After September 11, 2001, Major League Baseball returned to New York City and united the country after deadly terrorist attacks. Now, after a four-month delay due to the pandemic, baseball has returned. However, rather than uniting us again during a time of adversity, it has added to the divisiveness in our country.
Most Americans look to baseball, or any sport, as an opportunity to root for their favorite team with fellow fans. During those few hours of watching a game, we put on hold family and work problems, and even differences in politics. Not anymore — and my sense is interest in many sports will decline as a result.
Indeed, although I normally would have watched a few Yankee games already, I have not watched one pitch.
On opening day, when fans were yearning for those magical words — “Play ball!” — we had to endure protest and political statements before players even took the field for the games.
At the opening game for MLB in Washington, the Yankees and Nationals teams both knelt along the foul lines holding a black ribbon. In addition, players throughout the League continue to kneel during the National Anthem. Some also wore “Black Lives Matter” patches on their uniforms and t-shirts at batting practice.
Adding to the mix of sports and politics was the local Democrats’ reaction to reports that President Donald Trump would throw the first pitch at Yankee stadium on August 15. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the Yankees were “on the wrong side of history and morality” and inviting “hatred to [their] pitcher’s mound.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. accused the Yankees of “pandering to an unapologetic white supremacist like Donald Trump.”
Reports of whether or not the Yankees organization arranged for the POTUS to throw the first pitch aside, can you imagine the reaction if Republicans had condemned an MLB team for inviting former President Barack Obama to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game?
We should all unite for baseball and for the president throwing out a first pitch for the national pastime — especially during this tough time for our country.
Who can forget Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at ‘Baseball’s Cathedral,’ Yankee Stadium? Less than two months after the Twin Towers fell, President Bush was greeted by deafening cheers and thundering chants of “USA, USA, USA.”
Oh, how times have changed.
Now, our president is openly called a racist and white supremacist by elected officials for simply continuing a tradition of throwing out first pitches that began with William Howard Taft on April 14, 1910. Just as bad, fans now have to endure political statements from their teams rather than just cheering them on.
Bob Capano has worked for Brooklyn Republican and Democrat elected officials, and has been an adjunct political science professor for over 15 years. Follow him on twitter @bobcapano.