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Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado is known throughout the baseball world as one of the most feared sluggers in the game. Last year the 32 year old All-Star hit 42 homers and drove in 145 runs. He has averaged almost 40 home runs a year over the last six seasons. With his imposing physical frame, baldhead and gold earring he is one of the most recognizable faces in the game. Lately he has put the baseball world on notice that he will use his fame to fight the US’s war on the world.
In a very sympathetic story on the pages of the Toronto Star, Delgado came public with the fact he won’t stand on the dug out steps for God Bless America. “I never stay outside for `God Bless America,'” Delgado said. “I actually don’t think people have noticed it. I don’t (stand) because I don’t believe it’s right, I don’t believe in the war.”
Delgado also made clear that we won’t stand for the priorities of the US military machine “It’s a very terrible thing that happened on September 11,” he said. “It’s (also) a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it’s the stupidest war ever. Who are you fighting against? You’re just getting ambushed now. We have more people dead now, after the war, than during the war. You’ve been looking for weapons of mass destruction. Where are they at? You’ve been looking for over a year. Can’t find them. I don’t support that. I don’t support what they do. I think it’s just stupid.”
Athletes have historically paid a steep price for standing up to the way sports is used to package patriotism and war. In the 1960s, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to go to Viet Nam. In 1991 Bulls guard Craig Hodges found himself black balled from the NBA after protesting the Gulf War at a visit to George Bush’s White House with the champion Chicago Bulls. A similar fate befell shooting guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1998 when he refused to stand for the National Anthem.
Delgado doesn’t care.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to break the mold. You’ve got to push it a little bit or else you can’t get anything done.” . Delgado fortunately is aided by both his superstar status and the fact he plays in Canada where the media is less likely to take orders from the Pentagon and slam the slugger.
But his resolve comes from a deeply personal place. You might say the issue of the US military’s human toll hits home. Delgado is from Puerto Rico and has campaigned for years to end the U.S. Navy’s presence in Vieques, an island that had been a weapons testing ground for sixty years. The Navy recently left Vieques, but it has also left behind an area with 50% unemployment, abnormally high cancer rates, and deep poverty. Delgado is now part of a movement to get the US government to clean up their mess. He sees the people of Vieques as another casualty in the war on Iraq, the guinea pigs for the weapons that have wreaked havoc throughout the Persian Gulf.
“You’re dealing with health, with poverty, with the roots of an entire community, both economically and environmentally,” Delgado has said. “This is way bigger than just a political or military issue. Because the military left last year and they haven’t cleaned the place up yet.
The catalytic event for his activism was when a Vieques man, David Sanes, was the casualty of an errant bomb on April 19, 1999. Delgado wanted to act so his father hooked him up with ‘an old Socialist Party pal’ named Ismael Guadalupe.
The high school teacher, “a leading figure in the island’s protest movement”, had spent six months in prison in 1979 for protesting on “Navy property” in Vieques.
“He wanted to help out with more than just the situation with the Navy,” Guadalupe, 59, said of Delgado. “He wanted to help the people there. He wanted to help the children.”
Delgado has done more than talk a good game. Together with singer Ricky Martin and boxer Felix Trinidad, took out full-page advertisements about Vieques in The New York Times and Washington Post. The full page ad included the names of fellow major league all stars Roberto Alomar, Juan Gonzalez, and Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez. Boxers John Ruiz and Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad and golfer Chichi Rodriguez also signed on.
Delgado didn’t fear reprisals for his newspaper ads critical of the Navy in April of 2001. “What are they going to do, kick me out of the game? Take away my endorsements?”
Delgado has put his money where his mouth is, donating $100,000 to youth sports, schools and activists on the island.
He also travels to Vieques every January to run clinics, and bear gifts for the children.
“You’ll need millions and millions of dollars to clean Vieques up. So, we try to make (the money) as effective as we can. We make it work for kids. I can’t clean up Vieques by myself. It’s going to take a lot of people.”
You get the feeling Carlos Delgado wants to see a clean up far beyond the borders of Puerto Rico.