My very first memory as a child involves my first Cardinals game. At 3 years old, the back of my head barely reached the top of the red metal fold-out seat, so my dad let me sit on his lap — still craning to see above a sea of red baseball caps — for the entire game. On the way out of Old Busch, he bought me a miniature wooden baseball bat with Willie McGee’s signature printed on it. The minute we got home, my little brother saw the bat and had the audacity to think he could play with it first. So naturally, I chased him around the glass coffee table in our living room a few times, snatched the bat away from him and smacked him upside the head with it. My parents unfairly blamed me for a fight he clearly started, and I didn’t see that little wooden bat again until we moved out of our home three years later.
Being a St. Louis Cardinals fan is in my blood. Forget Disney; I routinely refer to Busch Stadium as the Happiest Place on Earth. I’m wearing a 2013 World Series t-shirt as I write this (I don’t want to talk about it). Which is why I was seeing red for all the wrong reasons this week when I saw video of (white) Cardinals fans harassing protesters of Mike Brown’s murder outside Busch Stadium.
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The video shows a small group — I counted six — of young black protesters, carrying signs and American flags and chanting. As fans pour out of the game, they begin hurling insults at the protesters and cheering for Darren Wilson, the 28-year old Ferguson police officer that shot unarmed teenager Mike Brown six times. There are some real gems recorded:
“We’re the ones who gave all y’all the freedoms that you have!”
“If they’d be working, we wouldn’t have this problem!”
As it should be with any case study, let’s start with some language parameters. First, this is not an example of “tension” between protesters and fans. Tension implies a relatively equal pull or strain from both directions. These protesters, like so many others, are exercising their right to assemble, and they are being met with harassment. Call it what it is. Also, do I really have to explain — in 2014 — that the point of “freedom” is that it is inherent, and not earned? Come on, you guys.
We can do so much better than this, Cardinal Nation. Cardinals fans come from all walks of life — that’s what happens when the radio station that broadcasts your games can be heard in most of the continental U.S. — but what happened outside of Busch Stadium specifically illustrates how far St. Louis has to go to heal from Mike Brown’s death and pervasive racial inequality. I’d bet good money that every one of those protesters has at least one piece of Cardinals gear at home. They share what should be a common, uplifting fandom with the people spewing vitriol at them. The sad reality is that black and white in St. Louis are not equal. But sports have that unique potential to create a unifying space in an otherwise unjust system. The pricks harassing protesters outside of Busch Stadium took that unifying power away from the game itself.
It’s the responsibility of everyone in the community, not just Cardinal Nation, to fix this problem. Systematic racism in St. Louis is so evolved, it has wormed its way into the wooden walls that hold the city up; you can’t eradicate the bug without breaking the walls, and that scares a lot of people. But hopefully, as the Cardinals fight their way through another NLCS, they can be a unifying force for everyone in St. Louis.
That’s why I chant, “Let’s go, Cardinals!” and “Justice for Mike Brown!”
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