Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Baseball - My First Time Booing

My wife noticed something interesting about me. I speak of the New York Mets in the first person. WE won last night. We lost a pitcher to injury. We made it to the World Series last year.  This isn't at all unusual among sports fans, and goes with what I've often said about sports being a safe outlet for the tribal instincts so many of us have; it's better to mock-hate eachother for our sports team than our country, religion, or something else important.

A day at the ballpark
Unlike many Mets fans, I don't boo. We've had some bad players on the team, and some good players who struggled mightily, costing the team wins. We've had overpaid players, mediocre talents, and some the fans just don't like. I've never booed any of them, not really seeing the point. If the team is an extension of ourselves, then to boo them is to boo ones one failures. So, I don't boo.

Until now.

Last week I attended the game and didn't only boo, I loudly booed the player who would score the game-tying run, a player who has been an major factor in the team's recent success, a player without whom we (there it is again) would not likely be on the precipice of our second consecutive trip to the playoffs.

Those who know me have likely guessed by now. I booed Jose Reyes.

For those who've forgotten, Reyes is on the team because the Colorado Rockies decided it wasn't worth keeping him around after he served a suspension for domestic violence. This much is clear to me: had Reyes not thrown his wife into a glass door the man would not be on the team. To make matters worse, his apologies after the fact have been of the "I'm sorry for what happened" variety, not the "I'm sorry for what I did" type. When the team was considering bringing him back, I wrote about this. About the message it sends to young men and women watching the game that this act is forgivable. If the team becomes "we" then accepting a domestic abuser makes all of us as fans feel, in a way, complicit. If we reached the World Series, did not we bring an unrepentant domestic abuser into the fold?

What makes it worse for me is that the fans not only ignored the abuse, but embraced Reyes as a returning hero. The "Jose/JoseJoseJose/Jose/Jose" chant returned, lead by the Citi Field PA system. Reyes jerseys started selling again.

Nobody cared what he did or how he came to be here.

For contrast, look across the country, at another sport. Colin Kaepernick is hated, his jersey has been burned in effigy, used as a literal doormat at a sports bar. He is, by some counts, the most hated athlete in America. His crime? Silently protesting racism against African Americans by kneeling during the national anthem. To many Americans, the anthem and flag acquired a near-religious level of import, Kapernick's protest a form of blasphemy.

So, here we have two athletes in two sports in two cities. One is using his voice and his fame to make a statement. One who admitted to using physical violence against his wife. One hated, one beloved.

For a quick digression, here are a list of football players less hated than Kaepernick.

Adrian Peterson. Admitted to beating his four-year old son with a tree branch.
Ben Roethlisberger. Accused of sexual assault multiple times.
Jonathan Dwyer. Arrested for domestic violence against his wife.
Any of the literally dozen athletes arrested for domestic abuse in the last few years.

This is says something about who we are, and about what we value.

The counterargument I've heard from some of my fellow Mets fans is that they separate Reyes the baseball player from Reyes the domestic abuser. While I understand wanting to focus solely on what happens between the lines, I'll respectfully note that Reyes the ballplayer and Reyes who threw his wife into a door are the same person. We celebrate players who participate in charity, even who just seem to play hard with a sense of joy and enthusiasm. I find it unfair to celebrate the good and shrug away the bad. In my eyes, the man on the field stealing second base is the very same man who threw his wife into a glass door. I cannot cheer for that man, nor am I comfortable remaining silent when fans around me are cheering him.

At the park, in silly hats. 
There is, of course, another and more important reason I didn’t cheer. The most important reason is that I wasn't at the game alone. In the seat next to me sat my daughter, who knows what Reyes did and knows how conflicted I am about following the team now that he's on it. A girl with whom I am sharing my fandom and the pleasures which it brings to me. What I want her to see - what everyone should see - is that his behavior matters. That violence against women matters more than on-base percentage.

So, yes, this year for the first time in my life I booed a member of my own team. Remember, whatever we choose - to cheer, to boo, to stay silent - our audience is greater than the people on the field. It's those around us.

If there's a lesson in Kaepernick's protest, it is that each of us has a voice.

It's up to all of us to use it for the right reasons.

No comments:

Post a Comment