Racial tension cannot be ignored in sports
I don’t mind trash talk. I like it. I like fan rivalries, tension and hitting other players where it hurts, and I really like winning.
Sometimes, there is nothing more exhilarating than when the competition seeps into the fan base, and everyone is so invested that they are divided between the cities in which they live, while the ties of class and race seem less relevant within those fan bases.
And that is when, in our divine unity, we start the trash talk. Houston is a diverse city, so our united front looks different from other large cities with competitive teams.
And national sports leagues like the NFL, the NBA and the MLB have rosters of international and minority athletes who play for fan bases that are as likely to harbor biases as anyone.
But when it comes down to a firm rivalry, those biases are put aside, and everyone roots for the home team. Right?
In the history of national leagues, less diverse fan bases than Houston have had problematic, often racialized disputes with opposing and local players, coaches and fans.
In May, Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was berated with racial slurs in the Red Sox’s iconic Fenway Park. Though Boston is one of the country’s most diverse cities — whites compose only 47 percent of the population — its history as a stronghold of harsh northern racism is still clear, especially in its sports institutions.
In September, anonymous protesters displayed a large sign in Fenway Park declaring that “Racism is as American as baseball.” Given intersections between sports, politics and race, as exemplified in the Colin Kaepernick controversy and the president’s response, this shows the connection between sports and an underbelly of racial tension.
Bias is not limited to fans. In Game 3 of the World Series, Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel was caught on camera making an offensive, racially insensitive gesture after hitting a home run off Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish.
Like other athletes who have faced racial insults, Darvish responded with grace, saying, “No one is perfect. That includes you and I.”
“Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger,” he said. “I’m counting on everyone’s big love.”
Gurriel will be suspended for five games next year as punishment for the gesture. No one wanted to see him exit the World Series.
Trash talk and rivalry might be a part of the game, but race, like so many other aspects of our lives, seeps into the rivalry, and something insidious happens. For a moment, in the most public of arenas, our bias and the impact that it can have is revealed.
Pinning down racial bias is elusive, and when it happens, the most visceral parts of the experiences are hidden behind the headlines. But when it happens in large crowds, in baseball stadiums, in front of everyone, no one can look away and claim that they did not see it.
Everyone is exposed to it, and the veil of the visceral experience of racism is ripped away.
Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached [email protected]