One of the reasons I’m a sports fan, and I’m a big sports fan, is that it is a usually consistent respite from the nonsense of every day discourse, a place where actual achievement can be measured and where the final result is pretty much just that – final. Someone wins, someone loses, game over.
I especially need this refuge because the nonsense and bullshit is coming down thick and fast. Here we are, almost seven full years into WAR ALL THE TIME, living in a country with a foundering economy, a government which spies on all its citizens and which tortures people for no reason other than the sadism of weak, cowardly men with compensation issues, and this is the kind of trivial, mean-spirited and small-minded gossip we get from supposed professionals. If political journalism was baseball, these fools would have been kicked out of the league a long time ago, replaced by actual talent.
Unfortunately, we seem to be in a stretch where this kind of nonsense has developed too much power and prominence in sports. For example, can anyone explain to me this mess around Brett Favre? He’s one of the greats, and when he announced his retirement, it seemed the ideal moment. The best time for the best athletes to retire, I think, is when they have satisfied their own sense of wanting to play well, and prior to a drastic decline in skills and achievement. Go out at or near the top, if you can. Favre had a fine year, but a tough time in the NFC Championship game, which was sentimentally supposed to favor the old quarterback playing in brutal conditions. Instead, each close-up shot seemed to show him in physical distress, eyes watering from the cold, trouble breathing. The Giants were able to pressure him, and it was his final mistake that sent the underdogs to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Eli Manning seemed to not even notice that it was zero degrees on the field.
But, I’m sure Favre can still play. And although there is some sense of embarrassment in retiring and then rescinding that decision so soon, he’s the best quarterback the Packers have right now. So why are they so desperate to keep him from playing? Why do they feel they must play Aaron Rodgers? If the goal of sports is to win, they have a better chance of winning with Favre, and it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to say that. Favre changed his mind, can’t the Packers? But they have now gone into government-corporate thinking mode, where things are done a certain way, and that’s that, and they made a decision and are sticking to it. The quality of the decision doesn’t matter, it’s all about staying the course and trying to spin some justification for it. They are now the GOP of the NFL, stuck in their own lack of ideas and their values of authority and obedience. And of course, the weird desire to have Daddy both scold and protect them from themselves. Which is all John McCain has to offer, along with his narcissistic sense of grievance the he deserves this, and how dare they expect him to have to campaign for votes.
Meanwhile, how can this be explained? Here’s a guy committed to winning and putting his resources behind the front office to make it happen, and a city that wants a winner. It’s very strange that Cuban could offer the highest price for the Cubs, and BE TURNED DOWN! What does it take to make his money good enough? He has to properly belong to the elite club. Most fans, and most Americans won’t understand that, but then the owners are generally like the Republicans in baseball as well. They pay lip service to capitalism and practice socialism amongst themselves; they value hereditary privelege over merit; they think they understand things better than the rest of us, even though by definition they are stupid; and most of all they seek to maintain an elite status for themselves and work to keep as many people as possible out of the club. When Karl Rove tried to portray Obama as the nasty, superior guy at the country club, it can have only made sense to himself, or maybe David Broder. They’ll have to do a lot better than that, or this.
Back to the Cubs – they’ve had an impressive year so far. They really showed how good a team they are when they went to rival Milwaukee and swept a four game series. Merit wins out – spin is for the losers. And my Dodgers made the trade of the year, getting a great ballplayer for just about nothing, making what I think is a wise gamble in a weak division. I saw his first at-bat in Saturday’s game, the fans giving him an ovation as he walked to the plate, then demanding a curtain-call after he hit a two-run homer. The great thing about it though is that we’ll be able to tell exactly how wise it was. The White Sox made a big deal too, and they are clinging to a tiny lead. Did they really need more left-handed power, though? The Yankees certainly needed catching, and they made a steal too. Hey, baseball can be based on faith as much as politics, and the Tigers believe in Kyle Farnsworth. That’s a pretty odd cult, though.
This is the best time of the year for the game, though. Division rivals play each other a lot, and most races are close. The Mets have their own shot, but the bullpen is shaky. They did nothing to improve that part of the team, and one would think that means they would attempt to play a different way, not rely on the division of labor that has become the conventional wisdom in the game. We’ll see. It will be proof of whether thinking can overcome inertia. That’s a challenge everywhere, of course, and sports are not completely immune to the herd mentality, to sticking with bad ideas because that’s how it’s done everywhere, of seeing the problem for what it actually is, rather than putting an easy and wrong label on it. It’s an institution, and can be slow to change.
But it did change drastically once. It took the right combination of daring, confidence, talent and attitude. It took a lot of courage and sacrifice too. One of the conditions that Jackie Robinson played under his first year in the majors was that he had to take whatever came at him, insults to baseballs, and not retaliate in word or deed. He had to just play, and show how good he was, and let the merit of the experiment prove itself. And was he good, and did he play. And after that first year, he took his revenge.
Obama is in a similar situation. He is a pioneer in the biggest game of all and playing under a bizarre set of rules that have been imposed on him. It’s one thing for John McCain to shriek and whine like a little spoiled baby – he’s a scurrilous, egocentric, dishonorable, petulant man who has no reason to be President except that he thinks he deserves it. But when other organizations agree with his rules, when McCain saying you can’t vote for the guy because he’s black is okay, but Obama . . . what . . . admitting, revealing (?) that he himself is a black man is playing the race card, then the rules are whatever the winer says they are that moment. And Obama is just going to have to take it, because that’s the way this game is played. It’s not a game, of course, except for a very small group of people. And Obama is trying to get into their game, and they are, at best, reluctant to let him play. Because, like Jackie Robinson, his very presence is demonstrating that the old, white men who have been running the game for so, so long may not actually have been as able as we were led to believe. Obama as President may mean that this idea may actually be broached in polite conversation. This is going to be a lot uglier than it is now, uglier than the climax of “Rollerball“, but the best revenge Obama could have is simply to win. And he’s got a great example to follow, in that of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.