Time for games?

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'Play Ball' Will Not Heal Charleston

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The city of Charleston has only begun to mourn, and understandably, baseball is the furthest thing from people's minds. Yet after the shooting in a black church that left nine dead and is being investigated as a hate crime, baseball will go on in the Holy City.

The Charleston RiverDogs, Single-A affiliate of the New York Yankees, announced they would play tonight's game against the West Virginia Power as scheduled. The team also went ahead with its youth baseball camp in the morning, with "heightened security," as the shooter was still at large.

In a statement on the team's website, General Manager Dave Echols expressed his sympathy for the victims and their families, stating that the RiverDogs decided to go ahead with the game after consulting the mayor and local officials. Proceeds from the game will be donated to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, a charity set up by the city to cover the funeral costs and aid the church that was targeted, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"We feel it is our duty not to let the acts of one radical human being dictate our lives," Echols said in the statement, adding the cliched refrain that sports can help return "a sense of normalcy" to a grieving community turned upside down. He brought up the role baseball played in helping cities and the nation heal following Sept. 11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing. 

But as the Washington Post's Clinton Yates points out, those comparisons are as unfair as they are insulting. MLB suspended its season for a week after the World Trade Center attacks, while the Boston Bruins postponed their game against the Ottawa Senators on marathon day. You could argue that in both cases, the decision to suspend play was primarily out of concern for public safety; nobody knew in the days after 9/11 whether another attack was on the way, while Boston was embroiled in an ongoing manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But the RiverDogs had decided play ball as of 8:45 a.m. -- nearly two hours before the FBI announced the capture of alleged shooter Dylann Roof.

It's rather odd that the concern for public safety the Baltimore Orioles and MLB used to justify their decision to hold a game with no fans amid ongoing, mostly peaceful protests went somewhat overlooked by the RiverDogs and Minor League Baseball. In Baltimore's case, the decision was overly cautious, only serving to feed the false narrative that the city was in chaos. In Charleston, the city has had just hours to try to process the act of terrorism that occurred in one of its historic houses of worship.

In both Baltimore and Charleston, the discussion about playing a baseball game only serves to further illustrate the stark divides running through our cities and our country. When I visited Camden Yards that late April day, one Orioles fan told me that his inability to go about his business as usual rendered the protests against police brutality moot in his eyes. As in Baltimore, I'm willing to guess that the attending a baseball game falls much lower on the list of priorities for those who feel they "can't even be black in church anymore."

Charleston remains a symbol for a country built on the backs of slaves, an open secret we're somehow still uncomfortable openly discussing. The city was the capital of the slave trade, the remnants of which remain etched in the Low Country landscape. It's a paradox neatly demonstrated in South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's assertion that "we'll never understand what motivates anyone" to commit such a hateful act as a confederate flag flies outside the statehouse. It's a problem that can't be solved within the confines of a baseball field.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net