The luster is off pro football. The “take-a-knee” controversy has turned off thousands of viewers. Just check out all the empty seats at any Sunday NFL game. Quite frankly, many of the pro games are, well, just boring. Then there is the “thug factor” and the statistic that some 50 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. To many former sports fans, politics has become their favorite entertaining diversion.
Just what is America’s favorite pastime? Is it politics or baseball? Politics has always been a major spectator sport, particularly here in my home state of Louisiana. But don’t sell baseball short. Not only has baseball been around longer than any of America’s professional team sports, the game’s highs and lows have been injected in national politics almost from the sport’s inception.
Now I’m a diehard baseball fan. I grew up in St. Louis and was in the stadium the Sunday afternoon back on May 2, 1954, when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs on the same day in a doubleheader. I’m a regular at spring training down in Tampa, where I follow my perennial favorite, the New York Yankees.
Baseball has been well ahead of the NFL in confronting issues of race. The problems of major league baseball have often served as a mirror image of the problems facing America. Its history is both a reflection of this country’s fears and ignorance, and its hopes and promises. Like almost any other cultural phenomenon of such prominence, baseball has served as solace and as a poke to our conscience.
In 1948, the major leagues faced the problem of segregation earlier than the politicians in Washington, DC, did. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and won the rookie of the year award in his first season. It took court cases and sit-ins to get the attention of our political representatives to follow suit.
A few years back, the Tampa Bay Rays were the Cinderella team that went from “worst to first,” winning the American League pennant. Maybe it has something to do with their name. They used to be called the “Devil Rays” and their record was terrible. As soon as they dropped the word “Devil,” they became victorious overnight. Is it baseball pure and simple, or is the Religious Right involved?
Maybe it’s impossible to get away from campaigns and politics by focusing on the current World Series, but I’m going to give it a shot. The Fox network carried many major league games this season. In the National League, everyone, even the pitchers, get an equal chance to bat. Will Fox News say that the National Leaguers are socialists? Will their commentators argue they should call some home runs out if they are too far to the left? And I guess you can’t blame the Democrats from bemoaning that every time someone steals a base, they get reminded of the 2000 presidential election.
There is also a lesson to be learned from Babe Ruth as Congress is considering limiting executive pay and bonuses of corporations who received bailout money. When the Babe was asked how he could justify making more money than the President, he shrugged off the question by answering, “I had a better year.”
I suppose one of the biggest differences between these two spectator sports is the sense of optimism that baseball brings every spring. The crack of the bat, a pop fly against a blue sky, and the green grass seem to offer a sense of renewal. It harkens back to the essence of youth and heroes of the past, and you feel that almost anything is possible in the coming season. But in today’s political climate, there is little thought of great statesmen and principled political figures. Political courage today is too often defined by poll watching and sticking a wet finger to the wind.
So when the TV remote offers a choice of the NFL, politics or baseball in the coming week, I’ll choose the great American pastime. It’s baseball hands down. Like a fellow once said: “The difference between politics and baseball is that in baseball, when you are caught stealing, you’re out.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.