Are the Cleveland Indians “America’s Team”

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Back in the 1980s the Atlanta Braves tried to bill themselves as “America’s Team.” That was 100% based on the fact that they, unlike all but one other team, the Cubs, had national television coverage via a superstation. The team itself was flaming trash, however, and, not surprisingly, the “America’s Team” moniker did not stick with anyone who did not pull a paycheck from TBS or the Braves.

Before that the 1970s-80s Dallas Cowboys had a bit more success in billing themselves as “America’s Team.” They had a couple of better things going for them in that regard, including (a) the fact that they were good; (b) the fact that they got way more national coverage than a lot of teams; and (c) the fact that football tends to lend itself to more bandwagon fans than baseball does (what, you think all of those Patriots fans you know outside of New England were super into the Tony Eason years?). Even with the Cowboys, however, the “America’s Team” thing was used sarcastically and derisively by many and did not end up lasting.

In light of that you’d think that no one would really try to apply that moniker to a sports team anymore. Especially a baseball team, given how much more local baseball fandom and coverage is now compared to the way it used to be. Yet, someone is trying to do that today. Bob Nightengale of USA Today. He applies it to the Cleveland Indians:

They have become America’s team, those lovable Cleveland Indians.

They win 21 games in a row, the most by any team in American League history, and we want the streak to keep going.

We see those empty seats at Progressive Field, and we want them all filled.

We listen to manager Terry Francona’s self-deprecating humor, the front office’s wit, the unbridled passion of Francisco Lindor, and don’t want them to stop talking.

It’s Cleveland baby, the epicenter of baseball.

I can’t begrudge the excitement. The Indians have been fantastic lately. They haven’t lost in the last 21 games, you may have heard. They’ve been highly entertaining in the process, too. Francisco Lindor is showing why he is one of the most exciting players in the game. Corey Kluber has been fantastic. Players who, until recently, were not that well known outside of Cleveland like Jose Ramirez have been introduced to an increasing number of baseball fans. It’s a great team and a great story and it’s hard not to root for them, if only a little, even if your usual allegiances run to one of the other 29 clubs.

It seems possible, however, to overstate the impact of the team. I think Nightengale is doing it here. They’ll lose a game eventually. They’ll be matched up in the playoffs against Boston or New York or Houston or Minnesota — or maybe the Angels or someone else — and they’ll be met, when visitors, with 40,000 or so fans hostile to their cause. They’re a great story now, but the story will ebb and flow and, come October, they’re just gonna be one of ten teams with passionate fan bases, all of whom feel the way Nightengale feels about the Indians here.

Sorry, they’re not “America’s Team.” No one is. No one in baseball probably ever can be. It just doesn’t work that way.

 

Brewers won’t punish Josh Hader for offensive tweets

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Some old tweets of Josh Hader‘s surfaced during the All-Star Game on Tuesday, containing offensive and hateful language. Major League Baseball responded by ordering Hader to attend sensitivity training and attend diversity initiatives.

The Brewers won’t punish Hader themselves, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. GM David Stearns says the club is taking its lead from MLB, which has already handed down its punishment to Hader. Additionally, the Brewers’ lack of punishment has to do with the tweets occurring when Hader was younger — 17 years old — and not involved with professional baseball.

Stearns also said of Hader’s tweets, “I don’t think they’re representative of who he is. I think they’re offensive. I think they’re ill-informed and ignorant but I don’t think they represent who he is as a person right now.” Stearns added, “I don’t know how he’s going to work through it. The truth is he has put himself in this situation. And he’s going to have to work very hard to get through it.”

Hader apologized on Wednesday, saying, “I was 17 years old, and as a child I was immature, and obviously I said some things that were inexcusable. That doesn’t reflect on who I am as a person today.” Hader said, “I’m deeply sorry for what I’ve said. I’m ready for any consequences that happen for what happened seven years ago.”

Lorenzo Cain, a black outfielder and teammate of Hader’s, said, “I know Hader; he’s a great guy. I know he’s a great teammate. I’m fine. Everybody will be O.K. We’ll move on.” Cain further defended Hader, saying, “We’ve all said crazy stuff growing up, even when we were 17, 18 years old. If we could follow each other around with a recorder every day, I’m sure we all said some dumb stuff. We’re going to move on from this.”

First baseman Jesús Aguilar also came to Hader’s defense:

However, Aguilar also retweeted a tweet from Scott Wheeler of The Athletic which had screencaps of Royals 2B/OF Whit Merrifield and Angels outfielder Mike Trout using the word “gay” pejoratively in tweets. Merrifield also used the word “retard” pejoratively.

The “he was 17” defense rings hollow. At 17 years old, one is able to join the military, get a full driver’s license (in many states), apply for student loans, and get married (in some states). Additionally, one is not far off from being able to legally buy cigarettes and guns. Given all of these other responsibilities we give to teenagers, asking them not to use racial and homophobic slurs is not unreasonable. Punishing them when they do so is also not unreasonable.

A study from several years ago found that black boys are viewed as older and less innocent than white boys. A similar study from last year found that black girls are viewed as less innocent than white girls. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Cameron Tillman, among many others, never got the benefit of the doubt that Hader and countless other white kids have gotten and continue to get in our society. When we start giving the same benefit of the doubt to members of marginalized groups, then we can break out the “but he was only 17” defense for Hader.

We also need to ask ourselves what our inaction regarding Hader’s words will say to members of those marginalized communities. Will it tell them that we value the comfort of those in power above everyone else? Will it tell members of marginalized groups that they are not welcome? In this case, it absolutely will. It communicates the message that, as long as you are white and can perform athletic feats, there’s no level of bigotry the league won’t tolerate. Furthermore, as the league and its 30 individual teams make more efforts towards inclusiveness with events like “Pride Night,” the inaction comes off as two-faced and hypocritical. This is why Major League Baseball — and the Brewers — should have done more to respond to Hader’s tweets.