Last week, New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett used the R-word in reference to a question about his effectiveness against the Boston Red Sox. We activated our “Spread the Word to End the Word” social media channels in an effort to engage and activate our community as we often do when we see people of note using the word publicly.
Our goal is to use these opportunities as teaching moments and to continue the conversations of respect, dignity and inclusion with the R-word serving as the catalyst to the larger conversation of acceptance for people with intellectual disabilities. We always seek out the social media channels of the person who says the R-word so we can provide an action item for our constituents to leave Facebook posts or send tweets in the hope that a show of strong support will influence the person who uses the R-word to recognize that their choice of language can be hurtful to our population and that they will choose to engage with our campaign, and in a perfect world participate in Special Olympics or Best Buddies activities over the longer term.
Today, I’d like to share two things. The first is an apology. On Friday we posted on Facebook and tweeted that A.J. Burnett had apologized for using the R-word based on a Facebook post on what we thought was his page. This is not his page. We pointed to this page twice as a way for our fans to activate and we apologize for doing so in error. We do greatly appreciate the continued support of our passionate fans who regularly take the time to speak out on Facebook walls and on Twitter and we will be extra diligent in the future so as not to make this mistake again.
It wasn’t long after we pointed to the fake A.J. Burnett page that we became suspicious as to whether it was in fact his page. So in an effort to confirm, we reached out to Jason Zillo, Director of Media Relations for the New York Yankees. The second thing I’d like to share is the email we received in response.
Thanks for the note. I actually saw the PSA you are referring to this week. Nicely done.
I have attached and enclosed a variety of photos, videos and newspaper clips that touch on the work A.J. has done and continues to do with disabled and/or disadvantaged youth. I’d encourage you to take a few moments to view for yourself and share with others. Among his work, he hosts a baseball camp and game with the Miracle League each year in his hometown in Arkansas and was a leader in initiating a baseball game played last season at Yankee Stadium with members of Beautiful People, a youth group from upstate New York with various disabilities. Two years ago, he stayed at Yankee Stadium until 3 am to play with children from Camp Sundown, who are afflicted with an extremely rare skin disease that prevents them from ever being exposed to sunlight.
Probably most importantly, he does these things not because he is required to but because he wants to. From personal experience I can tell you that is not always the case. It’s both refreshing and needed.
I’m a big believer that actions speak louder than words, and although A.J.’s use of the word may have rightfully upset others, his body of work over the years is a much more powerful and lasting statement into his commitment to programs very similar to yours.
FYI – that is not AJ’s Facebook page. He does not have one. None of our players do, but all of our players do have imposter Facebook and twitter accounts. Not much they can do about it either.
At the bottom of this post are the photos Jason shared, and this link will open a PDF with some additional clips.
We’re following up with Jason to thank him for sharing this information and on an engagement opportunity he mentioned in his email that was omitted as details are not finalized.
Sadly, this actually puts us back at square one with A.J. from the standpoint that what we mistakenly thought was an apology, was in fact just an imposter. Again, that was our fault. Clearly, we’d love to still see A.J. make a sincere apology. But we thought it important to share this information about his ongoing work because at the end of the day we feel like the most impactful way to make a difference is by being involved in activities that promote the inclusion and respect of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This shows that A.J. does make the time for that sort of deeper engagement and we applaud him for that, though we do hope in the future his choice of words better align with his good deeds.
That would be a win for everyone.