Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Say It Ain't So, Joe"

These were the legendary and probably apocryphal words spoken by a kid to Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1920 after he and seven other ballplayers stood trial for “throwing” the World Series. It sums up the great divide between jocks and the fans.

Avid as followers of sports may be they have always been shut out of locker rooms and the so-called culture of teams off the field. The boy’s incredulity that his hero, Joe Jackson, would be party to a gambling scheme is testimony to the mythic dimension that baseball held and still holds in the public imagination.  We need our heroes and the big three spectator sports each provide that illusion for its fan base.  

We’ve always known our uber-athletes are really just specially endowed kids some of whom become handicapped having received inordinate adulation and mega bucks. The curtain has now been lifted for a larger peek. We’ve seen the hot dogs, now we get a tour of the sausage factory. Recent revelations have surfaced of hazing, bullying and racial slurs breaking that code of silence. Say it ain’t so, Jose and Joe.

Competitive team sports thrive on controlled violence; football and ice hockey more than any other. One might think that professionals have learned to contain their pugnacity but that may be asking too much. Their small universe promotes this misguided manliness and we, as fans, depend on it as we growl and exalt from the couch.

Why would we expect otherwise? The spigot of ferocity is not so easily turned off. A tiny percentage retire in suits and ties to broadcast or comment on the game at a far remove from the spilled blood, concussed brains and vile language among the gladiators.

Baseball, as a virtually non-contact sport, is a few notches apart from the gridiron or hoop court. Dodger fans have been blessed for sixty-five years by the erudition of Vin Scully who lifts the mundane tedium to near-poetic proportions. He dignifies the game and transcends the combat to both an archetypal and more fully human dimension at once. The effect is to preserve baseball in a pristine state as if the players were re-enacting the pastime in a pastoral tableau.

Yet we now learn that even here in the clubhouse a juvenile brutality still prevails with harassment rituals a regular part of the off-the-field antics. With power as the operative word it should be no surprise to learn that domination of the weak or recent arrivals is routinely practiced from pranks to criminal assaults. Call it a spillage of testosterone. Call it institutionalized bullying. Say it ain’t so……..but it is.

As one who watches these sports on the field it becomes yet another reason along with the hype, greed, arrogance, cheating etc… to close the book on that chapter of my life and I promise to emerge from my spectator bubble during the next twenty years or posthumously.....which ever comes first. The heart and hormones know of no logic.   

No comments:

Post a Comment