Jackie Robinson West have a chance to make history against South Korea today. Even if they fail, the baseball team has already scored a significant off-field victory. They’ve won the hearts and minds of many people during a profoundly troubling time in both United States and world history. Whether they know it or not, they’ve held up the psychological well-being of a terrific, but deeply troubled, city.
It’s not to belittle the profound on-field accomplishments of these young men by suggesting that, statistically, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against them as black men. You don’t have to call the mind the events in Ferguson, MO, to reach that conclusion.
Here’s why: thanks to the failed war on drugs, the emergence of the prison-industrial complex, and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, which in turn lead to soaring unemployment, a University of Chicago professor argues that black men are worse off today than they were forty years ago.
To bring it back to Jackie Robinson West: what happens when they grow up? While younger generations have declared themselves to be increasingly post-racial, the world they inhabit is still decidedly not.
While there are certainly individual examples of black success to point to—there’s the president, the entertainment world’s power couple, and the country’s leading public intellectual, after all—the overall picture for black men in 21st Century America is bleak.
And that’s why Jackie Robinson West is so important. By winning the hearts and minds of a hypersegregated city that’s eighth in the world for income inequality, at a time when schools and mental health facilities that their neighbors so desperately need are being shuttered left and right, they’ve countered a narrative that will seek to crush them at a certain age. They’ve done so simply through the joyous act of playing baseball really well.
But, win or lose the championship, the team members of Jackie Robinson West have to come home. After the parades are done, they’ll have to continue living their lives. They have to grow up. In what kind of city will the grow up?
We all know Chicago is proud of Jackie Robinson West. So let’s make sure that Jackie Robinson West has reason to be proud of Chicago, too.