This is the bottom

So, all but four players on the Red Sox skipped Johnny Pesky’s funeral, as noted by some of the worst gossip columnists the great state of Massachusetts has to offer.

But I didn’t really blink.

Friends and coworkers can’t understand why I’m not bursting with outrage, why I’m not furious that the players of the baseball team I like skipped Pesky’s services. It’s not that it’s not upsetting; it’s terribly upsetting. Baseball is better when you’re at least partially convinced that the guys you root for are good people.

My outrage comes more at an idea and a belief that we, sports fans by large, are spoiled children.

This has been a miserable season to watch the Red Sox, and it only partially has to do with the fact that they’re losing more games than they’re winning. The coverage of the team has been horrendous. Adding to beat writers who clearly hate the team and are letting that spill over into their self-righteous coverage of the team, the team itself has stopped talking to them, and every “major” story that has broken has come from a national source. The fans, in turn, have followed along, and have been just as insufferable in their indignation that the team isn’t winning. How dare they, the sentiment goes. How dare they ruin my summer by not being good.

But I’m convinced — absolutely convinced — that if all the personalities on this team were exactly the same, but the record was flipped, these issues wouldn’t be nearly as grand as they are. Simply, if this team were winning, no one would care what they do or don’t do.

But that’s not reality. The reality is that they lost in September, they’ve lost this year, and people are furious that the team they cover is losing, the team they root for is losing and they’re all ready to create villains of the losers.

Ours is a culture that values winning above all else. Winning forgives all. When Bob Shepherd, the longtime voice of Yankee Stadium, died in 2010, no one from the then-current New York Yankees roster attended his funeral. Yankee fans and players have warmly referred to him as “the voice of God,” but not even Derek Jeter could be bothered to attend the funeral.

The reason this story came and went relatively quietly is simple: the Yankees were winners. They were the defending World Series champions and they sat in first place most of that summer. Winning absolves everything.

In North American sports, it’s a horrific trend. Ben Roethlisberger has had numerous incidents to demonstrate that he’s probably a terrible, abusive person, but he’s still cheered in Pittsburgh. Terrell Owens was as selfish a force on and off a football field as long as I can recall, but he was cheered and exalted as long as he was catching passes in San Francisco, in Philadelphia, in Dallas. There are more examples, some are tamer, some are worse.

It’s an awful aspect of our culture, and it goes beyond sports. It’s the part of culture that condemns the poor for being poor. Losing in real life is not acceptable. The selfish are celebrated when on top, and only disparaged when they fall back to the bottom.

And so our answer is cynicism. It’s the creation of villains, of assigning blame. It’s the reason that so many Web sites live in the realm of snarky retorts, opting to promote negativity as an answer to a negative world. I hate snark in writing; if you’re a smarmy, sarcastic blogger and you’re reading this, please know that I’ve done my best to avoid you, because you’re just another symptom of a culture that hurts my soul.

Myself, all this has fostered little belief in people as a whole, and I hate that about myself.

It’s not easy coming to grips with an inner pessimism that, after some digging, can explain every decision I’ve ever made in my life. I don’t have much, if any, faith in the public. I believe in people, I believe in creativity, I believe in generosity, I believe in laughter and I believe in art. I know that there are number of people doing amazing work to help people, and that they’re toiling away in the shadows trying to make the world better. And I believe in the possibility that, when faced with extreme circumstances, the populace can rise together as one and do amazing things. But those instances are few, and for some reason, when a large group of people with little in common come together, the default is selfishness.

It’s because of all this that I try very hard to be a good person, if only because I know that I am in control of myself. Even if one person can’t change the world, one person can have an impact on immediate surroundings, and that’s to that which I strive. I try not to be selfish. I try not to be childish. I try to be empathetic. I try to be a positive force in the lives of the people I care about, and the people I deal with every day. It’s a hard, unforgiving world, and I work very hard to not make anyone’s life harder than it has to be. I don’t always succeed.

This entire story, though, has served as a reminder that, at our worst, we’re selfish and we’re unrepentant in that selfishness. The baseball team I like has lost baseball games. I’m mad. Add Dustin Pedroia to the pile of assholes I don’t like! How dare they?!

I would have a difficult time making excuses for millionaires not attending the funeral of a nice old man who gave everything he had to an organization and an ideal. I’m not about to, either.

But I can’t shake the feeling that, if this team were winning, this would be a non-story. And that is among the more depressing thoughts I’ve ever had.


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