Baltimore has a difficult history of police violence. Photo credit: photodune.
By Ibrahim Abdul-Matin
What is the role of sports in times of turmoil? This is the question I am grappling with in the midst of unrest in Baltimore after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Sports can bring people together. Sure, there are winners and losers, fans and haters, but there’s a common interest in the sport, the competition, and most people can appreciate one another’s love for a particular player or team.
Could sports bring people together in Baltimore? Could it help ease tensions? Could it even help move towards a solution?
I want to say yes, but I’m not sure I can in light of the recent decision made by the City of Baltimore and Major League Baseball to not allow fans at the April 29th game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox.
Baltimore has a difficult history of police violence. Like most cities in the nation, mistrust of police is rampant in black communities, and rightly so. Baltimore also has a rigid line between the haves and the have-nots. Many of its neighborhoods are devoid of businesses and countless homes have been foreclosed and are boarded up. Reports are showing that children fare worse in Baltimore than in many developing nations when it comes to health, education, and basic rights. Frustration, at an all time high, is now being released in the form of the current clashes between community and cops.
Yes, the situation in Baltimore is a difficult one and in the short term it is one in which many people feel their security is compromised. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts who has a firm and approachable bearing gave the following counsel to MLB Commissioner Manfred:
“I cannot guarantee the safety of the fans.” And so yesterday foul balls and home runs landed into empty stands. Baseball’s nickname is “The Show”. And for the first day in over 100 years “The Show” went on with no one watching.
Still, the media continues to characterize the riots as “barbaric” and “savage.” Meanwhile, advocacy and activist circles are quoting Dr. King, “A riot is the language of the unheard” and social media is critically analyzing the portrayal of protesters as violent and the portrayal of law enforcement – shrouded in riot gear and weapons – as peacekeepers.
The unprecedented decision of MLB to close a game to viewers makes me feel like they’re missing an opportunity.
Baseball is an agrarian sport. There are no clocks. It is played in an open field. Fans cheer and have breaks and usually spend time interacting with those seated around them. Could protesters and detractors be brought together at a baseball game in hopes of making peaceful progress? Obviously it’s very complicated and Commissioner Batts was not and is not taking security lightly. But these are the kinds of solutions that require some heavy lifting and out-of-the-box thinking. These are risky solutions with potentially great payoffs. Imagine the message that would have been sent had the City of Baltimore and MLB brought the city together instead of keeping them apart.
Health and transformation take time – a lot of time. I am not naïve. I personally feel the anger, despair, and fear for the lives of the two black boys I am raising. Still, I see the beauty and possibility. Perhaps, in the short term, one way to release tension we all have been feeling would have been to open the stadium to the masses.
That would truly have been a “Show” the whole world could have watched in awe.