Seeing sports through a fractured lens

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The towers tower, the poor can’t be seen in this picture. /Michael Chmielewski

The towers tower, the poor can’t be seen in this picture. /Michael Chmielewski

Going to a White Sox game in Chicago kind of sucked

After working multiple jobs all summer, I finally decided to take my first vacation in years. My dad, brother, and I finally found six days that worked for all three of us to go somewhere. Chicago, relatively close and historic, was quickly picked as a destination. With the Windy City beckoning, we put the Oldsmobile through its paces on the interstate.

Chicago, amongst many other things, is famous for its sports. Mike Ditka and the Bears, the Original Six Chicago Blackhawks, Michael Jordan and his Bulls, and its two famous baseball teams, the Cubs and the White Sox, make up the huge sports scene of Chicago.

But this isn’t your normal sports story.

I’ve always wanted to go to an MLB game. Something about America’s Pastime compelled me. Going to a game also seemed ideal during a vacation: beer, Polish hotdogs, pretzels, and, of course, the game.

I decided to go see a White Sox game, partly on the advice of a great Canadian singer-songwriter, partly because I didn’t feel like seeing the melancholic Cubs, and more practically because the ChiSox were in town that week.

On a humid Illinois afternoon, the White Sox hosted the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians batted first, and scored a few runs. Although they dampened the mood of the crowd, it didn’t last long. As the Sox came up to bat with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boy’s Are Back In Town” playing on the loudspeakers, the crowd got back into the game.

While talking to people in Chicago and walking around, I obviously noticed a rivalry between the Cubs and the White Sox. This rivalry ran deeper than simply two teams from the same city. The White Sox are also know as the “South Siders,” with their home, U.S. Cellular Field, located in the infamous South Side. The Cubs, on the other hand, are on the North Side.

The South Side is home to extreme gun violence, a phenomenon tied up in race, social and economic realties (or less euphemistically, tragedies), American politics, the gun debate, an apparently chronically underfunded and underequipped police force (paint peeling off cruisers and cops carry revolvers, not semi automatics) and ultimately, the U.S. Constitution. All these factors mix into a lethal cocktail that results in nonchalant headlines and attitudes like “Four Dead in overnight shootings” and a blissful ignorance of poverty and violence in Chiraq, as some locals call it, a portmanteau of Chicago and Iraq.

The White Sox struck back, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first.

Beer in hand, and a few more innings in, I tried to enjoy myself during the game, but ultimately kept thinking about the city’s problems. A few blocks away from my seat by 1st base, young, and predominantly African-American, lives were being snuffed out by a problem they found themselves born into through no fault of their own.

The next few innings were a real stalemate, with no one looking like a decisive winner.

Even in the tourist trap downtown, known as the Loop, the city provides a literal contrast. Rich capital manifested in sky rises like the Trump Tower, loom over poor beggars, again predominantly African-American. I didn’t even have to go to the South Side to see gun violence. Once, walking back from a deep-dish pizza restaurant, we heard rifle shots right by the Loop.

The White Sox lost the game.

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