Our Reward We Have Not Earned - Word&Way

Our Reward We Have Not Earned


That was the simple tweet shared by many players and fans last Wednesday (Aug. 26) as NBA MLB, WNBA, and MLS athletes and teams chose to sit out games in recognition of ongoing racial, social, political, and economic injustices in America.

Greg Mamula

Greg Mamula

Of course, we know not playing a game, no matter if it is a decisive NBA playoff matchup or just one of sixty MLB-slated games in a COVID-altered season, can in itself change the hearts, minds, and attitudes that propagate systemic disparities. But perhaps they are loud and clear siren calls to finally cross the line into meaningful action on the part of fans of those games and citizens of this nation.

Longtime NBA coach and player Doc Rivers lamented in an interview on Aug. 25 the mind-boggling disparity between the message of fearmongering being delivered from the Republican National Convention and the actual fear experienced within the African American community.

“Its amazing to me that we keep loving this county and this country does not love us back,” Rivers said in response to the police shooting of an unarmed Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

He was clearly drawing from a lifetime of painful experiences and not just this one tragedy when he made his statement.

The Milwaukee Bucks chose not to take the court for a meaningful playoff game as a form of active protest and awareness. Their MLB counterpart the Milwaukee Brewers, in solidarity with the Bucks, also chose to sit out their scheduled regular season contest. After three days of players boycotting games, the NBA resumed the playoffs on Saturday. Most other leagues resumed play on Thursday after just the single day of opt outs.

During the postponed games, social media users could not be angrier, unleashing predictable dribble about fame and fortune and privilege against players, teams, and the NBA and MLB. Several posts I saw urged teams to play because we as fans and a society deserve a distraction from all the chaos.

To be sure, there is a lot of stuff happening all at once. Seasonal wildfires in the Rockies and California endangering entire communities. Protests that result in homicide and property destruction in Portland and Kenosha and elsewhere. Another hurricane leaving behind a wake of storm surge, wind damage, and widespread flooding. An insane straight wind derecho storm leveling parts of central Iowa cities and agriculture. High unemployment. International tensions with China, North Korea, and Russia. National political conventions proclaiming the world will end and you will be in danger if the other political party wins the upcoming election. And of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that amplifies all these issues and more.

So yes, social media users, you nailed it: we are in an absolute chaotic mess right now. But that does not mean we are entitled to these athletic distractions.

(Jose Morales/Unsplash)

Outspoken MLB pitcher and social advocate, Sean Doolittle said in a July 5 interview, “Sports are like the reward of a functioning society.” The Bucks player statement from Aug. 26 agreed with that sentiment: “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball. … We encourage all citizens to educate themselves, take peaceful and responsible action, and remember to vote on Nov. 3.”

We cannot take peaceful responsible action if all we desire is distraction from the chaos. Sports are a reward for a functioning society. We are not a healthy, functioning society right now.

That is how the darkness wins. Like a sleight-of-hand magician, darkness would have us look one at one hand while picking our pocket with the other. By keeping our attention on something else, we miss the opportunity to become agents of healing. When we are too distracted, we forego the hard work of listening, reconciliation, peacemaking, and loving others.

So no, social media users, we do not have an inalienable right to sports. Sports are a reward we have not really earned.

I think baseball is the greatest game every created. I check in on multiple games a day with a paid for subscription to the MLB app. I follow off-season trades and hit stat websites regularly. I do not want to lose a season to a pandemic or social unrest or natural disaster. But it is not my right to have access to baseball, basketball, NCAA, or whatever else. It is a reward for a functioning society.

If shutting down a season or multiple seasons of pro and college sports moved this nation into a place of healing, I would gladly accept the silence of stadiums and arenas in a trade that also brought peaceful, responsible action. When that is done, then they could all come back because then we would have earned the right to cheer on our favorite team and player.

Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, to be published by Judson Press in October 2020. Visit table-life.org to learn more about his ministry and writing projects.