Sometimes, The Bad Guys Win

I want to say I felt numb, but that’s not quite right. It was absolute venom in the way of bitter acid in my mouth. It was absolute shattering in the way my heart broke. It was absolute ice in the way I sat frozen, staring at my screen as the Astros celebrated taking a 3-2 lead in the World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the angst wasn’t just about the Dodgers falling behind, it was that they fell behind to a team who chose to play Yuli Gurriel who, two days earlier, made racially insensitive gestures towards Dodgers pitcher, Yu Darvish - a pitcher from Japan. The gesture, stretching his eyes at the corner so as to slant them, is familiar to all Asian Americans. The gesture reminded me of my own experiences with racialized taunts as a Filipino immigrant to the US. The gesture reminded me that there is no corner in mainstream American culture where marginalized groups can expect to be free entirely of such offensive behavior.

I’ve mentioned this often in my work, but I have a deep love for the City of Los Angeles. My family settled here in 1988, within the suburb of Hawthorne, and there’s very little about the City that I can complain about; this place and its people gave me love, and I can only love it back. My father was a semi-pro boxer and basketball player, so athletics were a big part of my life. Being an ardent Angelino, my sporting loves were always the local boys. And while my first love was basketball (thanks to my Filipino heritage), my next longest love affair was baseball and the Dodgers.

Memory is a funny thing in how it shifts, adjusts, and re-forms. Sometimes slippery, sometimes firm. But with a father that was more likely to be absent than not due to working the graveyard shift for so much of my life, this one is seared into my brain by his mere presence. My earliest sports memory is my father and I staying up late to watch Kirk Gibson’s notorious limp-jog in the ’88 Series. Sitting on our lumpy, itchy couch, my father - trying to explain a foreign sport I did not understand - pointed to the Boys in Blue and said, “They’re the good guys. We want them to win.” And so the Dodgers were always The Good Guys.

Now, moralizing sports heroes is problematic for myriad reasons. And as we age, we lose the naivety that Our Guys are always The Good Guys. In fact, sadly, we increasingly learn how Our Guys are not only Fallible Guys, but, all too often, The Bad Guys. The Dodgers, for example, have their own blight in history when you consider that the current idyllic location for Dodger Stadium was gained through the immoral devastation of a Mexican-American community in Chavez Ravine. As I’ve written before, sports, like life, is nuanced.  But, as I’ve also noted previously, marginalized communities are often the only ones left wrestling with that complexity.

So, on Sunday night, while rocking my newborn to sleep, I felt bereft because I know what it’s like to be called chink and Jap and to have people slant their eyes at me. I felt bereft because the governing body of this sport that I love had the opportunity to send a firm message that this behavior is not only unacceptable, but that the presence of people like me - including the very people they employ - are welcome and protected in this space. I felt bereft because it wasn’t the first time. And it won’t be the last.

I don’t want to write essays on representation, discrimination, or injustice. My heart would much rather deal with light-hearted fare or to further expose the world to the A-Level dad jokes I’ve been honing since I was 16. But this is not the world we live in and this is not the world I want for my daughter.

I’ve thought about this over the past three weeks: how much fun it is to watch these games and matches with my new little buddy and how guilty I feel that I may be resigning her to a lifetime of desperate dissatisfaction by asking her to root for “always next year” franchises like the Dodgers or Liverpool Football Club. But the heart wants what it wants, and so while I will obviously make space for her to choose her own rooting interests, the very first sporting teams she will be introduced to are the ones her father loves. 

And that is where the largest sense of anger over Major League Baseball’s gutless response (and the empty apology by Houston Astros manager, AJ Hinch, who could have benched Gurriel if he believed it his actions to be as offensive as he’d indicated) lies: my daughter may soon choose to enter this fandom. A brown-skinned, almond-eyed girl born in this country, yet necessarily foreign to far too many. What that inaction articulated to me is that my daughter will not be immune to the actions of Gurriel. Worse, she may be subjected to behavior like those Astros fans that decided to recreate the slant-eyed gesture during Game 5 as an homage to Gurriel.

The institutional powers of baseball have expressed that my daughter might be valued in so much as she represents revenue in the form of ticket sales, TV subscriptions, and merchandise. But not in the fullness of her humanity, as they dismissed an attempt to truly stand against such behavior in the name of competitive performance; in the name of a non-offended, non-affected majority. In the name of profit. My daughter’s personhood, to Major League Baseball, is not worth defending.

As I turned off my TV and sat down with my sleeping daughter in my arms, I felt a heavy weariness in realizing that I will undoubtedly have to explain such behavior to her in the future. That she will likely be disappointed by flawed people somehow attaining wealth, power, or victory despite their terrible actions. That sometimes, poor behavior is not met with condemnation, rebuke, and consequence. That the responsibility of reconciliation will often fall on the oppressed rather than on the oppressor. I ache that I will have to explain to her, as on this particular night, sometimes the bad guys win.

 Dodger Stadium. August 2014. Credit: AJ Joven

Dodger Stadium. August 2014. Credit: AJ Joven