Sunday afternoons were slotted for room inspection during my childhood. My father was a military man and he believed in duty, integrity and most important of all, humility. As the youngest of six children, it never occurred to me to challenge this parental practice. We always passed the inspection and would gather around the colored television happily chomping away on bowls of hot buttered popcorn as our family eagerly watched the latest episode of Bonanza. It remains a treasured memory of momentary, blissful escape from the raging war and civil unrest that constantly circulated around us.
So when my spouse and partner fantasized for years about retiring and watching his beloved Kansas City Royals baseball team’s daily games, it made perfect sense. He had fulfilled his duty by lobbying injustice at the Iowa Capitol for twenty-seven years, where I joined this mission for the last seven. We battled the evil side of the behavioral approach to social problems, enhancing criminal penalties to control behavior. He spent long hours at his computer researching and preparing for upcoming sessions year after year. He simply couldn’t justify taking time away from this charge to selfishly watch television. So he remained focused on social justice, although he longingly tracked his Royals through the daily sports page.
The main difference between lobbying for corporate interests versus criminal issues is that when we lost the debate, lives would be damaged or destroyed and liberty lost. Enhancing penalties aren’t effective, but they are powerful and some legislators arrive at the Capitol full of anger. Pushing punitive laws serve as an outlet for their personal biases and frustrations. Though possibly the most dangerous legislator of all is the one using social problems to attract media attention. Vanity is easily manipulated, so when the motivation for change isn’t pure, the person will alter his position when the attention begins to shift elsewhere.
A number of years ago, before the legislature gaveled in, a state senator stomped up the east entrance steps at the Capitol, and spotting me immediately he swiftly turned and made a bee line towards me. It seems a radio station used a recording of me during a subcommittee meeting and not him, the chair of the meeting. After this odd episode, it became easier for me to spot attention seekers. They will introduce controversial legislation hoping to attract far reaching exposure. Lobbyists wanting to get meaningful legislation passed need to maintain a wide berth of the media or risk alienating the posturing politician from future support.
So recently retired Marty happily turned his back on these political games at the Capitol and switched on Royals baseball. Soon it became clear that he wanted to share America’s pastime with me. So after digging out the slightly yellowed Minnesota Twins 1987 Homer Hanky from a dusty old cardboard box containing my inheritance from my father, I embraced the game of baseball willing to learn all its little nuances. The Minnesota Twins gained another fan as we watched both teams navigate the shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19. With great pride, I accurately remembered every word to the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” that was traditionally sung during the 7th inning stretch. Childhood memories of games past filled me with such warmth, only to come crashing down when “God Bless America” was slowly and painfully sung during the break in the 7th inning. With no fans in the stands, and since America wasn’t the “home sweet home” for many baseball players, the song seemed both insensitive and quite frankly, sadly superficial. But we adjusted accordingly by happily munching away on peanuts and Cracker Jack and using the mute button when needed.
But then the Twins decided to be one of a handful of sports teams to participate in the boycott of games in the name of racial injustice that took place at the end of August. They didn’t lose any pay and played a double header the next day, which meant they played 14 innings instead of the 18 they would have played over two days. It just didn’t play out as a big sacrifice on their part, given that George Floyd died in Minneapolis.
Now the Royals didn’t participate in the boycott. Whit Merrifield, a star hitter for the Royal’s and a fan favorite stated:
“We feel what we do is a separation from what’s going on in the world. We feel we have to go out and do our job and give people a three-hour window to enjoy a baseball game and to not think about what’s going on in the world.”
Merrifield gave me renewed hope. But sports players, like legislators are public figures. Some may genuinely care about racial equality, while others just like the attention it brings.
The other night we simultaneously watched the Royals play the Indians and the Kansas City Chiefs play the Houston Texans, the socially distanced and masked Chief’s fans did the tomahawk chop to support their team. Those genuinely dedicated to racial sensitivity have a whole lot of work to do.
This article appeared in print in the Fall 2020 issue of the Prairie Progressive. We recommend subscribing to this quarterly newsletter. Details on the website at: https://theprairieprogressive.com/