Let’s start with the basics here, because it’s important to contextualize what i’m about to opine about:
These are first world problems. Being a white man in America gives me the space, by virtue of nothing much more than a particular amount of melanin and quantity of chromosomes, to complain about things like my allegiances in a game. In a year where there is so much at stake for people of color, women, and LGBTQ Americans, the musings of someone like myself should be taken with a mill of salt in comparison to the troubles people in other walks of life are beset with. It is inherently unimportant, yet I hope it provides something of a commentary.
I’m not one for sharing personal details all that often, but those who know me are familiar with my love for the Major League Baseball team that resides in Atlanta, the city of my birth. My obsession with the team began at an early age by virtue of the fact that I lived in Delaware, and was the only one of my four siblings born in Atlanta. This was also true among my friends. For a kid, it’s like you’re from an exotic place or something, like the town of Austell was some far-away land (I would unknowingly move to the town next to it later in my adult life), and I had the rights to the Braves over anyone I knew. It helped, of course, that they were really good. I remember watching the dog pile on the field when Marquis Grissom caught the line drive off Carlos Baerga’s bat. I remember being proud to wear my glasses in the field thanks to Mark Lemke. I remember the crushing feeling when Charlie Hayes caught the final out of the 1996 World Series. I wanted to play short stop like Jeff Blauser, and I wanted to play the outfield like Andruw Jones. I couldn’t pitch particularly well, but when I did, I imagined I could hit my spots like Greg Maddux (I couldn’t). I had a Braves Starter jacket, the only one on my block, navy blue with the logo across the front velcro pocket. I learned to love the game because of this team, and they became woven into the fabric of my life.
Fandom does that to you. It’s irrational. It’s a thing that shouldn’t take up as much of you as it does, and yet it is undeniably present. Meg Rowley wrote a passage in her post regarding Felix Herndandez’s departure from the Mariners that I think sums it up better than I ever could:
It’s such a funny thing, fandom. It houses within it theft; we make symbols of human beings, transfigure persons so as to serve the function of a satisfyingly smooth stone we transfer from pants pocket to pants pocket. We carry them around with our memories and sadness, spirit them into our bits of kindness paid and received. The special ones, the ones who stick with us, who become our guys, are both magical and not so dissimilar from the restaurant where we paused and realized we were in love, or the couch where we sat and learned that our grandma was sick, the familiar street corner in our hometown where we first thought, I need to go away for a while, and go see things. They become guideposts, markers in our memories for both what they are on the field, and who we were.“Hail to the King”, Fangraphs, September 2019
While Rowley is specifically discussing a player, I think the feelings embody that of team fandom too. The game is not just an escape, but a place to project. I have read and re-read this article a few times since it’s original posting (It may be one of my favorite pieces of baseball writing ever), but after the events of the last few days, it has reverberated even more lately, as I have come to question this irrational thing called fandom.
There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, I don’t need to catch you up on the news surrounding the Braves and the regrettable sequence of events surrounding the 2021 All-Star Game, but just in case, let me give a brief summary:
- Last week, The State of Georgia passed a 98 page voting law that was described by the New York Times as “a breathtaking assertion of partisan power in elections“, which is a very New York Times way of saying that it’s a blatantly racist attack on voting rights in a state that led the way in delivering the Presidency and the Senate to the party that it traditionally doesn’t like.
- Major League Baseball responded to the legislation by abruptly removing the All-Star Game from Atlanta, which was the scheduled host city this year.
- The Braves issued a positively pathetic statement saying that they were the victim. Governor Brian Kemp, the racist doofus who spearheaded the bill (oh, and happened to be the center of an election scandal himself recently..) stated that he had spoken to members of the Braves organization, and doubled down on the victim status of the corporation (because yes, the Braves are a Corporation).
Number 3 was the real kicker here:
Now ya see, there’s nothing quite like claiming to be misrepresented, or mistreated, when your letterhead has a Tomahawk on it, and your name is a misappropriated term for a misplaced people. The absolute tone-deafness of the statement tells far more than the letters on the release say. Their direction of anger and disappointment should be with the absolutely abhorrent nature of the legislation, not at the loss of an event. The statement goes on to cast the fans of Georgia to be the victims here, when in actuality, the Braves fanbase, by in large, were the ones who benefitted from the very legislation in question here (because, no shocker, most baseball fans are older white men who skew Republican with their voting patterns).
In the past, I’ve been able to compartmentalize the missteps of the laundry I had chosen to follow as things that baseball people mostly wouldn’t care about, or wouldn’t understand. The scandals surrounding former GM Jon Coppollela were able to be swept away with a new team administration, the expert handling of replacement GM Alex Anthopolous, oh and a winning team. The issue of taxpayer funding to move their stadium to a more white suburb of Atlanta made enough news to register for some people, but was able to be contextualized as the latest example in a larger trend, so many were able to look past it. The general offensiveness of the Tomahawk Chop died away with a simple promise to not use it as often, and the team’s name was spared the chopping block only because the team from Cleveland’s name was more offensive than their own. It’s been a long series of bullet-dodging or keeping the scandals local enough to baseball that fans such as myself could roll our eyes and say “well, no organization is perfect” and go on about our day. We could see no other way.
This is different. The complete swing-and-miss of this statement, then the doubling down by the architect of the legislation brings about that sick feeling in your stomach. Then you see the tomahawk on the letterhead, and you cringe at what this means. This isn’t a “baseball” issue anymore, and a few minutes goes by where you think really hard about whether or not you want to be associated with it. After all, are you willing to stake your convictions to a logo, or pin your values to laundry?
Now the conflict begins the slippery slope of wrestling with the very argument and the privilege that comes with it, and the million dollar question bubbles to the surface:
Why CAN’T you just not be a fan of the team… because it’s what you grew up with?
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s the quintessential old white-guy-resisting-change argument. If this was anything else, we’d point to the house of cards and remind them that it’s all built on lies and racism anyway. It’s easy when it’s someone else, and in reality it should be easy for me, too, if I want to hold myself to the standards I wish to have.
Then I watch the games, and I feel none of it. It’s the players. They could rip the logo from the front of the jersey and i’d still pay good money to watch Ronald Acuña Jr, Dansby Swanson, Freddie Freeman, or my daughters favorite player, Marcell Ozuna smack the shit out of baseballs. I don’t pay to see owners, I don’t pay to see front offices, I pay to see “my guys” take the field. I pay to see them shake the cobwebs of a franchise known defeat overshadowing victory, and turn the corner to a winning tradition. That being said, the transient nature of baseball says that players, like so much in life, doesn’t last forever. That sort of pang would eventually subside, I think. For a while though, it would be like having to leave the love of your life because she cheated on you, only to find that she’s moved into the house next door.
The rabbit hole of conflict continues though, and now comes the feelings of how to grow the game and include players of color, when it’s clear that the organization that you identify with doesn’t even want them to have their most basic rights as a citizen in a democracy.
It is a reckoning of privilege, and a shaking of faith in quite literally, the most unimportant way I could imagine, given the times we live in.
So here we are, 1600 words later, and nothing really to show for it, other than conflicting feelings of fandom, an irrational devotion to a color scheme on overpriced merchandise, and group of guys i’ve never met.
The only question I could pose, is what really is our tolerance anymore? How much can/should we accept from the teams we pledge our allegiance to? What do we ACTUALLY get in return?
Geez, what a bummer.