The Twenty Sixteeniest World Series

It’s the question without an answer. What are we rooting for when we root for a team? Is it the logo? Is it the players themselves? Is it civic pride? We pour our souls into the amorphous idea of a team.

We feel a sense of ownership. They are ours. These are our guys. They become part of our identity. “Hello, my name is Bob and I’m a fan.”

For a long time, that was what mattered. The team, the logo, the players. Along the way it changed. Players leave of their own free will. Teams leave their cities behind. They get new uniforms and change their branding.

But we still cling to our guys.

It’s an expression of old-fashioned values that may or may not have actually existed. Loyalty, commitment, and unwavering dedication. Because sports exist in modern times, newfangled ideas encroach on this blind devotion. Ideas like players shouldn’t be criminals, racism is still persistent, and supporting a bad person is worse than supporting a bad team.

Those ideas didn’t originate in sports. We like to think that sports are separate from the political realm. They should be our escape from everyday life because they don’t really matter. It’s just a game. Keep it light. Keep it fun.

Tonight is Game 7 of the World Series between two teams who have a considerable number a years since their last championship. Cleveland and Chicago’s long suffering fans (although Cleveland has been in two World Series that I remember; the Mariners have been in none, so I don’t really buy into their “suffering”) were able to celebrate a Pennant, and tonight, one city will celebrate a long-awaited championship.

This is exciting! This is a great baseball story. So, yes, it’s disappointing that it’s marred. It’s tempting to ignore the controversy and just enjoy the baseball.

This World Series is a perfect a representation of the current state of American politics. You have the team with the blatantly racist name and logo. They have taken cursory steps to “phase it out”, but it’s easy to see there’s not much motivation there. They play the team that traded for a player who choked his girlfriend. Allegedly. Eye roll. Several teams decided he wasn’t the representative they wanted, but the Cubs went for it, and he’s a reason they are playing for their first championship in 108 years.

If baseball is a reflection of American life, well, there you have it.

In this Internet Age of ours there has been quite a bit of chatter about these issues, and rightly so. The discussions are as frustrating as Internet Age discussions are, but what’s important is that the discussion is happening and these things aren’t being ignored.

It’s been mentioned that if we think we all haven’t rooted for some bad dudes before, we are sorely mistaken. I agree, but it’s different to knowingly root for a bad dude. It’s different when our perceptions of racism change and evolve. It’s human nature to cling to what has always been, which is why people get ridiculously angry over the criticism of Cleveland’s logo. It’s why some Penn State fans had no problem honoring Joe Paterno.

It’s been argued that fans shouldn’t root for their team if they represent racism or domestic violence. Take a stand! Don’t let this be acceptable! But, you know, if you’re a fan who has never seen your team win the World Series, if you’ve never seen your team in the World Series, that’s not an easy experience to give up.

We’ve also got an obsession with redemption stories. But we don’t give people a chance to redeem themselves; we want it right away. There was a pretty vocal group of Mariners fans cheering on Milton Bradley, despite no reason to believe he had changed. I don’t think that’s bad in and of itself. People should be given second chances, but there needs to be some act that clearly says, “This isn’t right. This isn’t acceptable.” first.

There is a candidate for President who spews hatred with every sentence he speaks. Most condemn him for this, but enough people cheer for it that he got the nomination. A player sits during the National Anthem and all manner of racist garbage fills our social media feeds. There is so much information about sexual assault and domestic violence out there. Anyone with questions can learn why victims behave the way they do, how abusers act, and how the legal system functions. But we still have people saying it must not have happened because the victim didn’t come forward/didn’t get a rape kit/wants to stay anonymous/just wants attention.

It’s exhausting. It would be nice if politics would stay out of our sports. But they never have. Ignoring problems societally only makes it feel like those problems aren’t part of sports.

Political issues that affect us as employees, consumers, and citizens will always imbue sports. Because sports acts as an employer, a governing body, and will always be a commentary on and a reflection of society.

What do you do when it’s your team breaking that World Series drought? You buy the merchandise that has the alternate logo, despite the low production, and hope demand informs supply. You donate to domestic violence charities whenever that pitcher records a save and hope a victim can be helped.

You embrace your team and your sport as the imperfect reflection of human society while vocally, monetarily, and morally pushing it to change.

Yesterday, news broke that another baseball player has been arrested for domestic violence. And of course we hear that it’s so sad and so disappointing for his team and his fans. But it’s really awful for his victim. That’s who the victim is here.

People in the world won’t just stop doing bad things. Athletes and sports teams are no different. We can’t make them be good. We can stop ignoring it though. We can stop brushing it aside and refusing to address it.

If your team is playing in the World Series tonight, I won’t tell you not to root for them. I can say I’d still be rooting for my team, albeit with my conscience nagging me in the background. I’ll just tell you not to ignore it.

I’m glad the perception on these things is changing. We shouldn’t be elevating and celebrating people who need help. We shouldn’t look the other way when something needs to change.

We want instant change when we see something wrong, but society moves slowly sometimes. Let’s keep talking about this. Let’s keep making it an issue. Don’t ignore the political in the sport. It’s depressing and frustrating, and it does take the fun out of it.

Remember that it is important. It will change. These issues will always be subtext in the history of this World Series.

Tonight, a championship drought will be broken. We can happily celebrate that too.

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