In the next week I have two papers totaling 65 pages of writing. I have 65 undergraduate papers to mark in that time as well. And oh yeah, I’m hosting an open mic again and in the middle of recording an album. I’m busy. Baseball SHOULD be the furthest thing from my mind. It is the ONLY thing on my mind.
I’m currently watching the MLB ’09 Preview Show on Rogers Sportsnet. On the commercials I’m playing MLB ’09: The Show on PS3 and writing this blog entry. At 7PM I will tune in once again to Rogers Sportsnet to watch the Tigers and Jays open the ’09 season.
Ironically, it’s been snowing here since last night and there’s a thin white blanket drapping the ground. That makes me angry, but NOTHING can take away this day from me…Viva La Baseball
I got to thinking the other day. It hurt. After writing about Magglio Ordonez and the Miami-based Venezuelan fans, I thought about the intersections between politics and baseball and came to the conclusion that there are in fact many. And when I say ‘politics’ I don’t mean the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties (so far, not a lot by my count), I’m talking about the social act of ‘being political.’ In other words, how does baseball, and for that matter other sports, contribute to our notions of social justice? Does it help or hinder it?
The argument of media critic and world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky is that sports are the opiate of the masses. It serves merely to numb us to the daily events in our lives and distract us from the corrupt undercurrents of dominant neo-liberal discourses prevalent in events such as the War in Iraq, or the media coverage of the continually downward-spiraling economy.
Although Chomsky is one of my academic heroes and I agree with most things he says, this is one major point of contention for me. I agree that sports, like any socially-created melo-drama (soap operas, celebrity gossip, etc) can have that effect, but that is not so much a by-product of the games themselves, but rather the superstructure of corporate discourse that surrounds them.
The rampant commercialization and commodification of sports is something I have taken issue with since I was a little kid. Naming venues after multi-national corporations, plastering uniforms with corporate logos, and even naming professional teams after brands (New York Red Bulls, for example) is sickening and, in my opinion devalues sports to a catastrophic degree. So kudos to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Dodger Stadium for not selling yourselves down the river; and to Carlos Delgado of the New York Mets for flat-out refusing to be a walking billboard for a corporation which oppresses poor minorities in countries all over the world. My own Blue Jays recently had their stadium name changed from Skydome to Rogers Centre (although I flat-out REFUSE to call it that) and I feel it cheapens the entire aura of the game and turns it into nothing but a corporate arm of a larger money-making machine; a brand to be consumed.
Having said all of that, there are incredible possibilities when it comes to sport. Some of the Civil Rights Movement’s first and most significant advances occured when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. One of the big reasons North Americans became more tolerant as a whole was because athletes were judged not on the colour of their skin, but on their performance on the field. Sports always seems to act as an agent of social change in the beginning of major social movements.
Sports also has unbelievable unifying potential. In 1993, when the Blue Jays won their second of two consecutive world titles, a professor and close personal friend of mine were in downtown Toronto watching game 6 against the Phillies at a bar not ten blocks from Skydome. When Joe Carter hit that fateful home run that catapulted the Jays to victory, people poured into the streets and celebrated, hugged, and danced with total strangers. I can only imagine what Boston was like in 2004 when the Red Sox finally broke the curse. My professor told me that she remarked to a friend that night that if people got out into the streets like this for a political cause, there would be no oppression in the world. And it’s true; the unifying potential of sports is staggering and truly something to marvel at.
Everyday, kids with barely a roof over their head and barely enough food to survive pick up a stick, make a ball out of tape, and fold a cardboard box into a glove and play baseball. Their ability to play a game at its purest level is, in no small way, a form of resistance; a way of subverting a discourse that tells them constantly that they aren’t good enough and that they are in some way less than human; not deserving of the amenities we Westerners are used to. This resistance is a way for people everywhere, not just in poor countries, but in every country, to exercise something that is truly human and something that each and every one of us can connect to.
One of my favourite writers is a man named David Zirin. Zirin has made a living at being one of the most respected sports writers in the world and has a strong focus on ‘the politics of sports.’ If there’s any one writer I would like to model myself after it’s him. Check out his site, The Edge of Sports, he’s a truly amazing writer.
So I believe there is room for discussions of social justice in sports. No matter how much it’s sometimes used as a ‘distraction’ from real issues, or a method of making copious amounts of money for the already-insanely-rich, sports has a level of purity and of absolute joy that those things couldn’t possibly touch. Sports as a micro-society can teach us very valuable lessons about what we do as human beings, and how we should go about treating each other. Because in the arena of ‘the game’ our differences are put aside and our humanity is put on display.
It doesn’t make me angry, it doesn’t
make me apathetic, it just makes me sad.
Football players use steroids like they’re Tylenol and no one cares because
it’s a game for giants; it’s a game for behemoths. I watch football like
a drug between the months of September and February and I just fail to care
that the players use steroids because it’s so important for football players to
be ridiculous physical specimens. That’s not to say that I don’t think
it’s wrong for football players to use steroids, but it’s just not something
that taints the game for me.
But baseball? Baseball is an amazing game because of it’s appeal to
anyone. It takes skill, intelligence, grace; it’s the thinker’s
sport. Athletic ability is no doubt important and the truly great
players all possess an astounding amount of it. But it takes more than
just that. It takes a brain. Many players have walked into the
spotlight of some of the great parks such as Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park and
used almost nothing but their intelligence to dominate their opponent.
Greg Maddux, Ted Williams, Nolan Ryan, Tony Gwynn…these are some of the most
intelligent athletes on the planet.
I hear people all over baseball saying how great Alex Rodriguez is and how much
he loves baseball. He watches it all the time and never stops thinking
about it. That may be true, but he doesn’t love baseball.
If these allegations are true (and I think it’s important to acknowledge that
are just allegations, and they have not yet been proven true beyond any doubt),
then Alex Rodriguez doesn’t
love the game. If these allegations are true,
Alex Rodriguez merely thinks of baseball as a way to make himself look good; a
way to feed his ego. If these allegations are true, Alex Rodriguez sees
baseball as his ATM. He loves it only as much as it gives him the
benefits he has come to enjoy.
Another important thing to remember is that Rodriguez is not alone. Too
many players have come
to view baseball in this way; as their ATM, ready to spew out cash at the press
of a button, or the hitting of a ball.
In a way, you can’t even blame him…or anyone. This is the society we
live in. Do anything to get an edge over your opponent; it’s the mantra
of capitalism; of the so-called “American dream.” It’s just sad
that it has seeped into something that should be immune from all the bull-****
in society. It has tainted baseball.
History will no doubt show us, however, that the game is bigger than these
small, selfish issues. Baseball will prevail and it will move past the
steroid era and be better for it. It should not forget this dark moment;
just like it will not forget the 1919 White Sox…or Pete Rose, but it will
move past it. It will continue to provide us fans, and society, with a
reminder of just how great it truly is.
No one, not even the great Alex Rodriguez can ruin that integrity.