With CHARLIE HARPER
For as long as anyone can remember, the Washington Post has featured a full, separate sports page. The local teams have always gotten coverage ranging from barely adequate (women’s soccer) to full (the pro football team formerly known as the Redskins). Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to feature writers. In many respects, the newspaper’s sports section has occupied as influential a place in its sphere as has the editorial section.
But just not for the past three months. When amateur and professional sports in the US started shutting down along with much of the rest of the economy beginning in mid-March the Post, like many other papers, curtailed its sports coverage. There were, after all, few sports to cover. The sports section was consigned to the back of the Style section, behind human interest features, women’s fashion and book and movie (or video) reviews.
Today, as the defending MLB champions Nationals are set to open their 60-game season against the rebuilt New York Yankees, the Post unveiled its revived separate sports section. But the Nats’ game against New York will be played in a stadium without fans. It will be for television only.
The Washington experience is being replicated all over the country, where sports has for so long represented, at least for many men and growing numbers of women, a welcome distraction from the news or events of the day. Like the weather, sports had become something to talk about, a verbal and emotional lubricant for business and personal relationships. It wasn’t life or death.
Now, who knows if TV ratings will be healthy enough to sustain professional and major college sports programmes until science and/or social discipline reveal some way out of COVID-19 hell. Middle aged and some young people will be forced to discuss boring, old fogey issues like their personal health.
You can’t really talk about politics any more unless you are certain how the other person feels about US President Trump or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or a cast of hundreds of other public figures who are heroes to some and villains to others. It would be much safer to discuss sports, if there were just something to talk about.
Nothing is the same this year now as it was when the calendar flipped to 2020. The US is mired in a major economic downturn but because the country is only 14 weeks from its quadrennial national election, the American congress is now wrangling bitterly over how to prop up the economy so people don’t lose their homes and jobs, in addition to their self-respect, before a solution to the pandemic is found.
Look at these front-page stories from major daily papers just this week: “Trump’s priorities guide GOP virus bill.” “In Oklahoma, jobless lines of 2020 look like the 1930s.” “Bad poll numbers push Trump back to daily virus briefings.” “Federal agents readied for cities led by Democratic mayors.” “They depended on their parents for everything. Then the virus took them both.” And so on. You get the picture.
A national distraction is desperately needed. It probably won’t be sports. But it can also no longer be politics, because politics has morphed from something often amusing in its craven hypocrisy to a vicious, toxic struggle that poisons many essential elements of people’s daily lives.
Furthermore it can no longer be travel, because popular destinations like The Bahamas, Canada and Western and Central Europe aren’t interested in welcoming American tourist dollars if they come with the coronavirus attached to them.
Even domestic travel is scary, as stories proliferate about airliners where spacing is ignored and sanitation measures seem inadequate. And if you and your family hit the road for a summer vacation, how can you rely on the cleanliness and safety of a hotel room or restaurant?
In spite of it all, America still appears to be a hopeful country. There remains an abiding faith in the nation’s ingenuity and science and ability to find a public health answer to COVID-19. But public opinion polls reveal a clear recognition that the country is beset by economic, societal and infrastructure issues that need to be addressed by President Trump in a second term or President Biden in a first term. November’s election is likely to turn on which option voters trust as more likely to lead the US to satisfactory solutions.
Time someone picked up baton
Sometimes it seems like events conspire to make a previously unthinkable result appear to be inevitable. The death last week of American civil rights icon John Lewis might help nudge Joe Biden to select a black woman as his running mate. Other black leaders, in and out of Congress, have also passed earlier this year, perhaps in some ways setting a subtle context for the outrage that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the end of May.
There is a growing sense that the civil rights torch is available to be passed from the many who have gone before to someone new. Maybe that someone will be the next American vice president.
Lewis, who represented a strongly Democratic Georgia congressional district for 33 years, was known as much for his determined pacifism as for the fame he earned marching over 50 years ago with colleagues like Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Some relevant thoughts from Lewis: “The election of 2008 was a major down payment on Dr King’s dream, but it did not fulfil it. We (still) question whether government has any obligation to serve the poor, help feed the hungry or assist the sick. There will be opposition (to racial progress in the US), and it might become ugly.”
Lewis was speaking nine years ago. That his words ring so true today may lead Biden in his choice.
is not surprising. Women, especially suburban women, are credited with leading the Democratic rout over GOP candidates two years ago. Twenty six US senators are currently women, and just over 100 seats in the House are held by women. 2020, we are reminded, is still the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the US.
One black female candidate for a city council position near Dallas may have said it best. “Women are prepared to serve, they now have the background and experience,” she said. “They need to be given the opportunity. There has to be courage on the part of leadership to not be afraid to make the right decision.”
What do we do about Dorothy?
Remaining on the subject of race and women, let us now turn to Dorothy Parker, a white woman whose ashes have been buried for 32 years in the back yard of the Baltimore headquarters of the NAACP, America’s leading black civil rights organization. Say what?
Parker was no ordinary woman, white or otherwise. Known mostly as one of the great American sharp-tongued wits alongside such figures as Mark Twain and H L Mencken, she said the following, among many other memorable lines:
“Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
“You can’t teach an old dogma new tricks.”
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
“I like to talk to myself. I like a good speaker, and I appreciate an intelligent audience.”
“I like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three, I’m under the table. After four, I’m under my host.”
“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my wit.”
Parker was not only witty. She was a passionate civil rights activist, writing and demonstrating in the 1950s and 1960s when it was unusual and often dangerous to do so.
Inspired by Dr King, Parker left her entire, substantial estate to him when she died in 1967. Twenty years later, in a belated gesture of gratitude, her ashes were duly buried in the NAACP’s Baltimore back yard.
Now that the venerable civil rights organisation is moving its headquarters to Washington DC, the question of what to do with Parker’s remains will serve as a reminder of her wit and passion.