On Friday night, demonstrations over the shooting of Jacob Blake made their way to Houston. The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics decided to cancel their game in respect to Blake, Black Lives Matter, and in the backdrop of Jackie Robinson day. Nearly all of MLB had done it, but because Wednesday and Thursday’s games had been postponed due to Hurricane Laura, Friday night was the first opportunity for the Astros to show their solidarity with the cause.
I have talked about the Blake case before. Emotions on both sides of the issue are pretty raw. These things seem to follow a familiar pattern. The first stage is one of shock. Then, come the questions of why it happened. Then, someone digs up an arrest record and the event gets explained away as some kind of criminal getting what was coming to him. We wash our hands, shake our heads, and move on.
This movement in sports started in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks. We should remember that because unlike the MLB side, it was truly spontaneous. MLB reacted and responded in kind. There was a controversy with the Mets and the commissioner’s office because, well, it’s the Mets. Yet, mostly it went off without a hitch.
The title of the piece was labeled “what’s next” because of the aftermath to the demonstrations. On the one hand, you had the sad and predictable reaction of the fans on twitter. Twitter creates its own environment on everything. There is even a term called “rage tweeting” because 140+ characters doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance. I left a few tweets myself, but decided to come to this space instead. I pay the rent over here, so I get to filibuster as long as I want on the issue.
My gut instinct was to just tell those folks, “bye” and then move on. There’s lots of mularkey being thrown around social media these days. Terms like “cancel culture” and “virtue signaling” and whatever other buzzword someone wants to come up with in the moment. All of it seems to surround the desire to shame people into believing a certain way. We used to call that political correctness. The general thought is that there was only one acceptable way to think and that people shouldn’t voice thoughts that run contrary to that “right way of thinking.”
Freedom of speech often gets misunderstood. Some people seem to be under the impression that they get to say anything they want without consequences. Nope, that’s not what the framers had in mind. My freedom of speech means I get to react to your speech however I want. Then, you can react to my reaction however you want. The only thing the first amendment states is that “Congress shall make no law.” My employer can decide my speech is offensive and inflammatory and therefore I become a liability. They wouldn’t be violating my freedom of speech.
So, instead of shunning those folks, I’m going to engage them and talk about the athletes’ next steps at the same time. Athletes have a platform. Like it or not, as public figures they have a platform to talk about issues most of us don’t have. One of the opponents of their action asked what would happen if one of us did what the athletes did on Monday morning. Well, if it were one of us we would likely be disciplined for our action. However, that point ignores the fact that if it were only one player then they would not be rewarded. If anyone has any issues with that then ask yourself what Colin Kaepernick is doing these days.
If everyone at your office, factory, warehouse, school, or business decided to walk out at the same time would there be the same level of punishment? I’m guessing that’s not as likely. Of course, a part of that is a cold calculation. How easy are we to replace? In some cases we can be replaced easily. In some cases we can’t. These are economic realities that exist beyond baseball or basketball. Players in those leagues shouldn’t be ridiculed for understanding those economic realities.
As consumers we get to decide how we will be entertained. I certainly respect the vantage point that people want their sports and their politics kept separate. So, someone that shuns MLB or the NBA doesn’t have to be labeled a racist. There can be any number of reasons why someone chooses not to watch or listen to something. Some think the game isn’t as enjoyable as it was when they were younger. Others are put off by the fact that players don’t seem to play for the love of the game anymore and are too worried about money. People’s reasons are their reasons.
Yet, one cannot deny that the comments on Astros twitter (and I would guess on the twitter feeds of every other team) did not reflect those reasons above. Excuse the analogy, but the politically correct movement seemed to be the social equivalent of covering up a zit. You can conceal it, but the damage exists beneath the surface. When you flush it out, the results aren’t pretty, but we can finally see the ugliness we are fighting.
On the other hand, a fair point was raised. What are these boycotts accomplishing? That’s a fair question. NBA players seriously discussed not playing until substantive change was adopted. Wow! What does that look like exactly and how long are they willing to wait on that? Now is a time for specifics. The NBA and MLB (and maybe the NFL too) need to come together and collectively decide what they are fighting for exactly and how they intend to achieve it themselves. What iniatives are they willing to do? What causes are they willing to financially support? Are they willing to endorse specific candidates or proposals?
They certainly don’t have to do any of that either. Teams took off in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 without developing a five point plan to tackle terrorism. They certainly can simply say we cancelled a few games in deference to Blake or the issue at large. That would be a defensible point of view even if some would be disappointed by how small the gesture was. They have a moment to be specific in their aims. Here is hoping they take advantage of the moment.
As for the fans themselves, history has a way of sorting through the noise and illuminating which side was right and which side was wrong. Everyone has to make up their own mind about how they want to react to their teams and their favorite athletes taking a stand. For some, it could be a moment where they rethink where they stand on these issues. For others those teams and those athletes will be shunned. Maybe it will be forever. Maybe it will be until those teams and those athletes play another big game. Either way, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for any of us to stay on the sidelines.