The sometimes serious, but generally frivolous, musings of a city girl now living in the woods.
See, I love sports, especially baseball. I love the Olympics and I love getting out for a spontaneous staff softball game. That’s nothing to be particularly guilty about, I know. What makes me guilty is the way I believe in sports, the way I believe that they can and are a part of the solution to so many problems. I mean, to this day, the stories of Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Josh Gibson electrify something in my brain, much like the stories of Fannie Lou Hamer and Fred Korematsu. In my mind, those folks who integrated American baseball are as important as these racial justice luminaries. When I read about how Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbedejo speak out about GLBT discrimination and the freedom to marry, my hear skips a beat because I think they are important leaders in this fight.
Yet I know that (a) giving sports heroes more credit than the activists and freedom fighters doing social justice work is ridiculous and, perhaps more importantly, that (b) these stories are all exceptions that prove the rule. Of course there are courageous individuals involved in sports; there are in all professions and walks of life. But I know that for all the good the Robinsons and Kluwes do, there is still just a massive, sexist, money-grubbing industry behind it all. For all the ways we glorify athletes, really, they are, at best, pawns for their sponsors/team owners and at worst, participants in a ridiculous, exclusive and often violent culture. (Have you seem how drunk your average Raider game is? Have you noticed that it is damned near impossible to watch women athletes on TV? Has it ever crossed your mind how awful it was that Keri Strug risked her legs, her health, her life so she could do another vault? Ugh.)
Maybe the biggest problem is that Professional Sports are one of the key parts of the machine that spreads the myth of the meritocracy around. All these guys–and I say guys deliberately–are held up to us as shining examples of people who work very, very hard to achieve their goals. And yes, they do work very, very hard, and we all should, but that hard work is necessary, but not sufficient to success in sports, and in professional life in the US. It is some miniscule collection of people who actually make it to the majors, but nonetheless, kids grow up believing it is possible. This pull-yourselves-up-by-your-bootstraps myth is such a destructive part of our political and cultural consciousness, and sports acts as one of the great propaganda tools.
But I still love sports. This October, when the improbable Oakland A’s made an incredible run to, and nearly through, the playoffs I was so inspired. So inspired that when their playoff run was over I was bereft, sad in a way that should be reserved for actual, real-life heartache. But there was so much human drama, good, human drama with these boys. I mean when Brandon McCarthy got beaned in the head by a hella feast line drive, the boys, and the rest of the baseball world rallied around him. When Pat Neshek lost his baby son, the team welcomed him and his wife like family to grieve together. Seriously, it was an special look at what kind humans can do for one another.
If we could return, briefly, to issues of social justice, I would say it’s true that Jackie did not create nor creatively strategize the civil rights movement. It is true, though, that Americans (lots of White Americans, admittedly) saw grace, skill and bravery in his fine play. Maybe in a little way, there was no bus boycott, no Freedom Ride, no 1968 Democratic convention without a a slight change in the popular narrative about African Americans. Perhaps Jackie–and others, of course!–helped to slightly change the story. So perhaps sports do sometimes act as the propaganda machine we need them to be.