Let’s get the baseball stuff out of the way first – any regulars will know what’s coming.
1 – there’s the new stadium prospect – I don’t really mind the cavernous old concrete parking structure of a Coliseum, especially since it makes an A’s ticket the best bargain in pro sports. But the team is now handling the coming of new digs really well, and the idea of a more intimate, uniquely A’s park that celebrates the team’s rich history without gimmicks like Houston’s lumpy centerfield is exciting (the Raiders leave us with enough unsightly, late-season lumps already, to say nothing of their wretched Mt. Davis). Remind me of this paragraph when season ticket prices inevitably sky-rocket.
2 – They’ve won thirteen of their last sixteen tilts (14/17 after Sunday's sweep), playing better baseball on both ends of each inning. The kids they’ve acquired are fun to watch, with budding stars on the infield and out. Cynics will opine that those players will be in New York, Boston and LA before the new stadium is habitable. I have hope, though, that the stadium timeline is conservative, and the expressed commitment to hold this group together is real. Optimism is, after all, a pre-requisite to A’s fandom.
And 3 – I loves me some Bruce Maxwell, my new favorite Athletic. In case you’ve been obsessing over natural disasters, he is the first player in Major League Baseball to register a protest of racism, as it was recently expressed and supported at the highest level of the national government. He knelt, hand over heart, during the playing of the national anthem last evening. It was a deeply-felt, gutsy thing to do – especially knowing all the consequences that have followed others, and will now follow him.
I’ve written before about the odd, accidental tradition of playing the anthem, at all, at sports events. These are business gatherings, after all, having more to do with money and fandom than civics. It’s undeniably a feel-good moment for most, but it frankly has more to do with the leagues trying to wrap themselves in the flag than in a true celebration of America, the Idea.
And America, the Imperfect, means different things to you and me, depending on our circumstances. This country has chosen to have a glass – a promise of equal access to its Dream and the guaranties contained in the Bill of Rights. For some, that glass is brimming past overfull; for others, it’s only damp – and systemically so. That some folks might choose a public forum to protest for more water in our glass is as American as our First Amendment in that Bill of Rights. We are all seeking a more perfect union, a fuller glass, after all.
Here is Maxwell’s statement to the press, sincere and eloquent. It’s brief – you might want to listen before presuming to know what his protest means to him.
What’s also impressive is how he went about it – he spoke with both management and his teammates about his plans and purpose. Some have agreed on the merits, others maybe not so much. But they reflected on his sincerity and, yes, his patriotism, and to a man they supported his right to express his opposition to the racism to which he and his family have been subjected. They stood with him as he exercised the single most fundamental and basic American privilege.
I had the good fortune to sit next to Bruce’s dad at a Spring Training game in Arizona this past spring. We talked about his son; and Dad, a former military man living in Alabama, spoke with paternal pride. But it was not about Bruce’s swing or his pitch-blocking techniques – he was proud of his son as a thoughtful and caring young man, who’s also good at baseball. I’ll wager he’s extra proud of that young man today – me, too.
I’ve seen a spectrum of opinions expressed today about Maxwell’s actions, and the firestorm that erupted out of the president’s incendiary, if also incontinent earlier remarks. I have a few thoughts about several objections.
“Why do ‘they’ have to choose sports events?” If I may paraphrase, this is really “why must you make me think, or be uncomfortable?” The easy answer is that it’s an effective forum, with lots of people to bear witness. But what duty does anyone have to keep you comfortable – to make it so you don’t have to think? It’s enough that they perform for your pleasure – nobody’s required to soothe your fragile sensibilities simultaneously.
“These athletes should be grateful for their blessings – they are pampered and spoiled.” These athletes have risen to the highest heights in a brutally competitive market for their talents. It’s nearly infinitely more competitive than the market for your services or mine. They perform at considerable risk of a truncated career, either from injury, eroding skills or just bad luck. In other words, they earn their money, just as you do, in a free market. Unless you’ll begrudge your’s or your senior management’s compensation plan, just celebrate that free market in which these super-skilled, uber-risk-takers temporarily thrive.
“’They’ are privileged to live here – go somewhere else if you don’t like it.” We are ALL privileged as Americans. Our greatest privilege among many is the right to speak out, without fear of government censorship. Why would you deny ANYone the right to exercise that very most American of privileges? You have the same privilege. Feel free to use it to boycott, or to say that everything’s swimmingly wonderful and beyond improvement. You’d be wrong in my view, but the stage is equally yours.
“’They’ should do something else – feed the hungry, heal the sick, anything.” First, how do you know they don’t? And second, please don’t suggest that you are in a position to be telling others what to do – at all, and especially if you’re not doing them yourself. And you’re probably not.
“Bruce Maxwell isn’t that great of a player.” I haven’t read the First Amendment in a while – what does it say about the minimum batting average that a player must attain before expressing an opinion? His rookie status and just-okay stats actually add to his risk of speaking out – to me, they make it the more brave and mature-beyond-his-years that he chose this route. Again, good on ya, Bruce.
Finally, I’ve put several ‘theys’ in quotes above, because I do believe there’s ‘othering’ going on here – much of it related to race. At minimum, there’s cause for introspection, here. In your heart-of-hearts, would you see this differently if ‘they’ were a ‘we’ – someone more like you? Or if it was a cause that affected you, directly? Conversely, would I be supportive if Maxwell was protesting to … I dunno … repeal and replace the ACA? I’d like to believe I would, but it’s food for thought. So, one more time – thanks, Bruce!