PORT CHARLOTTE — Rays infielder Taylor Walls said he wasn’t looking to become the center of a political controversy on social media — and seemingly at odds with his bosses — on Wednesday.
But he did exactly that by tweeting that he agreed with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stance against allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls’ and women’s sports.
DeSantis interjected himself into the issue Tuesday with comments, a proclamation and a tweet, criticizing the NCAA for “destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships and perpetuating a fraud” after transgender woman Lia Thomas won an event at the national swim meet.
Walls, 25, aligned himself with DeSantis by sharing the governor’s tweet, adding, “Couldn’t agree more.”
By the end of the afternoon, Walls found everything from his political beliefs to his hairstyle being debated by commenters on both sides of the issue; getting a talking-to from manager Kevin Cash about the perils of social media; and trying to explain that he didn’t mean any disrespect with what he said.
“In my opinion, I don’t think I did anything wrong,” Walls told the Tampa Bay Times after playing in Wednesday’s game in North Port. “I think I just gave my opinion. Some people may have taken that out of context. And I’m very sorry to them. I respect them. I don’t mean any disrespect to anybody at all.”
Walls, a second-year big-leaguer from Georgia who attended Florida State, said he hadn’t delved that deeply into the transgender issue but believed he knew enough that he didn’t think it was right and felt strongly enough to say so.
“Usually, I try to keep politics away from everything,” Walls said. “Other people’s views are other people’s views. I respect that 100 percent. The same way I feel that mine should be respected, too. So, no, I’m not a big political-rant guy, I’m not trying to spark many conversations.
“Honestly, it’s just something to where I was kind of voicing my opinion out loud. It was just more of an impulsive thing to where I saw something, (and) I agreed with it.”
Walls is believed to be one of the first professional athletes to speak out on the subject. His views likely did not go over well with his bosses, as the Rays front office is openly supportive of inclusiveness, especially with respect to racial and gender issues.
Walls likely is not the only Rays player with an opinion on the subject. Cash said there would be further conversations about it.
“There are a lot of challenging discussions in our society right now,” Cash said. “It’s probably best that we take the time to have more discussions to find clarity, in fairness to everybody. Twitter is not the best forum for that.”
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Walls said he realizes you “have to be very careful” on social media but added that “everybody’s opinion should be valued or heard. The same way that I do my best to understand everyone’s perspective, even if I don’t agree with it, I think that should be reciprocated to everyone. ...
“I feel like it’s a two-way street. I feel like I respect others. I don’t do anything out of disrespect or harming anyone else. It’s just my opinion. And feel free to disagree, there’s no harm done. I don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone else. And that’s kind of it.”
Speaking Tuesday in Wesley Chapel, DeSantis unexpectedly brought up the issue, claiming that Sarasota native Emma Weyant, who finished second to Thomas in the 500-yard women’s freestyle race, should be recognized as the “best female swimmer” in the NCAA event.
Walls said he didn’t want to get into specifics regarding his objection to the situation.
“For a long time, especially in NCAA sports, people have been fighting for women(’s) rights and women(’s) equality,” he said. “I’m not going to go down this road, because I don’t want to get political, but there’s plenty of reasons why people may have a certain opinion or may think a certain way.”
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