If you cater to the privileged, it's not too difficult to grab your share of tax dollars from the city of Chicago. Over the last year, public funds have been greenlit for new wings at successful public schools and new sports stadiums for private universities (since allocated for a hotel after protest). That's only a glimpse at the city's long, embarrassing history of favoring the haves over have nots with public money meant for rejuvenating underserved communities.
That made it a major gaffe when, of all the city's privileged institutions, it was the Chicago Cubs who failed to secure funding from the city for a long-delayed renovation of Wrigley Field, a place where "troughs of piss" isn't a nasty metaphor for the rows of fans but the actual way the bathrooms work. If there's one things sports franchises are great at, it's bilking tax dollars in the name of… let's go with "economic stimulation," a myth like Bigfoot or compassionate conservatism. But the Cubs whiffed on this not for the obvious reason that they're one of the most profitable franchises in all of baseball, and could pay for renovations with what they've blown on free agents in the last decade. They screwed up because the team's patriarch, Joe Ricketts, had the nerve to plan the surreptitious funding of a super PAC whose sole purpose, in 2012, would've been to re-smear President Obama for his relationship with Jeremiah Wright.
If you didn't know, Chicago's mayor then and now was Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and a man who plays politics like a "Boardwalk Empire" regular. Emanuel was reportedly so miffed by the nerve of the Ricketts clan to ask for a freebie while slandering his old boss that he wouldn't even take their phone calls. By the time the 2012 election passed, enough citizens were appropriately annoyed by the idea of their tax dollars funding yet another white collar institution that the Cubs decided to suck it up and pay for the new construction altogether.
The point being there's a precedent for the Cubs not playing nice by Chicago politics and being punished for it. So what should the penalty be for their latest fuck up?
If you didn't know, the Cubs were roundly lambasted after a recent game against the San Francisco Giants, which was interrupted by rain… which wouldn't be a problem, except the groundskeeping crew couldn't pull the tarp out in time to prevent the field from becoming a slurry mess because: Obamacare, basically. No, really. In an attempt to keep their employees from working the minimum 130 hours to qualify for Obamacare, the Cubs cut back the hours of the people who only enable the game to be properly played. Ten workers were sent home the night of the rain delayed game because the forecast showed clear skies. When the weather changed, the groundskeeping staff was too undermanned to save the day. Asked to confirm or deny this, the Cubs spat out this bit of legalistic gristle:
"The budget for grounds crew and maintenance has not been slashed. It is true there have been organizational changes to ensure the business operation is running efficiently. That's something every organization does whether you are in sports or corporate America.
"We are not going to make any personnel decisions at the expense of making sure that field is ready for play because that impacts the game itself and it impacts the fan experience."
It's important to note that an unequivocal "No, we did not send our employees home to avoid paying for their health care," would've sufficed for an explanation; that the Cubs failed to do that suggests the story is exactly as reported. While it's depressing to see yet another profit-soaked corporation fuck its employees to make a petulant political point, it's more infuriating to consider it happened in Chicago—which isn't just the place where President Obama made his bones, but a city that singlehandedly makes Illinois a blue state in every election. Once upon a time, the city voted against Walmart and vowed to keep Chick-fil-A from expanding. Now, one of its most visible institutions is choosing to purposefully spite its proudest son's proudest accomplishment.
(Photo via USA Today Sports Images)
It seems like something should be done about that. Alas, the 2012 elections are over and besides photo ops, there's really not much that Emanuel has to gain by going to the mat for his old boss time and time again. With the chance of a Republican governor in 2014 or a Republican president in 2016, he could even jeopardize the city's health by doubling down on the idea of Chicago as Obama's stronghold, where no opposing politics will be tolerated. (One need not to point out the capacity of politicians to hold grudges.)
But if the city is forced to remain silent as a matter of political prudence, the fans have no such obligation. All week, I've been wondering why I—a born Cubs fan who suffered Dusty Baker and Steve Bartman and fucking Clark The Furry—am so particularly irked by this particular bit of pettiness. After all, the Cubs aren't the only company that treat its workers like garbage. They are one that demands my support through thick and thin, though, and the support of other Chicagoans who voted for Obama and supported the Affordable Income Act because of its obvious benefits to the American people.
Figuring out a way to show dissent is a little tricker. It's obviously impractical to suggest that the fans should stop going to games or spending their money—the pleasures of drinking beer in the sunlight are too insurmountable for that, and besides, it's not like a financial boycott would hurt anyone but the people at the bottom. It's all too easy to imagine that, with the danger of slipping from first to second most profitable looming in sight, the Cubs would just cut the hours of the vendors, security guards, or anyone else who doesn't work in the front office. There's nothing the plutarchy loves more than to shame the underclass for letting it get to this point. Just look at the fatuous excuses burbled by John "Papa John's" Schnatter over why his company wouldn't be able to afford Obamacare, because it would be a fourteen-cent difference on every pizza, and there's no way Americans would stick up for each other like that.
So here's a modest proposal: Until the Cubs resolutely address this mess, and offer transparent evidence they're not stacking cash at the expense of the workers who make it possible, fans should start throwing back every home run hit into the stands. Not just the ones hit by opposing players, either, as is the team's tradition. It's small, and quite possibly inconsequential, but enough televised adverse reactions to Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez dingers and maybe more people will wonder why the fans seem to be spiting its own team. (That, or the players could just decide not to come into work until the matter is resolved, but let's be real.) Maybe they could talk about it on Sportcenter instead of wondering whether Matt Ryan is almost elite; maybe those silent groundskeepers would feel emboldened to tell the whole story, rather than certainly face punitive action for defending their livelihoods. I don't know what could happen, because nothing has. Subverting one of the team's oldest traditions into an act of nonviolent protest seems like a start, especially since slaughtering a goat in the stands is probably unwise.
Sports are supposed to be fun, and yet the ability to screw off for a few hours and clap at the ball going boom is consistently ruined by organizations looking for more. The Miami Marlins sap two billion dollars from their taxpayers to build their art nouveau nightmare stadium; the New York Knicks have a half-season of mediocrity and immediately jack up the prices by 100%; the NCAA continues to exist. It's not so cut-and-dry to say that all the social conflicts we ignore when rooting for our favorite teams makes the nature of fandom immoral, but it should make you a little queasy to consciously support bad politics with your dollar.
But in an internet-driven, post-Sterling world, it's clear that some publicity is bad publicity, and with enough hectoring over a righteous issue, change can be implemented. If the wonderful, horrible function of American society is how easy it is to avoid an issue when it's not directly in front of you, Cubs fans are no longer afforded this privilege. The season is nearly over for the Cubs, but there's still some time—and all of next year. We can keep guzzling beers and shaking our dicks into the piss troughs, or we can do something about it.
Jeremy Gordon is a staff writer for Pitchfork. He lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter.