When the media seeks political commentary, it does not usually turn to sports figures. But professional sports and politics collided rather unexpectedly about ten days ago.
Outrage met the release of a salacious Access Hollywood tape in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is heard making lewd misogynistic comments and boasting of having perpetrated acts of sexual assault.
“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago…I apologize if anyone was offended,” was Trump’s initial statement.
Athletes in locker rooms everywhere took umbrage at these words. They saw his feeble mea culpa for what it was: a desperate attempt to vindicate his behavior and language by implicating all men in general and–by using athletes’ place of employment–male athletes in particular. They saw this as a personal and collective affront and quickly took to mainstream and social media with searing denunciations.
We have a “locker room code,” stated Dominique Wilkins, former NBA player and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer. He and numerous athletes spoke to CNN about the self-policing principles that make the locker room environment one in which such language is simply not tolerated.
Former NBA star John Amaechi, speaking recently to NPR, enumerated the topics typically discussed in the locker rooms he had inhabited:
We had conversations that were about politics, that were about the systemic racism, were about the tax advantages of living in Florida as an athlete. These things came first. These were the things that we talked about.
In a blistering blog post for Vox, former NFL player Chris Kluwe delineated the parameters of locker room discussions. Kluwe has written a scathing indictment of Trump. I would encourage you to read the entire piece by this gifted writer and published author. But one point of his piece I found particularly arresting:
See, that’s another big thing we talk about in the locker room. Accountability. In a professional sports environment, all of us are accountable to each other. We’re a team. If one of us messes up on the field, it affects everyone. Just like if a president makes a bad decision, it affects everyone. And do you know, Donald, the only way the team wins games? The only way we win is if, in the locker room, we’re willing to accept that accountability, address our mistakes, and work as hard as we possibly can to make sure those mistakes don’t happen again.
We don’t double down on a shitty play simply because a small portion of the fan base got excited by it. We don’t try to carve the team apart from the inside to appease a certain position group. We don’t blame our mistakes on something someone else did, because if we do any of those things, we lose, something you’ve become intimately familiar with on a personal, financial, and political level, and I’m not having too many difficulties reviewing how that happened to you on the game film.
John Amaechi was more succinct. Asked what would be the result if such vulgar language and admission of sexual assault were to be heard in the locker room, Amaechi said:
There would be absolute silence. And then any leader in the room – unless this was a locker room devoid of leadership, somebody would step up and say, by the way, what you’re talking about is abuse. It is not cool.
So, for those keeping score, the Republican candidate has now maligned Hispanics, Blacks, people of color in general, immigrants in general, Muslims, Gold Star parents, members of the Judiciary, his party’s leadership, women, and now athletes.
I would suggest that he has wronged the New York Mets as well, albeit indirectly.
I submit for your consideration the photo below. It’s a very painful moment of our shared history as Mets fans. You’d rather turn away, I know. But take your hands down from in front of your eyes and look beyond the still bat in Carlos Beltran’s hands and the elated Yadier Molina.
Yup, that’s him.
Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS.
Finally, behind this moment that until now had defied all explanation we see a logical, if perverse, narrative.
Let’s call it what it is:
The Curse of Donald Trump.
Castigate Carlos no longer: the real object of our ire and disdain should be the character behind the umpire, not in front.
Donald Trump cost us that series–and that year.
I’ve solved the enigma today, October 19th, 2016: exactly ten years ago to the day of this moment.