I’ve been writing this column for a while, close to a year and a half. I’ve written personal stuff, reflections on my own sporting activity, past and present; there have been articles about statistical analysis in baseball, articles that condemn the sports media. Sometimes it’s difficult to put the pen on the page, to think up anything worth devoting so much space to.
And at times it feels like a waste of time. I’m not just talking about my own columns-I mean sports in general.
That’s one of the poles, at least, in what has become an increasingly polarizing subject. As salaries soar and behavior declines, I hear more and more Americans speak contemptuously of professional athletes.
In the wake of a tragedy like the BP oil spill, sports seem even more insignificant. With 100,000 barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf every day, who cares if Goran Dragić plays like the next Steve Nash or if Boston remembers how to play championship defense? Nobody. And they shouldn’t.
But tragedies don’t always have that effect. When George W. threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in the World Series following 9/11, the cheers were deafening. When Derek Jeter and Scott Brosius teed off on Byung-Hyun Kim in the late innings of games four and five, newspaper headlines celebrated the win as though it invalidated all the wrongs done on 9/11.
When the Saints took home the Super Bowl earlier this year, references to Katrina were plentiful. Stupid as they may have been — and damnit, were they ever stupid — the media, and surely some residents of New Orleans, still celebrated the win as one that would finally put New Orleans on the track to recovery.
And that’s their right. And it was the right of New Yorkers to celebrate a series against the Diamondbacks in 2001 like a clash of civilizations. In those instances, the media squawked over and over again that sports are, were and always have been the “Great American Escape.” That was overblown and always has been. From what exactly are we escaping?
Real life? Political strife? Tragedies? I’m not sure.
Sports are politicized. And that’s beautiful. When Iranian soccer players donned green armbands last summer, they were hailed, and for all the right reasons. Given the platform and notoriety in the Middle East that few receive, they took the opportunity to speak out against injustice.
In the early nineties, prior to Super Bowl XXVII, the state of Arizona stubbornly refused to approve a Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and the NFL refused to award the state the chance to host the Super Bowl until they stepped out of the Jim Crow era. In opposition to the Iraq War, former Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado sat in the dugout during the singing of the National Anthem in home ballparks.
Forgive me for this jig, for winding back and forth and not making much sense. There are times, times like these-with the oil spill, with dead in the streets of Kingston, in the streets of Bangkok-when I have to remind myself why I care about the hit-and-run, or the zone defense. I have to remind myself why I don’t devote this space to geopolitics or human rights. I have to remind myself that sports are a part of culture-that there’s more to it than box scores.