Letter from the Editor: Orlando

Dear readers,

Thank you all so very much for your continued support of our little sports blog. Caleb, Brian, and I have been quite fortunate to have a platform to serve as our outlet for sports commentary. I do hope that our diversions and non sequitur op-ed pieces have entertained you over the past 16 months. What’s more, I hope that you will continue to visit our blog for yours and our continued enjoyment. We plan to start the next season of our podcast in a few weeks and as football season approaches, you can certainly expect more articles from yours truly.

When we founded Bench Points, we did so on the premise that narrative engineering has no place in sports writing. The games and storylines are too compelling on their own to warrant the injection of fabricated animosity and furor. So, we have striven to avoid the inclusion of stories like that in our writing. The posts on here are our opinions and most of the conclusions we draw are arguable. Our job is to position a point of view and support it, your job is to decide whether we’re full of shit. You do your job admirably.

That said, Bench Points has never been a political blog, nor have we ever tried to comment on world events that did not relate, in at least some way, to sports. I have no intention of making my foray into the realm of political analysis. People are already passionate enough about sports, I wouldn’t survive the rage I would no doubt provoke by viewing politics through my typical lens of sarcasm. I am quite happy to stick to sports.

The ethos of sports provides us with a low risk analog for the heavier issues in the world around us. Many of us insulate ourselves within the comfortable bubble that 24 hour sports coverage provides. In this bubble, we are safe to question, argue, and, yes, even yell without our actions precipitating dire consequences. Whether we do this as a means of detaching from the harder, more jagged elements of the world around us or as a way to quiet our minds so that they may avoid an existential meltdown doesn’t matter. At the heart of sport is the frivolity of our childhoods. Sport is a controlled struggle against an opponent within the bounds of concrete rules. The goal is to outperform your opponents while adhering to these rules. Notwithstanding this ultimate goal of winning, the stakes are seldom higher than winning for the sake of the game and the entertainment brought about by competing.

As adults, we imbue sports with additional meaning and try to raise the stakes. Consider a child’s progression from T-Ball, to Coach Pitch, to Little League on through Major League Baseball. In T-Ball and Coach Pitch, the players are taught the most basic rules. The ultimate goal is to teach the kids that the objective on offense is to run after hitting the ball–preferably to first–and that on defense the idea is to pick up the ball and throw it to someone specific. At this stage, the game is strictly for entertainment. From Little League on, the kids are introduced to additional pressures at each level. The stakes are raised to include a penalty for underperforming your opponent. Losing starts to matter, and, in most cases, the more you lose, the less you play. We learn early that playing more games amounts to having more fun. 

Sure, these games get leveraged up in terms of how serious we take them and their implicit meaning. But, at the end of the day, are these kids playing baseball for their lives? Are the losers of the World Series any less free than the winners? 

Those questions are obviously rhetorical and the answer is a sure and resounding “no.” At the end of the day, the games are purely for entertainment, and that’s how it should be. Taking this into account, it’s easy to see why sports can divert and distract us. We further feed the beast by arguing about pay for college players, recruiting violations, rivalries, and everything in between. Most of the time, our arguments are contained within the insular, closed system of the sports world. However, there are times when the ordinarily impermeable insulation can crack.

Occasionally the weight of the world outside breaks into the fragile domain we have constructed. We do our best to rationalize and justify the ideas that don’t belong, and we often embarrass ourselves substantially when we do. We turn rape allegations into a rivalry debate about whose former players were the worst. We fabricate excuses for players we like watching because we don’t want that player to be suspended. We grow numb to horrifying news because it’s the same episode, but with a different cast. You couple this troubling evolution with the emergence of timeline-based activism and you have a leviathan of pandering victimization, false outrage, and belligerent mob mentality. This has become so commonplace that we can pretty much predict that people will be mad about some sports story for roughly 48 hours at most before they move on. This behavior is not peculiar to sports, it’s how we process horrible news stories these days–with a catchy hashtag and maybe a week of attention paid. We have become so good at distracting ourselves that we have become unmoored in the sea of our own distraction.

Sunday morning, we were attacked by a madman, a coward. Forty-nine people lost their lives on the spot. Sadly, barring several miracles of modern medicine, the fifty-three others who were wounded in the spree may inevitably add to the body count. As a nation, we are devastated, or at least, we should be. This permeated the cracks in the sports world in the form of national outlets like ESPN directly addressing it on SportsCenter; in live games, it took the form of the customary moments of silence in somber respect for the departed. But, one day of attention is all these networks and ballparks are willing to focus on this. When you’re the diversion, you can’t serve your role if you constantly remind people of the very thing they are trying to escape. So, they pay their respects over one day, one game, and we share stories and videos for a little longer on social media.

So is that where it ends? I tweet #OrlandoStrong and a meme here or there with a passive-aggressive comment about the politics of gun control or terrorism and I’ve done my part? Is that the best we can do? To just sit here on social media in our ivory towers and throw darts about trade laws and regulations that we already debate for the sake of garnering likes and shares and retweets? To cape up for 72 hours of outrage, post vapid pundit commentary, and temporary profile pictures? That cannot be enough for us this time! Ironic detachment and sanctimonious smugness should be so far beneath us as to be crushed underfoot in times like these.

Already, our tendency to move on from the #OrlandoStrong campaign is creeping in. Our endemic numbness to the abject horror of these atrocities is recovering from the few brief hours it shriveled enough to allow us to feel a shred of sympathy. Sadly, some bypassed the sympathy altogether and instead sought out to amass political capital that they couldn’t wait to spend.

Within hours of the initial reports, I scrolled through countless people across the spectrum who wanted to politicize this event to serve their ideological slant. Regardless of where your political barometer reads, now is not the time for that. We are afraid; and we feel insecure. Terrorist attacks are, by their very nature, terrifying. However, fear, as a constructive force, has a lousy track record. We cannot expect to affect any lasting change or constructive discourse by moving from a place of fear. So, instead of indelicately declaring “don’t be afraid,” I ask that we use whatever emotion we are feeling–anger, sadness, fear, or likely a combination of these–and do good. Volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, give blood. If you can’t give blood, donate money to any of the countless Orlando organizations doing good in the aftermath. Do any of these things, or all of these things, but one thing we must not do is seek to sew discord in a sickeningly mad dash for the moral high ground.

I realize that this isn’t exactly sticking to sports, but how we use our platform at Bench Points matters. Sports has always been my outlet, but there are times when the world around us forces the tabling of our sports diversions. These events transcend sports, and compel us to set aside our momentary distractions. Right now, with the horror in Orlando, we don’t have our traditional refuges of the mind. We cannot bury our heads in the sand.

If you’re like me, you’re a regular person. You have, in no particular order, a day job, a family, a dog or two, your faith or principles, the friends you care about, several other things that truly matter, and then, after all that, you have your political disposition. It’s paramount that we all remember what is valuable and so very fragile in this world of ours. The care we show for others, unity with our fellow Americans despite ideological disagreements; those are the things that matter.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.”

Mr. (Fred) Rogers

Look for the heroes; they wear red, white, and blue.

Kindest regards,

Gavin Hawkins

Managing Editor


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