By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) One of the worst things that can happen to the idealist sports fan is to realize that sometimes the participants want to own themselves, that their own self-interests are more important than walking the line of comfortableness of the viewer. It’s quite the slap in the face, that first confrontation that athletes don’t work for you the fan.
The fight to control professional players’ salaries, mobility, etc. was lost a long time ago, and your grandparents got over it or died shaking their fists.
Remaining farts firmly believe that college athletes should be appreciative of the opportunity to choose to make other people gobs of cash in exchange for an education that’s free in the sense that coffee in the factory lounge is free. The Northwestern Wildcats’ labor movement, Ed O’Bannon’s successful lawsuit against the NCAA and the Missouri football team’s exposing the hypocritical attitudes toward student-athletes dared to tell the flatulent that their opinion stinks.
But at least they still had kids sports to keep under their boots. College makes precious babes into uppity know-it-alls who don’t respect tradition and other illogical buzzwords, but high schoolers still need grown-ups. They still believe long-accepted philosophies that grown-ups impart on them.
So the Morgan Park Mustang boys’ basketball team’s victory off the court this week should strike another blow to the corrupt establishment of belief in the myth of amateurism in sports.
The team is one of the best in the IHSA at a century-old school with a solid academic reputation and outdated facilities. The Morgan Park gym seats only a few hundred spectators, a fraction of its student body. For years, members of the Mustang community have demanded a new gym.
“Yet, over the course of the past several years,” notes Julie DiCaro, “Morgan Park has watched while the city spent money on other schools and other projects. Walter Payton College Prep, built in 2000, recently received $17 million in taxpayer money to add a fitness center, a new gym, a cafe, a student lounge and a ‘black box’ theater, in addition to 11 new classrooms. The city managed to pool together $95 million (from various sources) to create The 606, an elevated community park. Chicago came up with another $60 million to create Maggie Daley Park in 2014. There also are new CPS headquarters, which cost upward of $23 million.”
Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — master puppeteer of TIF funds and other secretive moneys that bring NFL drafts here while closing public schools and mental health clinics that service mainly people of color — don’t much care for the woes of neighborhood institutions (in the multiple definitions of the word). But do they if there’s potential for making money?
Morgan Park was scheduled to play another top program and rival, Simeon, last week. The Mustangs, the supposed home team, were deemed unfit to host such a high-profile game (and had been in the past too), so the powers that be decided to relocate it to sell more tickets. The players and their parents were sick of giving up home games and took a stand, threatening to boycott after their requests to keep it a true home game were denied.
Players and parents withstood ignorant criticism from distant paternalists while meeting in good faith with higher-ups, all the while not backing down. And they won. Morgan Park will host Simeon on Jan. 28.
Such a victory is important, though it might not greatly reverberate nationally. The student-athletes took control of their own selves as commodities. Now, this isn’t some movie where plucky teens overthrow the establishment. The kids needed involvement from conscientious objector parents — parents in the CPS who it’s safe to assume would get just as quickly criticized if absent from their sons’ student-athlete lives.
But the lazy counterargument made by the Chicago Tribune editorial board and elsewhere of “the players just want to play” — which is really a mask for “We just want the players to play and allow us to keep ignoring hard truths” — is so obviously wrong in this case. And it’s insulting to the assumed intelligence of the players, which is always easy to do by the haves about the have-nots.
The Mustangs certainly want to play basketball and will be jacked up at tip off against the Simeon Wolverines, but they clearly showed a self-awareness in this process that playing sports shouldn’t mean being a pawn. They understand sometimes it’s about more than a basketball game in a vacuum and that sports are subject to intersectionality. It shouldn’t mean sacrificing your home court because people who can profit want more butts in more seats right now but can’t be bothered with the long run.
It’s learning with the help of your greatest teachers, your parents, that owning your own situation is the ultimate so that later in life you’ll be prepared for unjust or difficult basketball and non-basketball situations.
So when an old white man takes a break from ad homineming mathematics to please his pagan gods or if a female athlete controlling her own body will bring a plague and insultingly writes of your battle …
“When their 30-year-old sons don’t get the job promotion they wanted, will their 55-year-old mothers be on hand to complain to the bosses? Possibly. Quite possibly.”
… you can keep doing you.
It’s a safer bet to guess a decade from now the Morgan Park players, with this experience and an education from a respected high school and supportive parents, will be getting those promotions anyway. Because they understand how to control their own situations rather than “just play.”
And are tone-deaf oppressive idealists bothered, worried, scared by that? Obviously. Quite obviously.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.