/1275239965862002692?s=20
aubrey_lynne10. (2020, June 22). [Statement following Connie May tweet] [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aubrey_lynne10/status/1275245355995664384?s=20
Brunt, C. (2020, June 25). Pro softball team suffers fallout after GM’s anthem tweet. Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/b624cbde1bff8817ee8a112646f5322e
Cwik, C. (2020, June 26). How a Donald Trump tweet controversy inspired pro softball players to speak out and form a new team. Yahoo! Entertainment. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/how-a-donald-trump-tweet-controversy-inspired-pro-softball-players-to-stand-up-and-form-a-new-team-191245388.html
Hays, G. (2020a, June 23). Scrap Yard Dawgs softball players walk out after GM’s tweet about national anthem. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29353915/scrap-yard-dawgs-softball-players-walk-gm-tweet-national-anthem
Hays, G. (2020b, June 27). Ex-Scrap Yard softball players return to form This Is Us team. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29372544/ex-scrap-yard-softball-players-return-form-us-team
Hays, G. (2020c, July 8). ‘This Is Us’ all-star softball team cancels season 2 weeks after launch. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29431087/this-us-all-star-softball-team-cancels-season-2-weeks-launch
Poe, J. (2020, June 29). This Is Us softball team formed in response to Donald Trump anthem tweet. Orlando Sentinel. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/os-sp-softball-this-is-us-anthem-donald-trump-20200630-qaoyfr4oxfd57b5wowelpjzjr4-story.html
Rosenberg, B. (2020, July 6). This Is Us Softball hopes to continue fight for racial justice. Softball America. https://www.softballamerica.com/stories/this-is-us-softball-hopes-to-continue-fight-for-racial-justice/
Weiner, N. (2020, June 24). A softball team’s tweet to Trump leads players to quit mid-series. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/sports/scrap-yard-softball-anthem-tweet.html