An Unlikely Source of Catharsis for a Black M.L.B. Player: Social Media

Tony Kemp felt, in his phrases, depressed.

Soon after George Floyd’s demise in May, with enduring protests about racial injustice and police brutality across the nation, Kemp couldn’t get himself out of mattress till 2 or three p.m. on back-to-back days.

“I was just down in the dumps,” stated Kemp, an infielder-outfielder for the Oakland Athletics.

Seeking some catharsis, he selected June 5 to start out the kind of civil dialogue that always feels so missing these days. Kemp, 28, walked into his kitchen in Nashville, sat down and tapped out a message on his cellphone to his 42,000 followers on Twitter.

“Let’s be honest,” he wrote. “It’s been a tough week. If any of you need to talk or want to be more informed don’t hesitate to ask me. All love.”

Social media will be a difficult venue for tackling delicate topics with nuance. But for Kemp, one of the few African-American gamers in Major League Baseball, sending that tweet felt like putting a bar stool at his kitchen island and alluring anybody to affix him for a dialog in regards to the points roiling the nation.

“When I was talking to him, Tony seemed genuinely concerned and he really wanted to know what I thought about making things better,” said Wheeler, a 52-year-old white man who works as a medical consultant and lives two hours outside Dallas. “That just blew me away.”

Wheeler is a self-avowed “gun-toting right-winger” who said he would rather fund education than defund the police. As he talked to Kemp, Wheeler said, he could tell they were coming from differing perspectives but shared a common interest in eradicating systemic racism and improving the disparities in Texas’ public schools.

“We had the exact same end point in mind,” Wheeler said. “We just got at it from different viewpoints.”

When Kemp first opened the line of communication with fans, he braced himself for polarizing comments. There were certainly some difficultconversations, but he said people were mostly cordial.

“I don’t see myself as much of an activist,” said Kemp, who was drafted out of Vanderbilt University in 2013 by the Houston Astros, for whom he played from 2016 to 2019 before trades to the Chicago Cubs and then Oakland. “I’m not into politics. I just think this is a matter of right and wrong. And for me, it was very therapeutic to reach out to some people and educate some people.”

Kemp, who doesn’t have children, fielded questions from parents who sought advice on how to talk to their children about racism or who were white and adopted Black children. When someone asked what was wrong with saying “All Lives Matter” — because “it seems B.L.M. is about one specific race” — Kemp explained the Black Lives Matter movement.

When a woman asked Kemp how she could better understand his experience, Kemp sent her a list of documentaries, movies, podcasts and books that he and his wife had compiled.

“My hope is that these conversations will last, with some people with a new perspective having a domino effect to the next person and so on and so on,” he said. “That’s how you see change.”

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