One of the great things about professional sports is the way they bring together athletes of different backgrounds. Those athletes might not always see eye to eye and they might not always fraternize with each other away from the field of play, but this is the closest thing we have to a melting pot in our country.
It’s almost impossible to look at a pro baseball or hockey game without grasping that, though we might be from different parts of the world, we’re all from the same place, the same planet. It reminds us that if we aren’t one, we should be.
The Blackhawks have players from the United States, Canada, Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden.
The Cubs won a World Series with a second baseman born in Puerto Rico, a shortstop who is half-Filipino and half-black, a closer from Cuba, two catchers from Venezuela, an African-American center fielder and right fielder and a white third baseman from Las Vegas. I’m not sure how any teammate could look at that racial and cultural mix and want to have anything to do with walls or immigration bans.
Many of this country’s darkest instincts seem to be crawling into the light now. The sports world is being affected by it, if only indirectly at this point. The Bucks are worried that rookie Thon Maker will be negatively affected by President Donald Trump’s temporary entry ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Sudan, where Maker was born. The same concerns apply to former Bull and current Laker Luol Deng, another native of Sudan.
Former Bull Nazr Mohammed, a practicing Muslim, had this to say Saturday, via Twitter: “It’s a tough day when u find out that so many ppl that u thought were fans or friends really hate u and everything u believe in.’’
You can just hear our Dear Leader saying, “Oh, I didn’t mean that Muslim’’ or “No, no, no, I was only talking about the undesirable Sudanese, not the ones who are tall and can dunk.’’
It’s easier to shut out the rest of the world when you have only a slight engagement with it, in much the same way it’s easier to be intolerant of homosexuals when you don’t have any gay people in your family. It’s why many pro athletes are so at ease with people of different cultures. Not all athletes, but many. Their eyes have been opened to a bigger world. Sports should be opening our eyes, too, but Trump’s executive order suggests that too many eyes remain shut tight.
We’re a nation of immigrants. The vast majority of us came from somewhere else, either personally or through our ancestors. Some of our forebears arrived here legally and some arrived illegally, but whatever the route, most of us would agree we’re better for it, as is the country. The sports world is a reflection of who we are and what we can be, in the best sense. It’s our modern-day Ellis Island.
But too many people have selective amnesia. They forget that their blood is a mixture of different nationalities. They cheer for athletes from different countries who help their favorite teams win, then go back to building walls, brick by ideological brick.
Trump’s ban is not about the threat of terrorism, though that’s how it has been packaged. According to the New York Times: Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the seven countries targeted in the order’s 120-day visa ban, according to Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina.
This is about fear, nothing else. The fear of the Other. The fear of someone who looks different or thinks and believes differently. That’s why sports play such an important role in this country, even if sports are so frequently dismissed as the toy department. When you hear Deng speak passionately about the challenges faced by his new country, South Sudan, it shrinks the planet, makes it more accessible. If that leads a few people to understand that Sudan isn’t populated by terrorists, even better.
When famous athletes speak, people have to listen. You might not like that LeBron James supports the Black Lives Matter movement or that Tom Brady supports Trump. But you’re probably aware of it. You might not think jocks are worthy of having an opinion, though why yours matters and theirs doesn’t sounds a bit problematic intellectually.
One of Trump’s top advisers recently said that the media should keep their mouths shut. If you think of the media as extensions of the people, which they are, then you can assume he’s giving you the same directive.
Keep our mouths shut? The sports world refuses.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.