July 27, 2016
Stuck With Him
There’s a freedom in helplessness. Sometimes, the act of choosing gets in the way of life. Imagine the burden of infinite possibilities: the information cost of picking a new breakfast cereal each morning, scrolling through a Netflix queue that never folds back on itself. The burden of deciding which people you help (and which you don’t) with your charity foundation, the way you allocate your infinite resources during your still-finite time on this earth.
Not all freedoms are good, it goes to show. Having to make choices is obnoxious much of the time, but it’s better than the alternative; deciding what to have for dinner is perhaps the most wearying experience of postmodern suburban culture, but it beats not having dinner. Still, one of the most difficult things about small-p politics is how to make choices on a group level. Finding a solution that satisfies all or even a majority of a group of people’s desires seems impossible when you can’t even order them a pizza. How do you create a nuanced selection process for anything, when people themselves are a conflicted ball of conflicted feelings and irrationality?
That’s the sort of question that gets you a two-party system with candidates nominally vetted by public opinion, where voters are saddled with the responsibilities of strategic voting and weighing various evils. It’s also what gets you Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cub.
Many people have analyzed the fallout of Chapman’s actions, the statement they make, and how we should feel and respond to them. The discussions are thoughtful and important. To be clumsily direct, that is not the purpose of this essay. By now you know how you feel. The question is: What to do?
If democracy is the worst form of government except all others, baseball is the worst democracy. A baseball team is many things at once: cultural foundation, self-aware gladiatorial robot, heartless corporation. They’re wonderfully conflicted things, running at crossed purposes with themselves, trying to be beloved and win ballgames and make profits all at the same time.
The trouble is that, as with elections, fans have their nuanced opinions pared down into a single binary choice: whether or not to give teams their money. Certainly there are other actions they can take; they can put bags on their heads and battle in the arena of public opinion, take to a Facebook fansite and conspire with like minds. But as valid as these things are as expression, they’re powerless; the common man cannot fire a team president. The boycott is the only weapon we wield.
What ensues is an unpleasant brinksmanship, one where fans have no choice but to seemingly acquiesce to the immorality of their team of choice, or exile themselves from their rooted past. It’s an awful choice, just like most choices are awful choices.
There are things bigger than sports. That’s a tautology, because sport is by definition a limited space, defined by the rules that specifically limit the actions that can be taken within it. Chapman’s off-field actions (like those of Marlon Byrd and Chin-Hui Tsao) are within the game’s jurisdiction, and the game can punish them accordingly. We cannot. But while there are choices that fans can make, valid and even desirable protests, these facts don’t lay responsibility of justice on the fan. They did not choose to acquire Aroldis Chapman.
Three days ago, all Cubs fans wanted their team to win a championship and to watch Jake Arrieta get hoisted on everyone’s shoulders after a Game Seven shutout. The fact that Chapman might now benefit from that shared happiness, might be holding up a leg, isn’t enough, I think, to require that fans stop wanting it. They have that option, but they’re not morally obligated to take it.
It’s just another hard decision, another conflict arbitrarily thrust upon random people. It’s the same kind of injustice that gets showered on people every day, in every phone call to a cable company and every natural disaster and every thoughtless tragedy. We roll with these punches as best we can, and live despite them. We all vote our conscience with every choice we make; we just have to be reminded so often because it’s so hard.