Jan. 18, 2010. Martin Luther King Day Edition.
It’s a shame the Baltimore Ravens lost this week. I was pulling for them for all kinds of reasons. First, I love Peyton Manning but I’m a little tired of those Colts. I tend to be in the group that feels that team doesn’t really have it without him and as much as I love and respect virtuosity I do like to see a team where the talent is pretty equal across the board. I like some smash-mouth football. And I like Baltimore. I like the food. I like the music. I love Spank Rock so much I just can’t keep still. And there’s a way the sky gets orange at sunset and washes over all that brick that makes you think, “Oh, yeah. Orioles.” And just smile in amazement. Like New Orleans it is a city that could use a championship to bring continued national attention to the devastating racial and class divisions that have created an unending cycle of poverty and violence. Both are cities that should be in the mind of any compassionate American. They show us what is best and worst in us. Which is a lot like sports.
On April 23, 2009 Ayanbadejo wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Huffington post in which he asked what the big deal was about same-sex marriage and came out against Prop 8.
The world may be changing but it’s no small thing for a NFL player to speak out against homophobia. One need only look at the recent behavior of Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Larry Johnson whose twitterfeed was the site of numerous homophobic comments directed at fans after his team lost. It’s not surprising that homophobia still has a fairly open presence in professional sports but it’s unfortunate. And it makes the comments of Ayanbadejo all the more heartening.
So I was rooting for The Ravens and was awfully sad to see them go. Luckily there’s another team I love that happens to have a player who’s spoken out against Proposition 8. Enter Scott Fujita and the New Orleans Saints. Fujita is also a Linebacker. I know what you’re thinking. Why do Linebackers like homosexuals so much? It’s a mystery. I got bullied by a lot of football players in Middle School and now I wonder if Todd and Jimmy (the only two who really left me alone) were actually linebackers. I’d like to think so. It’s good to have allegiances and yesterday as I watched the Tivo’d games I found myself just liking that position better.
I’m kidding but only kind of. Sports are about stories and allegiances. I try to tell that to my friends who love to write poems and hate to watch sports. Every game has a narrative arc that is, in many ways, influenced by the stories of the players. Scott Fujita is no exception. Here’s Scott:
You might pause when you look at him and consider his last name. Scott Fujita was born to Caucasian parents and given up for adoption at 6 weeks. He was adopted by Helen and Ron Fujita. Helen is white. His father is Japanese American and was born in an Arizona internment camp during WWII. Fujita identifies as Japanese American and has cited his father and grandparent’s internment as one of the driving forces behind his stand against Prop. 8. In a response to Ayanbadejo’s Huffington Post piece Fujita is quoted as saying:
I hope he's right in his prediction, and I hope even more that it doesn't take that long. People could look at this issue without blinders on...the blinders imposed by their church, their parents, their friends or, in our case, their coaches and locker rooms…I wish they would realize that it's not a religion issue. It's not a government issue. It's not even a gay/straight issue or a question of your manhood. It's a human issue. And until more people see that, we're stuck arguing with people who don't have an argument.
Is Fujita’s open-mindedness reason enough to root for the Saints? Maybe. If you need another reason we might consider the plight of that city and the terrible events in Haiti this past week. New Orleans is a city America forgot. Or, perhaps more appropriately put, New Orleans is a city white America celebrated in, got drunk in, staggered down the streets of all the while ignoring the fact that they were in one of the poorest cities in the country. When the storm hit we were faced with footage that spoke as much to our own longstanding complicity in the devastation of a community as to anything else:
We talk of a city “coming back.” In terms of New Orleans one wonders what that means when the city was always a testament to both the remarkable fruits of cultural crossroads and the hopelessness of poverty, lack of decent public education and segregation. And yet, if one is going to say New Orleans is recovering or coming into a new era one has to think about The Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees has spoken of coming to New Orleans in the hopes of helping to rebuild the city. And one only needs to look at the fans both inside and outside of the stadium to see that the run this team is on is about a lot more than football. All over the stadium you see people holding up signs saying “We Believe.” It’s not the same as when the Red Sox fans held up signs with the same slogan. It’s about something bigger. The population in New Orleans has risen above 300,000 for the first time since the storm. At the same time the schools remain among the worst in the country. The last rounds of people are being removed from FEMA housing, many of whom have nowhere to go. It’s a story we mustn’t forget because it is far from over.
And if you just like the body doing beautiful things then watch Reggie Bush. He’s a poem out there. He’s coming into himself and it is beautiful to behold.
Two teams. Two players urging equality. As always there are winners and losers. In real life the lines between the two aren’t always so clear. When children sit in schools that can’t support them, when the mentally and physically ill can’t get decent care, when people are denied basic human rights, we all lose. And maybe sports don’t seem important in the face of all that but it’s a brave thing for a man to stand up and speak out when he knows most of the people around him will think less of him for doing it. It’s worth watching and cheering for.