I am not in the least bit athletic, but I was raised in a home where the NBA and the NFL and the MLB were constant fixtures on the TV. We didn’t have cable for most of my childhood, but we (AKA: my parents) could at least watch the nationally broadcasted game, cheer for the home team, bicker over chips and salsa about who was bound for the championship. All of this is helped by the fact that I’m from suburban Indiana, and apathy towards the Pacers or Colts or the school football team means that I’ll struggle for conversation topics with a good portion of my peers.
I think it’s easy to dismiss sports as lowbrow, as culturally insignificant. And I can’t really fault that attitude too much. Sports, particularly professional sports, don’t really matter. By which I mean that the Broncos winning the Super Bowl or the Warriors winning 73 games has no real effect on society. Some people are happy. Some people are angry. But it’s a bit frightening to me to think of the millions of dollars poured into this industry whose entire goal is, essentially, just to entertain. Film and literature have the virtues of originality, creativity, social commentary; the sports entertainment world is more or less just a celebration of strong, athletic men and women.
But maybe that’s okay. The Orioles went 6-0 last week. It was exciting. I kept hearing the buzz when I was on the bus or shopping for groceries or just scanning through social media. I like sports because they’re deeply communal—sports fandom is comprised of all kinds of people from the same area, the same community, just coming together and cheering for the team that’s supposed to represent them. When the hometown team is succeeding, it feels like a bit like the hometown is succeeding, too. There’s a sense of pride.
In class, we’ve been reading a lot of poetry about struggle, about the hardships endured by the historically marginalized and those who have suffered social injustices. I think that’s very valuable work, but it can be trying to keep on reading about sadness and sorrow. As Dora pointed out in class last week, it’s helpful, sometimes, to just celebrate. So I looked for optimistic poetry about social justice. It is, apparently, more difficult than I imagined, but I don’t have an extensive mental repository of poems. Here’s one, though. “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes:
I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that's in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
When I see people getting excited about the Orioles, it’s a nice reminder that there really is a lot to celebrate, no matter how small or silly or ultimately inconsequential the thing is. I think that community work is, very often, at the heart of social justice, and so if people from this Baltimore community are out celebrating a few baseball wins, doesn’t that matter? Nothing of real consequence is being accomplished, sure. But if you look at the local sports teams as representatives of the locality, then there is a sense of pride in that. A win won’t propel social justice forward—Langston Hughes’s road to find is almost certainly not the road to the national championship—but it might help some people in the community feel pleased with what their city is accomplishing. And I think that so much of celebration is about unity, and about community, and these are all things that social justice likes to focus on.
There is much to celebrate. For example: The weather is beautiful. Many of us in class just took a trip down to DC, to listen to some marvelous poetry readings and learn about protest and provocation. For us Hopkins students, Spring Fair was this weekend—there was music and fried food and farm animals to pet. Kobe retired with a 60 point game, and the Warriors just got the all time wins record. The Orioles are at the top of the East. People are accomplishing things all around us. There’s a lot to be happy about, I think.