by Sarah Bronson
Sports are inescapable, especially in the city that cheers for the Astros. And so is politics, even in the stadium. They were impossible to separate when the NFL came down firmly against black lives mattering, on top of the disregard for the physical well-being of the players and the failure to effectively respond to domestic abuse. Now, thanks to the behavior of Astros management, Major League Baseball is echoing that failure.
Sports are exciting; it’s one of life’s pleasures to get in on the excitement around you. In the greatest city for eating diverse and affordable, you can get used to sitting at a restaurant bar, following the game, and tuning in to the collective happiness, anguish, and frenzy/hilarity. You come to appreciate the sound of the Ruchi’s down the street going wild in the middle of the night off the high of a high-stakes win.
But the Astros management is acting like trash, and it is sending a ripple of hurt through a community that just wants to love their team. With every step of the saga so far has come a different way of setting women aside—the purchase of a player charged with domestic violence, the taunting outburst toward female reporters, the accusation that one of the reporters lied about it, the insincere apologies—and the shadow deepens.
To be clear: no hate to the fans, nor those of the players and other employees who haven’t actively done anything wrong. But there is an inescapable tension between the market-driven point of view, where players are assets where investment goes in and winning comes out, and the human point of view, where players are people full of stories and are capable of both good deeds and wrongdoing and face accountability to society. And we don’t have to leave it at, “Well, the world is complicated, but what can you do.” We are all capable of digging into this a little bit more.
After all, it wasn’t that complicated this past Sunday evening during Game 5, when the president was greeted with a roar of dissent and banners for impeachment. Politics won’t and shouldn’t stay on the sidelines. When our leaders want to undercut democracy, hide from constituents, and gerrymander their voters and then go about the rest of the day unbothered, a good old-fashioned heckle is one way the voice of the people can still breakthrough.
It was equally uncomplicated, for different reasons, when a professional umpire sent out a tweet suggesting he was going to buy an AR-15 for a civil war if there is an impeachment. After an uproar, the ump apologized, but the truth remains unsettling.
The deep rot in sports has a lot to do with our the desire to compartmentalize. It comes in part from the mindset where everything can be transactional and anything can be bought off, at the cost of the humanity required to confront sexism, racism, and the violence woven through. Sports organizations, much like every other powerful institution, reproduce the sexism, racism, and other injustices that run through the rest of society. That ubiquity doesn’t mean giving up on dealing with it. It means dealing with injustices of every kind as a serious, prevalent problem that each of us must answer for, even if answers don’t come easy. It means attacking the rot at the root through voting and activism to create more just policy, and it means talking about it and urging our own friends and loved ones to do better.
It would certainly be something if the crowds and their money could be harnessed to send a message, as has been done in the past. However, as far as collective actions go, there are other fights right now, no victim of the violence in question is telling us a boycott would be any help, and there is a difference between isolated individual decisions and an organized strategy. Much like giving up straws while just a handful of corporations remain responsible for much of the pollution, turning off the television may be a good thing to do on a certain level, but the path toward setting things right has to account for the big picture.
The world is sometimes compromised by a lack of humanity. That does not mean we shut our ears to what is wrong, nor does it mean we are obligated to withdraw from partaking. Another approach is that of the critical consumer, who exists as a part of the world while using their voice as a human being, community member, and voter to speak back to the causes of harm. That is why we are turning out for the City of Houston election through the current early voting period and on Election Day this November 5.
There was an unforgettable photograph from 2017 of a man sitting in his gutted-out house after Harvey with nothing but a couple chairs and a television in it, risen to his feet with his hands on his head as the Astros made their way through winning the World Series. The problem with withdrawing from the world because it is too broken is that the compromised, broken world is where joy and humanity are also to be found. It isn’t all or nothing. The nothing isn’t always a choice, because there might not be anywhere else to go for the night. We can exist in this place as it is, and fight for better.