America's favorite pastime is losing its brand identity
How baseball became political
I was just a Capitol Hill intern when the Washington Nationals first came to town. Born in Pittsburgh, I was a sports enthusiast — always cheering for the Steelers, Pens, and Pirates no matter what kind of season they were having. That summer in DC, my roommates and I were able to attend Nats games for a very affordable rate — something that we unpaid interns very much appreciated.
There inside the ballpark, 20-somethings from Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York City, Chicago, Connecticut, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Boston, Philadelphia, and Minnesota gathered to become united and support the Nats (unless one of our teams were playing, of course). Even more amazing than getting this melting pot of sports fans together to cheer for one team is that we all came from different political backgrounds with various internships.
No matter if we left our house on Constitution Avenue in the morning and headed to a Republican Senator’s office, or to a progressive lobbying organization, or to the White House — when we came home at the end of the day, we all talked about what experiences we had and treasured our time on the Hill, learning from one another and even challenging one another.
I interned for a Republican Congresswoman, and when former President Bill Clinton came, the office encouraged me to go see him speak. Not because I agreed with his politics, but because how often do we get the opportunity to hear a President of the United States speak? I didn’t go to protest or ridicule others who went but to see what someone who became a leader of our nation had to say. I attended with a guy from my house (also a Republican) and when we got there, we saw two of our liberal roommates. We sat together and while we didn’t all agree on the policy, we did agree that this was a pretty awesome moment for all of us.
Today we see a different picture. Anytime athletes are invited to the White House, it immediately becomes a political gesture and motive. Why can’t it still be the case that it’s an awesome moment to attend the White House? Or why must die-hard Nats fans decide they now must boycott Ryan Zimmerman for thanking President Trump or Kurt Suzuki who wore a MAGA hat? Why is this only a problem when it’s a Republican sitting in the White House?
The entertainment industry is very fickle — perhaps this is why we now have Donald Trump as President. Hollywood has made it shunnable for anyone who wanders from a progressive point of view. Trump was the first person to not give AF and say and do as he felt without fear of retribution. That’s exactly why he went to the game where he heard boos.
Look, when I went to a regular-season, first-year game, my tickets probably cost a whopping seven dollars. Interns and low-paid Hill staffers from all over the country came along with some VIPs in boxes, I’m sure — but the point is that the World Series game has an entirely different population. To get sneered by rich, liberal, elitist snobs who already said they didn’t want the President to come to the game is very different than the rest of middle-America who would enjoy a baseball game during regular-season. Trump getting booed there was a victory for his brand.
The problem is that we now criticize a baseball team for showing up to be honored by their President after winning the World Series while feeling sorry for an athlete who refused to stand for a flag that gives him the freedom to do whatever he wants.
The blurred lines between politics and sports become more clear with each season and election cycle. I already mentioned that I’m a Steelers fan. I remember attending the very first game following the kneeling debacle and wondering what my team would do. As it came closer to take a stand and support the men and women who give us our freedom, my team was nowhere to be found. Near the tunnel, you could see the bravest of brave — Alejandro Villanueva. He knows the real side of bravery and what it means to stand up for something. As the rest of the team stood behind him, out of media light, he honored the flag he fought for and lives lost.
Villanueva’s jersey sales rocketed following this. After seeing how wrong they were in face of the public, Villanueva had to downplay his reasons to stand out front and help get the team back in good standing publicly. It’s a shame when you make decisions thinking it will benefit you or win you over with an audience because you think it’s more popular, and then when you are shocked to find out it isn’t so popular, the backtracking is swift.
We can already see that the Nats might have to do the same — downplay or backtrack their actions for fear of snowflakes melting and causing a riot.
Baseball is America’s sport. If it can’t bring us together to celebrate, what can?
So much has changed since we left our intern house on Constitution Ave. Some Republicans have become Democrats, some Democrats are now Republicans. For now, I’ll recall the good ‘ole days when the Nats gave away free bucket hats and I’ll be forever proud to have taken a photo in front of Ryan Zimmerman’s locker — Mr. National.