Monday, June 8, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

I’m due to go before a firing squad in less than 12 hours. My crime? After a process that would elevate Russian show trials to models of legal efficiency, my son has accused, tried, and convicted me of treason for switching allegiances in the NBA Finals from the Orlando Magic to the Lost Angeles Lakers.

The cause of my flexible loyalties and my son’s subsequent high-minded and vocal charges in our living room was an article I read yesterday about the Magic’s owner, Richie DeVos. Seems this guy founded Amway and donates millions of dollars to ultra-rightwing causes. Since a NBA championship means more millions to the winning team (and owner), the author of the article, Dave Zirin (, suggested rooting for the Lakers as the lesser of two evils in a corporate sports world gone mad and greedier.

I have a mild interest in the outcome of the NBA Finals, at best. I am a casual professional basketball fan. After the team we were rooting for, the Boston Celtics, lost in the conference finals, Miguel and I decided to cheer on their opponents against the hated Lakers.

Full disclosure: I was a big Lakers fan for nearly 30 years. I was an even bigger Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fan, so when he was traded to Los Angeles in the mid-70s, my hoop devotion went immediately to the Lakers, remaining constant through the halcyon days of Kareem, Magic, James Worthy, and then later Kobe and Shaq. But when Kobe helped destroy the team by forcing Shaq out of town, I quickly abandoned the Lakers, unable to further tolerate another selfish athlete trying to insert an ‘I’ into ‘Team’.

So shortly after I finished Zirin’s article, I said to Miguel, “I’m going to root for the Lakers.” But before I could explain he shook his head and said, “Traitor.”

“Miguel, the owner of the Magic donates tons of money to things Mommy and I don’t believe in.” I’d hoped invoking Verna’s name would increase the legitimacy of my arguments.

“Traitor,” he responded.

“It’s not that,” I protested. “The owner does bad things with his money and I don’t want to support that.”

We didn’t have much time to talk, but the ‘incident’ stayed with me through the rest of the day, which included a family barbecue and pool party at his Little League coach’s home to celebrate the end of their season.

So I knew I had to re-visit the issue later and try to explain the importance of not always viewing sports as neutral or values free. He was on the couch with Verna and me after we got home.



“Miguel, that’s not true. I don’t want to support a team whose owner spends so much money on things that bother me. Sometimes you have to make a stand for your beliefs and values.”

“What about the Red Sox?” he asked. “Would you give up on them for what they did to Jackie Robinson and being the last team to integrate?”

He read a biography on Jackie Robinson earlier in the school year and later did two reports on the baseball pioneer’s life. Miguel was acutely aware as he faced Verna and me that the Red Sox, because of their racist owner, had passed on Robinson and Willie Mays during tryouts in the 1950s, and didn’t sign a Black player until 1959, twelve years after Robinson shattered the color barrier.

“Miguel, there is no excuse for what the Red Sox did, but since then they have spent a lot of money to help inner city kids play baseball here and in other countries.”

“What about Curt Schilling?”

Shortly after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 2004, Curt Schilling, their inspirational pitcher campaigned for George Bush against John Kerry. Miguel was essentially asking me to drop the Bosox because of one player’s political views. He was also—on some level—clarifying his and my core values.

“But the Red Sox’ owners are Democrats and have donated tons of money to the Democrats,” I said.

“So what if they had owners like this guy from the Magic,” he inquired.

“I’d give up on them.”

He and Verna exchanged glances. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

And I can’t say for sure. I can’t even say, “How could I dismiss a team I’ve loved for more than 40 years?” without appearing as a hypocrite. Miguel’s at a crucial juncture in his social and moral development and Verna and I have a herculean task ahead of us. We must be critical bulwarks of morality and righteousness as he rumbles through adolescence.

After he went to bed I asked Verna, “Do you think I was a little over the top about the Magic and not rooting for them?” I didn’t wait for an answer before barreling to my next question. “Do you think he will appreciate my stand a few years from now?”

She looked at me reassuringly and said, “Yes.”

As for the firing squad, I am still debating whether or not to have tofu or roast beef for my last meal.

No comments:

Post a Comment