It’s easy as a Pirates fan to feel this 7-19 season isn’t fun, but for many the knowledge that it’s part of the process is enough. COVID-19 changed the landscape of every sport that was in season and some that haven’t even started yet.
Add into that the BLM protests and recently, boycotts.
This isn’t about what the players can or can’t do, should or shouldn’t, it’s more about understanding why the players have these platforms in the first place.
Before I get into that, I’ll say first, yes, sometimes there are indeed things that are bigger than sports. I’m not here to decide for the players if this is one of those times or not, but I am here to say at some point, sports better return to being what these leagues are about.
If there is no NBA or professional basketball in the US, nobody knows what Lebron thinks. I don’t say that to imply he wouldn’t be successful if pro sports weren’t on the table, but if his basketball career never happened, his voice is not the behemoth it is today. If the NBA never comes back, yeah, I know it will, Lebron will have his voice until the day he leaves this Earth because he earned the fame, the platform, the voice, through sports.
The youngsters who are still in college or plan to be drafted next season don’t have that voice yet. Sure, as part of a larger group they can speak to anything they like, but again, if you haven’t done anything yet you just don’t have the impact. If you use your voice and platform to actively hurt or stop the game, surely it makes sense that your platform at some point won’t be brick but waterlogged plywood.
Baseball had an inconsistent response, and that too is ok. If we respect the NBA teams making a decision like that, we should respect baseball teams making choices for themselves too. Unlike the NBA, if one star like Mookie Betts decides to not play, the game can go on and in many cases they did.
The NHL decided to just keep playing, and the outrage over that is hollow. It’s a Canadian game, predominantly made of Canadian and European players, being played exclusively in Canada at the moment, why would they want to halt what they have going on for an American problem?
The larger point I’m trying to get through though is this, sports are supposed to be fun, a release from our daily lives and if that’s not going to be the case, long term it won’t be good. When a game is scheduled for Sunday, fans will build their time around it and make it part of their lives. When the schedule becomes something determined by whims of players, I start to question the sustainability of the relationship between fan and team.
Think about what COVID alone has done to baseball. It’s really hard to get too ahead of yourself talking about upcoming games. The Pirates are embarking on 13 games in 11 days and man it’s tough to see all those happening isn’t it. In fact, I’ll believe today’s double header will happen at around 3 today.
Again, special circumstances, the pandemic made this a reality, but now there is another variable where something awful can happen in some small town in Virginia and it threatens an entire day’s schedule. You can support them, and I actually think most do, but at some point, the loss of games will start to alter the viewing habits.
As a writer, and trust me I don’t pretend to be a real journalist, I often hear “stick to sports”, and quite honestly, I’d love to, but how can you ignore political issues that are directly affecting the games we love on a daily basis? I also suspect that is a disingenuous statement, what they really mean is “don’t disagree with me”. Try to stay silent once you’ve gotten to a certain point in this business and see how far you get before people ask/demand comment on stuff like this.
They don’t really care what I think, they just want me to echo the approved message in a well written way and retweet someone else who agrees. Even the message I’m writing as we speak isn’t in the playbook. I’ve not written one word saying the players should or shouldn’t do this but have pointed out I question the sustainability of doing so. That won’t matter to some, and you take that as part of the gig. The opinion game is very much so about making informed statements and being prepared to defend them, while leaving room to change them with new data points. That’s not always going to equate to agreement.
I’m not normally an NBA fan, not because I don’t like basketball or the tired, they don’t play defense stance, no, my reason is very yinzer, we don’t have a team. If we did, I have no doubt I’d be just as into it as I am the Riverhounds right now. That said, I have really been enjoying these playoffs, I was hungry for sports and the NBA was making a fan out of me. I’m not one of the people who won’t watch because they kneel or wear a jersey with a message on it but I am someone who isn’t familiar with all the players, so as a guy trying to get into it, I struggled to know who I was watching outside the few names everyone knows.
That’s exactly what I’m getting at, I understood why they wanted to wear a message, but is it good for the game? The game that gave the platform in the first place has/had a chance to grow, giving voice to even more players. The NBA has been extremely accommodating to really any method these guys wanted to employ, and at the end of the day, it still wasn’t enough to insulate the league from being boycotted by the very people they supported and promoted.
Baseball has been really trying too, nobody told the players they had to stand or salute, it’s been very much so up to the individual. They have provided platforms for many of them to speak and get their message out but still, not enough.
The protests were designed to bring awareness to a problem, that’s what Colin Kaepernick started with. Sure, he did some things afterward to make it easy to fracture the message like wearing Pig Socks but when it started it was to bring awareness to a situation.
Hey, mission accomplished.
Problem is, nobody really has a solution for it. At least not anything I’ve heard. Again, they can do this all they like, they can straight up cripple these leagues if they so choose, nobody can and more importantly will stop them. I’d suggest something attainable must be in place if you want to protest and affect change. If you want to have a platform to affect change, I’d suggest not forgetting why you have one.
I’m not going to tell you sports are on the brink, because honestly there is just too much money involved for many of them to die, but COVID taught a whole lot of people they could live without something they never thought possible, the reality of many walking away because they can no longer count on something as simple as the games actually being played is a possibility many won’t face until it smacks them in the face.
Sports has always had an element of social or political overtones, Muhammad Ali, Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson, the Negro Leagues as a whole, hell the Miracle on Ice was democracy versus communism. It’s been a thing for a long time, and in the case of Ali he actually gave up his platform for his cause momentarily.
I’m a white guy, I have cops in my family, I have black friends who feel this is wrong and black friends who describe in detail their fears. They all remain my friends because I can understand the situation all of them are in. Maybe my friends know I have law enforcement in my family, and they curb their words, but I like to think they just know I’ll listen. I also know, they don’t think my relatives are out there targeting them. ALL and NONE have no place in this conversation and eliminating them from the discussion is step one for finding answers.
I don’t offer solutions because I don’t have any. Racism lives in every country on the planet, in every race, toward every other race. Its disgusting, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who vocally disagrees with that, but it lives in the shadows. If Sports want to be part of the solution, they’d be wise to continue being a place where people from all walks of life can congregate and come together under one banner, if they don’t play that will surely be the sacrificial lamb.
Back to baseball today, so far.