Earlier this month, Kurt Suzuki broke my heart. During the Washington Nationals’ visit to the White House to celebrate winning the World Series, Suzuki donned a “Make America Great Again” hat and received a now-viral hug from the president.
This disappointed me for a number of reasons. Not only was it a person of color sporting a hat which has become synonymous with a hate symbol, but it betrayed Kurt’s home — it’s also my home.
Kurt Suzuki and I both grew up in Wailuku, Hawai‘i, on the island of Maui, 15 years apart. As young baseball players in Wailuku, my teammates and I looked up to Suzuki and Shane Victorino, two Wailuku boys turned Major League Baseball All-Stars. At my first Major League Baseball game, I watched Suzuki catch for the Oakland Athletics against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. I attended the Kurt Suzuki Baseball Camp and had his autograph on a baseball in my bedroom growing up.
Discovering his allegiance to President Donald Trump felt like a stake driven through my heart. How could a man of color from the most progressive state in the nation, who was raised with the aloha spirit, support a politician who so openly exists in defiance of all of that? A politician who notoriously doubted the birth certificate of Hawai‘i’s most famous son, former President Barack Obama?
Suzuki’s support of Trump flies in the face of our home. In the 2016 election, our precinct, HI 08-03, was located in Suzuki’s high school. Hillary Clinton won the precinct over Trump by 44%.
Two days after Suzuki visited the White House, 4,759 miles away, another Hawaiian baseball player solidified his status as an icon of the aupuni, or the Hawaiian Nation. Kolten Wong, second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, visited Pu‘uhōnua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, site of the ongoing protests to protect Mauna Kea, and spoke in favor of the kia‘i, or protectors of the mauna.
“This is our island, this is our mauna,” he said in an interview on the mountain. “For some reason people think they can come desecrate our island. That’s not gonna happen.”
This was not Wong’s first time expressing public support for the kia‘i. He has worn his heart on his sleeve for years. On July 25, while rounding the bases during a home run, Wong threw up the hand sign which has become known as “Kū Kia‘i Mauna.” Since 2015, Wong has had “We Are Mauna Kea” on every baseball bat he’s used. He regularly uses his platform to advance the profile of the Mauna Kea protests and Native Hawaiian issues.
I love everything that Wong has done with his platform. I most definitely do not love what Suzuki has done. It’s a rather unfortunate reminder that professional athletes are people first. They are allowed to have their opinions. Professional athletes vote too.
While I reacted with disappointment and more than a little bit of sadness at the sight of Suzuki wearing a MAGA hat, throwing up two shakas, gently caressed by Trump, there was no anger there. I didn’t take to Twitter to berate Suzuki, whose own account went private that afternoon as he trended worldwide.
Kurt is allowed to politicize his platform just as much as Kolten is. The Mauna Kea protests are just as divisive in Hawai‘i as “Trumpism” is nationally. If I am going to be proud when Wong stands for Mauna Kea, I have to accept that Suzuki can support a man whose existence is antithetical to Hawaiian values.
As we have pointed out many times in the Foghorn sports section this semester, players are people too. They have the same agency as us. Having a platform does not disqualify them from having an opinion. They don’t have to stick to sports for the same reason I don’t have to stick to being a college student.