Former major leaguer C.J. Nitkowski, presently of various media venues including MLB Network Radio, posted an image on Twitter on Monday night where he highlighted an ostensibly female fan looking down at her cell phone while White Sox shortstop Jimmy Rollins hits a double. Nitkowski commented, “Your parents paid a lot of money for that seat…”
Unsurprisingly, Nitkowski got a lot of heat for the comment, including from ESPN’s Keith Law, who felt the former pitcher’s comment had tinges of sexism. Nitkowski wrote a personal blog responding to Law specifically. I’ll abstain from passing judgment on that specific matter, but Nitkowski does conveniently ignore the man a couple rows back whose face is also buried in a cell phone.
Nitkowski’s criticism of the fan makes a lot of assumptions from a still image — one split-second of a three and a half hour game. It really comes from the recent netting arguments, on which one side argues that fans struck by foul balls should be paying attention, rather than using cell phones and engaging in other distractions.
How is Nitkowski so sure the girl didn’t pay for her own ticket? Why does he default to this assumption?
Why does he assume that looking down at a cell phone means one is, generally, not paying attention? Could she not have been looking up game-related information with the MLB.com app, or looking up scores of other games?
Why is looking down at a cell phone frowned upon, especially with expanded netting now protecting a higher portion of those attending? What if the girl did get those tickets from her parents, and she was texting them to say thank you and explain how great the seats are? What if she got an unexpected but important work-related email? What if she was waiting for an update for a relative who had been admitted to the hospital? What if someone randomly texted her to say hi? Nitkowski doesn’t know why the girl was using her cell phone at all.
Why do we expect that fans should always, 100 percent, be paying attention to the on-field action? Baseball is much slower and has much more down time than other sports. It’s natural for one’s mind to wander aimlessly, or for one’s attention to be directed elsewhere. The teams themselves are guilty of this, as their giant video boards flash brightly, mascots prance around, and fans are regularly prompted to use their cell phone for one reason or another.
I shared Nitkowski’s comment and the surrounding context with my girlfriend, who only watches baseball when she’s with me and knows just the basics about the sport. She said she went to a Phillies game once and read a book through the entire game. Why did she go, then? She wanted to spend time with her father. Not everyone who attends a baseball game actually likes baseball; sometimes, they just like being with friends and family. Her seat was paid for with hard-earned money, so she can read a book, play Candy Crush, or knit a sweater if she wants to, all while ignoring the game. If Nitkowski wants to delegitimize that, he is only alienating fans from a sport that is already having trouble capturing the attention of millennials.