I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life, all things considered, and can’t complain. That penultimate word–can’t–weighs down on me from no direction in particular, an invisible, unseen force. It shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be about me. I’m no one in particular–just a hobbyist, a fan. Being a sports fan is something I do and am for fun. But not only is it a source of pleasure, it can also be a way of making connections to people who aren’t like me. As a little kid, my ability to rattle off trivia statistics delighted older fans and provided a way to start making friendships with those near and far, even as I struggled to master the social skills needed to bond with my own peer group. Sports can sometimes have this power–the power to be used for good.
I was born outside the Chicago area but had already moved away by the time I fell in love with baseball. Most of the baseball hats on display weren’t Cubs hats, but a few were, and every so often I’d get thumbs-ups or high-fives for my little T-shirts. Baseball team affiliation is something innocuous enough that it’s a way to identify onesself as one of a relatively small “in-group” and display comparatively benign loyalties. Just as the sport as a whole was a bridge for me to make connections, team affiliation became a way to signal a postive form of pride, when I was almost too afraid to do so in most other ways. How dare I take any pride in my country, when people like me in so many ways (birth place, skin color, religion) were responsible for so many atrocities? On the internet, where one-liners and point-scoring were the currency of the day, citing one’s atypical neurology could too easily turn into an excuse, so better not hide behind that either. At least T-shirts and virtual avatars could still endure.
When I was twelve I started learning that there was no safety in this approach. Oh, I don’t mean that the mistakes of one fan would be redistributed as collective guilt; people (some people) can deride an individual scapegoat much more easily. No, I mean the second-order response of assuming all other fans were content to mock the failings of their fellows, rather than hold the players accountable. Of lumping us all in the same boat.
I don’t mean to claim any higher ground than is due–that kind of attitude leads to the backlash present in, say, the “Best Fans St. Louis” running joke. Some people probably think my dreams of true egalitarianism are naive. I’m just one voice, and a quiet voice at that. But I have to try.
All this is just to say that, in the slightly ironic spirit of #victorinooutsforcharity and the slightly tiresome ads that companies do (apparently some of them just pay a flat fee anyway, but, welp), I’m going to be donating $5 for every Aroldis Chapman save (with the Cubs this year) to Wings Program. I hope I don’t need to be very wordy about it here or elsewhere, and I’m not sure if posting this defeats the purpose. But please know, if you’re reading this; in the midst of all the nihilistic hand-wringing and disdain that will follow for people like me, or maybe it just feels like it from amid the distortions I squint through, I’m here too.