All-Star Athlete Speaks Out on Immigration

Sean Doolittle of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning at the Oakland Coliseum, on April 18, 2017 in Oakland, Calif.
Jason O. Watson—Getty Images Sean Doolittle of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning at the Oakland Coliseum, on April 18, 2017 in Oakland, Calif.

Sean Doolittle is a Star Wars–worshipping, dog-loving, prodigious-beard-possessing, gay-rights-defending, troop-supporting 30-year-old lefthanded reliever for the Athletics.

An All-Star in 2014, more recently he has commanded attention as a vocal supporter of refugees and as a critic of the President’s executive order curtailing immigration. Doolittle, who was born in South Dakota and grew up in New Jersey, talked with SI about the national political climate, the importance of immigration and how to speak out as an athlete.

SI: You and your fiancée, Eireann Dolan, hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in her hometown of Chicago in 2015 for 21 Syrian refugee families.
SD: We did some research and thought that a traditional American Thanksgiving would be a good way to welcome them. We wanted to reach out to say that there are people who are glad they came.

SI: Did you approach it as a political act?
SD: To us it seemed like a humanitarian thing to do. These people were fleeing a civil war. Some people asked us online if we were doing the same thing for veterans: Eireann and I both come from military families, and we do a lot of work with veterans’ organizations. Helping people in need isn’t a zero-sum game. And compassion shouldn’t fall along political lines.
Refugees don’t just come over. They wait in camps and go through background checks and interviews. They realize how fortunate they are to get to America, and they’re not going to come over here to hang out. To think it’s a Trojan-horse operation doesn’t make sense to me.
SI: What is your take on the so-called travel ban?
SD: The new government is relying on stereotypes and Islamophobia, using false information to support its immigration reforms. The facts tell a different story: Crime rates are lower for refugees and immigrants than for American citizens, and net illegal immigration from Mexico is thought to be at or less than zero.
SI: Do you talk politics with your teammates?
SD: It’s inevitable that these things come up—it’s a long season, and we’re together in close quarters. I’ve had a lot of respectful debates and conversations. But even with the political climate the way it is, guys are really focused on playing baseball.
SI: Given that last year more than one-quarter (27.5%) of MLB players were foreign-born, you’d think immigration would be a topic.
SD: It doesn’t come up that much, but major league baseball is kind of a microcosm of the U.S. We’re the best baseball league because we can get the best players from all over the world. America is the best country in the world because we can get the best doctors and scientists from all over. Isolationist ideas—a refugee ban, a wall—seriously jeopardize that.
SI: What do you think about before you talk publicly about these issues?
SD: You have to do it from an educated position. You have to remember you’re representing yourself and your family and the team you play for and the league you play in. That’s not something we take lightly. We know our words really do have weight.

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