When I saw that the game was being broadcast locally by my50 in Chicago, I grudgingly turned to ESPN to watch the Cubs and Cardinals Monday night. Between the centerfield camera angle being offset to the right and Curt Schilling providing commentary, it was not a pleasant experience. Thankfully, I was quickly reminded that the game had been picked up in syndication by one of my local stations, so I quickly flipped off ESPN.
Maybe it was the timing of my channel change or maybe it was because I was working on a Star Wars puzzle with my son during the early stages of the game, but I missed the controversy that’s been making waves this morning. I had known the spurned St. Louisans would be in full throat with boos and catcalls directed at Jason Heyward, but ESPN’s mics reportedly picked up use of the N-word as well. I’ve not yet heard the slurs in question and I don’t really care to, though several people were pointing it out on Twitter (which is apparently the only place the reports were true in the first place).
Heyward claims not to have heard the worst of the vitriol, but he shared his perspective on the bad blood in general after the game.
“If somebody boos me here, that means they were not happy to see me leave,” Heyward reasoned. “I’m kind of glad that people weren’t happy to see me leave. The fans should enjoy it, and we’re going to enjoy it.”
He’s right too, the fans should enjoy it. Heckling opposing players is part of the game and has been forever, but the fun stops when you choose to vomit out hatespeech. Ignorance allows folks to paint pretty ugly pictures, and alcohol and the mob mentality of a big crowd often lead them to color even further outside the lines of propriety than usual. It saddens me that an individual would harbor enough maliciousness and/or social illiteracy to use these words at all, let alone in a public place, but I guess it’s inevitable.
There’s good-natured ribbing and then there’s genuinely hurtful, poisonous idiocy. Please don’t excuse the latter as part of the former because they’re not even in the same ballpark, pun fully intended. Speaking of not in the same ballpark, people who use language like this need to be removed, preferably from society in general. And please, please don’t shrug this off with “Well, that’s what you have to deal with when you make the kind of money Heyward’s making.”
No one should have to deal with being called what he was allegedly — since there doesn’t seem to be any audio of it circulating at this point and likely never will be — called and no amount of money or fame opens a person up to being disparaged in that fashion.
This isn’t a time for Cubs fans to spike the ball and label every fan with a red shirt as a redneck, nor is it a time for anyone, Cards fans or otherwise, to point fingers back and say “Yeah, well, you guys do it too.” Are there racist idiots in every fanbase? Absolutely. That doesn’t make it okay to deflect criticism in cases like this though. Failing to recognize the issue for what it is is really just tacit approval for it to continue.
No matter the colors we wear or the team(s) we support, I hope we can agree that it’s unacceptable for anyone anywhere to say these things and that condemning the behavior is really the only response. Ignorance and hatred aren’t going away anytime soon, but my sincere hope is that this incident is merely a footnote in what promises to be an incredibly exciting rivalry this season.
Ed. note: in the time since this first ran, it has become even more clear that the NYDN piece linked above was written based on information from a few tweets and lacked veracity. The fact remains, however, that awful things have been and will be said at sporting venues, and that those things have no place whatsoever and should not be tolerated. Sadly, a good portion of the reaction to the debunking of the story has fallen into myopic categories of ball-spiking, finger-pointing, and free-speech supporting. This isn’t a Cardinals fan thing — I’ve been treated with nothing but respect when I’ve visited St. Louis and had a great time there with my kids last season even though the Cubs lost in extras — and it’s not a Cubs fan thing. It’s a terrible people thing. In the end, I guess Schilling really was the most offensive part of the game.