Sports have long held the enviable position of being one of the few industries in America to seamlessly mix business with politics. Making this feat all the more impressive is the professional sports leagues gleefully flaunting this relationship so publicly without much pushback. There are American flags proudly sitting atop the stadiums. We stand for the national anthem. Some stand again in the same game for God Bless America. There are Memorial Day and Fourth of July fitted caps readily available at our favorite sporting gear stores and websites. And we’re constantly reminded of how sports have saved the collective American psyche time and time again. All of this happens without much pushback from the same people who can’t have a respectful conversation with anyone who holds a political viewpoint that is minimally different from their own.
These tenuous claims of patriotism from American professional sports leagues may be the best marketing campaign in this country’s history. It is a foolproof approach. What is more effective than equating the consumption of sports with civic duty especially in the midst of our country’s greatest challenges? In many ways, the appeal to patriotic identity serves as a “break glass in times of emergency” safety net. It stands as a tried and true call to action to bring back “normalcy” during the worst of times including a devastating global pandemic. The frame of patriotism allows those that stand the most to gain from a hasty reopening of professional sports a cover for their true intentions. It allows the powers that be to move in silence when necessary. And this is where we find Scott Boras.
In his New York Times opinion piece, Boras tugs at our red, white, and blue heartstrings. He refers to the call from FDR to Commissioner Landis to start the games up to lift the spirits of not only American citizens but the brave soldiers fighting in World War 2. Boras then recounts the crucial role baseball played in consoling the country after 9/11. The Mike Piazza home run against the Braves is an incredible moment in baseball history. George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch was an incredible show of strength for many. To be clear, these moments are important. Sports are an important part of the collective national identity. They are real-time events that can beautifully capture the spirit of our country. But the framing of the relationship between sports and national pride isn’t solely based on a virtuous commitment to identity.
It is also important to point out that these moments are all in response to geopolitical tragedies and not a biological catastrophe. Life isn’t currently at a standstill because of war or a heinous act of terrorism. Many of us remained largely confined to our homes because of a deadly virus. The conflict isn’t defined by geographical borders or opposing political philosophies. The virus isn’t overseeing test missile launches or imposing tariffs. It is silently ravaging communities, nursing homes, hospitals, school systems, employment, and basic social interactions with absolutely no regard for who it inhabits. COVID doesn’t care for nation-states and their silly squabbles.
And this is where Boras’ appeal to our patriotic spirit falls woefully short. Sure, some folks will use the fighting American spirit to boost the morale of those around them. That is more than fine. It is a totally different matter to compromise the health of thousands of people in the name of entertainment or national identity. One can make the case that entertainment is an essential business, but that would take a pretty significant leap in logic to arrive at that conclusion. Unfortunately, many places in our country aren’t in a position to protect their citizens well enough to give any certainty that another outbreak is limited. America hasn’t handled this as well as South Korea or Taiwan, two countries that were able to start their baseball seasons. So why resort to using a rallying cry that is more appropriate when humans are in conflict with other humans? Scott Boras answers this question:
However, we face a challenge in the coming weeks and months: How do we harmonize the concerns of health experts with the unwanted effects of those public health efforts? Experts believe we need isolation and social distancing, but that has led to lost jobs, increased stresses of every type and a diminishing of the social tapestry that binds and enhances our lives. After many weeks of following safer-at-home protocols, people are understandably restless and looking for an outlet.Scott Boras
Brazenly flying in the face of medical experts feels like an expected response. Despite isolation and social distancing saving thousands upon thousands of lives, these measures are immediately minimized through the economic lens. Yes, the financial impact is devastating. As a freelance filmmaker who depends on the gig economy, this is a terrible experience. But everyone’s health is paramount at the moment. We should never lose sight of that. So, why do people like Boras choose to do so?
Simply put, it is more important for the power brokers of the game to restore their influence and gain. There is an emerging belief in certain sectors of the country that some people losing their lives so the economy can start up again is a sacrifice worth making. So the power brokers weaponize the lore of Americana to inspire many to take a significant health risk. Boras is manipulating the idea of the perceived American identity to benefit from that very narrative. We need baseball because he needs baseball. He doesn’t need it as a respite from death and destruction. He needs it to gain a semblance of power that the virus has neutered. His influence is severely limited if his industry is offline. His last gasp efforts are opinion pieces in the New York Times in an attempt to regain his bully pulpit.
Boras is like many other men in positions of power during the pandemic. They can’t see the trees for the forest because the details don’t really matter. What matters in their minds is returning to “business as usual” as soon as possible even if comes at the cost of more American lives. Unfortunately, this mindset is a core tenet of America’s true identity. One core belief is ensuring profit margins reign supreme in the face of any human crisis whether it’s enslavement, world wars, terrorism, or pandemics. And yes, this approach is within the rules of the economic game. In a vacuum, there isn’t anything wrong with trying to rekindle business. But we don’t live in a vacuum despite some wanting to apply that caveat when appropriate.
There hasn’t been a moment during this lockdown when I’ve been more confident that baseball will return than now. The steward of baseball economics has spoken. Baseball will make its return this year. It’s the American way.