By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) After the New York Mets announced they had signed domestic batterer Jose Reyes because they’re seemingly in need of an old guy with severely diminished skills who put his wife in the hospital, I like anyone with a pesky conscience took to Twitter to produce and consume takes on the latest sportsman to be welcomed after being violent toward a woman.
A New Yorker with a Mets cap (what Aristotle referred to as ethos) was retweeted in my news feed, having recorded a video essay waxing profane on the signing. Shot outdoors, perhaps in his natural habitat, the tub of mayonnaise spilled on a barber shop floor put forth finer points that included repeating that dissenters are “whiny” c-words and the very logical binary that “You’re either a Mets fan or you’re not,” the latter case qualifying you (me, we) to “eat a d—.” Now, 140 characters often poses a handicap to substantial conversation, but I was compelled to inject.
So I typed to him “Cowardly of you to crop out he manboob sweat stains in this.”
Maybe that heightened the intelligence of the situation, but it did so at the expense of something I don’t condone but walk willfully into too often: I reduced a conversation to the physical appearance of someone with whom I disagreed. Idiot, I am, hardly any better than the dude shaming people putting domestic violence above baseball.
I look like John C. Reilly and Jim Gaffigan birthed a Russian military bear. My position of photogenic authority is about a negative-12, but that doesn’t stop me from regressing once in awhile to needless superficial ad hominem because it’s so easy and funny and temporarily satisfying to feel like I’ve won something over someone else while I’m really just showing my own shortcomings. (But that guy totally smells like cold cuts, I guarantee.)
As a collective, we’re all about the superficial, which isn’t breaking any news, I know. The fat, the weird and the ugly (hi!) are convenient outlets for us to project our own insecurities, conscious or otherwise. Especially in the sports world, where the norm is being sinewy and beautiful and mostly uninteresting.
Having fun with deviations isn’t always malicious — I enjoy the hell out of Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon’s existence in professional athletics, and my hoping that he and Cubs ace Jake Arrieta switch pregame routines before they each take the mound Saturday comes from morbid fascination but also a place of love and shared cellulite. Phil Kessel winning a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins is wonderful because he’s awkward but a seemingly decent person and world-class player who standing still looks like he has no business in a beer league.
For every potshot we take at one another for paunch or height or my oversized feet that I had surgery on at age 9 because I walked like a duck or anything that isn’t the “normal” that doesn’t exist anyway, we appreciate such in sports celebs. Because maybe those oddballs bridge the gap by a few inches in the miles away we are from ever being superhuman. And it’s the physically or sexually or politically “different” that make the 99 percent of us who don’t meet the status quo in some way feel better about our flaws that we shield with clothing or tattoos or acidic Internet comments.
The most recent issues of the two biggest American sports magazines, Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine, feature on their respective covers Caitlyn Jenner and a naked Vince Wilfork. Both are good things.
Jenner’s cover is important for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that the sports magazine of record is forcing the very and the mildly uncomfortable to see that their comfortable “standards” are no more. This isn’t her doing an interview for some indy LGBT publication — she’s looking at you on every newsstand this week.
It’s also the 40th anniversary of Jenner’s success at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and she’s smirking at all the middle-aged Americans short-circuiting at their weird mix of sports and jingoism and reflection of self in sports heroes being compromised. And she’s frightening so many most of all because they hate to admit she looks good doing it.
Wilfork’s cover continues not just that magazine’s subtle condemnation of SI’s cromagnon annual Swimsuit Issue but also ESPN’s willingness to not only not single out and pedestal impossibly attractive women but to make blatant the human body in sports. And that being there is no one body.
There’s a Bryce Harper, and there’s a Prince Fielder. There’s a DeAndre Jordan, and there’s an Amanda Bingson. There’s an Elena Delle Donne, and there’s a pregnant Kerri Walsh Jennings. There are skateboarders and archers and golfers and offensive linemen. And none of it is ugly even though we’re conditioned to reflexively eschew promoting the nude body and especially ones that don’t meet traditional magazine standards of thin hips and bubble-less butts and flat stomachs and cute tattoos.
We love a Manute Bol and Nate Robinson because we all felt so glaringly out of place in our bodies at one time. Rod Beck was only separated from us by a great sinker. Keith Traylor gliding down the sidelines gets us misty-eyed because that’s our Turkey Bowl success on a grander stage that demands appreciation, damn it.
So we can celebrate the chipping away at the status quo in the sports we love. Even if that doesn’t always translate to how we talk about one another, especially when it comes to heated topics. Even though mocking the superficial of an opponent or proactively joking about a trans athlete to overcompensate for our own issues is that feel-good fast food of discussion that bloats our egos but leaves us intellectually flabbier.
So if anyone will have us, I will happily debate that Jose Reyes fan on video, tastefully naked us both, for the sake of rhetoric and true beauty.
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.