GLENMONT — A banner of a different matter is the center of attention these days at Magee Park.
Delmar attorney Ted Hartman wants to put a Black Lives Matter sign next to one of the many advertisers that line each of the outfield fences at the Little League complex in town. He asked for the sign, and league officials apparently stuttered.
Hartman first approached the league in July, after he had asked to purchase a sign expressing support for Black Lives Matter. According to documentation on the league’s website, there’s no policy stated against political themed advertising. Signs for the Bethlehem Democratic Committee and the Bethlehem Police Officers’ Union were present. However, the sponsorship deadline for the 2020 season passed in February. He was told he had missed the deadline.
Before the start of the season, Hartman had purchased an advertising package, setting him up to sponsor a team, of which he was planning to coach. But, the governor’s office shut the state down, forbidding social gatherings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, before Opening Day. Once the league hatched a plan to start playing games in June, only players from the older levels fielded teams. The name of Hartman’s law practice was silk-screened on hats and shirts sitting in a box with nobody to wear them. According to league officials, families were refunded and uniforms will be used next year.
The situation has grown contentious over the passing months, not unlike the social discourse that has marred a community over race. Dueling demonstrations supporting Black Lives Matter and Back the Blue stood shouting at one another on Four Corners on July 4, preceded by another protest involving more than 1,500 people sparked after the controversial death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Black Lives Matter
A similar Black Lives Matter banner was pitched for the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail that runs through town. According to organizers for that sign, the county executive’s office approved their request to hang it off the bridge that spans across Elsmere Avenue. However, when vandals painted over several pieces of artwork supporting Black Lives Matter, the county rescinded its approval.
Organizers said the county didn’t want to attract more vandalism. Instead, they adapted to holding the sign at the intersection of Delaware and Elsmere avenues. It’s the same sign to which an Altamont man was later arrested for driving recklessly after attempting to intimidate the sign bearers on Election Night.
“To me Black Lives Matter has to do with the systemic oppression of Black people in the United States,” Hartman said. “And, how these people have been dehumanized.”
Hartman grew up in Bethlehem, a town in which its distinction of being 94.74 percent white has been mentioned quite often lately. But, he wasn’t in town when the census last recorded that figure in 2010. He was a public defender in New Orleans. while Louisiana still suffered through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He estimated 95 percent of who he defended were Black. His experience in the deep south, he said, helped him earn a new perspective on Black lives and immigrants, arguably two of the most marginalized groups in recent years.
“I can’t replicate the experience I had living in post-Katrina New Orleans and meeting people in prisons who hadn’t seen a lawyer in two years… with someone who’s spent most of their life living in the Capital District,” Hartman said. “So, I think it’s really hard for me to get through to some people about what Black Lives Matter means to me, when their experience is so different.”
Hartman said he has never received an official word from Tri VIllage regarding his sign request. He was initially told he was past the deadline. When pushed, he was later told Little League International encouraged Tri Village to erect its own sign, “No place for racism and hate in the Little League.” Through conversations with friends on the Tri Village board, Hartman said some members were not in favor of his sign.
“That sign does nothing to recognize Black lives lost,” said Hartman. “It’s a cop out. I wanted a sign that says Black Lives Matter to honor those lives lost.”
This is a place to play baseball
There are 33 members of the Tri Village Little League board of directors. Once the season ends, Paul Matrose said, it’s more difficult to have everyone come together. There are weeks during the summer, the board member said, where work towards the league is equivalent to a part-time job. That’s how it felt, he said, as the league scrambled to salvage a baseball season.
“When Ted wanted his Black Lives Matter sign back in July, we wanted to take time as a board to figure out how we were going to handle these situations,” Matrose said. “Not just this one, but in the future. We were working on baseball at that point and our plan was, in the off-season, to address this kind of stuff for sponsorship for the following year.”
Tri Village revealed its own sign in July. At the same time, it fielded a barrage of negative comments on social media. Comments accusing league officials of being racist were spread on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The league temporarily shutdown its Facebook page as a result. Hartman said he had no involvement with the online harassment.
Matt Zoller resigned as president of Tri Village Little League last Tuesday after only three months at the position. He said it was a difficult decision, but “I don’t want to be in a spot where I’m creating adversarial relationships with people inside this community.”
“This is Little League,” Matrose said. “This is a place to play baseball.”
Matrose said much of the board’s discussion on the subject surrounds how to handle politically themed signs, and who is to decide what signs go up and what ones are rejected. In September, a reorganization of the league’s leadership was followed two months later by an 11 to 8 vote of the board to erect Hartman’s sign for the 2021 season. The board agreed to erect his sign and three more that included, “We support Bethlehem police,” “TVLL supports LGBT rights” and “Together, We are one Bethlehem.”
However, that changed last week when Hartman was informed that another vote was to take place. Board members who were not present for the vote felt they didn’t have a change because they were not informed a decision was going to be made. The vote was not on the board’s agenda.
“If you know anyone on the TVLL Board, reach out to them ASAP,” Hartman wrote last Monday, on Facebook. “They are revoting on the banners and reaching out to racists who are on the board who haven’t voted on anything in years.
“They have enough racists to vote for their side,” he stated. The post has since been deleted.
Tri Village released a statement on its Facebook page last week. Within it, it states, “TVLL has announced the formation of a Community Committee with the goal of creating ways to diversify both our board and our player population. As a result, we have participated in many productive, thoughtful, honest, and candid conversations around race, gender, and other important community-based issues. These conversations are like those happening at every dinner table, classroom, board room, and place of worship across the country. As a result of our large pool of volunteers, these conversations require time and patience.”
Matrose explained that the prevailing view of the matter is to keep Magee Park as an escape from the current, acrid political environment.
“We don’t want a Four Corners incident, for the lack of a better term, happening at Magee,” he said. “Where you have two sides coming together at Magee and there being an incident there, where the kids are trying to play baseball and the adults are making this into something that is not baseball.”
Hartman said he doesn’t “hate” Tri Village. He played there as a kid and he said he still plans to coach there next season. He believes a Black Lives Matter sign at Magee Park will help normalize the message much in the way of the singing of the National Anthem before games.
Despite his use of the term “racists,” he said he hasn’t observed anyone specifically being one.
“My opinion is that: If a person would vote no to a BLM banner in the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” he said, “that person is probably a racist.”