“Keep the politics away from my sports,” the angry comment reads. “I just want to watch a ball game.” “If I wanted to pay attention to politics, I’d pay attention to politics. I watch baseball to get away from politics.”
Anyone who has paid attention to sports has seen a comment like this. Indeed, many of you readers have typed a comment like this. They are not inherently good or bad, ban-able or laudable; rather, they are simply statements of opinion—a widely held one at that.
Furthermore, this opinion is easy to empathize with. Politics is, by its nature, often messy and combative and ugly. Political issues are of the real world, a place that is often painful, harsh, unforgiving. Why wouldn’t you want to just get away and watch a baseball game, where big dudes hit a sphere of dead cow with a stick of dead tree, where life and death aren’t prizes at stake?
Over the weekend, Major League Baseball ensnared itself in controversy. Not because of a rule change—don’t worry, the DH monster ain’t coming for you just yet—but because of a political matter. Popular Information reported that The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC donated $5,000 to Cindy Hyde-Smith, Senator of Mississippi who is still competing for re-election due to Mississippi’s run-off rules.
This would not normally be cause for any hubbub for reasons we’ll get to later, except for one teeny thing: Hyde-Smith is in hot water, water so hot and toxic that a collection of corporations including Wal-Mart—Wal-Mart!—yanked support for Hyde-Smith and requested a refund. See, Hyde-Smith said at that if one of her constituents at a rally asked for her to attend a public hanging, she’d be on the front row. Those were here exact words.
This was a big deal for MLB is because of the timing of the matter. Nobody ragged on Wal-Mart here because they yanked their already standing support for Hyde-Smith after public backlash reached critical levels. MLB, however, decided to make the donation weeks after Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments. At a time in which other organizations were backpedaling slowly, MLB slapped its money on the counter, unaware or uncaring about the optics (or morals) of the situation. Predictably, they were caught with their pants down, and concentrated heat from pissed fans convinced them, too, to backpedal away from the donation.
All this happened regardless of Billy Joe Commenter’s position that sports and politics shouldn’t mix. And it is at this point that some introspection should yield a question: why does this matter if sports and politics are separate?
The answer is that it doesn’t. Politics and sports are intertwined, as politics are with everything else. To expect sports to be devoid of anything resembling politics is flatly unfeasible. Sports are played by humans, managed by humans, and watched by humans. At its core, politics are merely how we treat other humans within a society.
Anything that matters among groups of people is politics. How ought we treat foreigners? How ought we treat immigrants? Where ought wealth be concentrated to do the most good and be most efficient? How do we reconcile the free speech of one group with the rights of another? Where and how should we build infrastructure to best benefit society? What portion of our hard work is entitled to us and how much should be given to society?
Baseball is apolitical, uncaring, and equally cruel in its distribution of luck. When a pitch is thrown, it doesn’t matter to what nationality you belong, what race you are, to what political party you belong, to what income brackets your friends and families belong. The only thing that matters is if you can hit it and, if so, how far. But—to borrow a phrase from a different argument—baseball isn’t played by numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s played by people. People with lives and opinions, people who fall under the realm of politics alongside everyone else.
The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC exists to further the political aims of Major League Baseball, which are not the same as the aims of the players, who in turn do not have the same aims as the fans. How people and organizations should treat each other in varying circumstances is an eternal quest. You just can’t plug your ears and pretend it away.
You want to complain about politics? Get off your ass and vote. Statistically speaking, a majority of you reading this piece did not vote in the 2018 midterms. If you’re part of the minority who did, congratulations. Still, don’t complain. Most of the time, baseball is just baseball. Sometimes, politics comes up. It did this weekend. It will again. Try as you might, you can’t escape that society necessitates politics, even where it isn’t explicitly in the forefront.