I spent a lot of the previous weeks watching Ken Burns’ documentary on Baseball. Its truly great, not only because it pumps up the sport, but because just when you think the whole production is going to turn into a George M. Cohan number, it reminds you how exclusionary this country has always been and always struggled against. The United States is a weird place. We talk a huge game on liberty and freedom, but never quite seem to get there. We always find a way to remind ourselves that we are human and screw up. Jefferson writes about how liberty is self-evident while owning people. Lincoln emancipates the slaves while suspending Habeas Corpus and tearing though civil liberties to save the union. FDR goes all in to take out fascism while throwing American citizens into camps.
Baseball was there through almost our entire history and reflects our struggles, and that history is the story of our coming to terms with just how serious we are about liberty and freedom. We’re like a cocky punk who gets called on his bluff, and then has to dig deep to prove we are up to our own bragging.
There is a reason Major League Baseball retired 42, folks. Jackie Robinson never quit fighting for equality and justice. He worked hard for civil rights causes after his retirement, which makes him the hero he is and also something we may never see again. Our days of Athletes using their star power for social justice may be behind us. He made it to the Brooklyn Dodgers and showed not only that he could play but could dominate. However, he also showed an amount of fortitude and heart in holding up to the incessant pressure, bigotry, and hate that was thrown at him. It also took a guy in management willing to stand up to the institutionalized racism that permeated baseball. Branch Rickey was the guy, who planned long and hard to take town the invisible wall in baseball. This story has been well documented so I won’t retell it here.
Homosexuality is one of the last barriers we have in sports, but it is so much different than our other barriers we’ve had to overcome because you can’t look at someone and see it. There was no closet for African-Americans to hide in. This does not make it easier for homosexuality. Living in a constant state of fear and anxiety is not a blessing. I think maybe we have our Branch Rickey in Brian Burke, who’s stance on equality has been well documented. Now we need an athlete who is brave enough to play while being themselves and suffer through so that others can follow.
I don’t need to make the legal case for gay marriage – liberty is self evident, after all. But don’t be content with just thinking its a legal issue. Separate but equal sounded nice on paper too, and allowing those to have the legal rights of marriage without the concept and sanctity of marriage is a separation of the same kind. There can be no barrier. There can be no visible or invisible difference. There can be no excuse to claim it doesn’t mean as much because of who someone is.
Marriage is what we make it. The court decision embedded below makes that pretty clear. It is a seminal work on what this country is all about, and it is mandatory reading for anyone who cares about who we are as a people. From land management, to political cooperation, to economic security, to love, our definition of what marriage is has not been an immovable object. We’ve made it up as we’ve gone along to suit our needs. Our needs have changed now. Our society is advancing. It won’t be easy. Sports can help. I hope one day to see the second coming of 42. Until that day, we still have work to do.
No sleep ’till Brooklyn.