Everything Else

By now you all know about the stir caused by Tim Anderson’s emphatic bat flip following a home run against the Royals, and how he was summarily drilled by a pitch in retaliation, which led to the benches clearing and general consternation over the fact that celebrating in baseball is such a hot-button issue that a gesture after the game’s most heralded outcome of an at-bat results in dangerous physical retribution.

A lot of people have rightly observed the stupidity of baseball’s general anti-celebration stance and pointed out it’s sometimes driven by the players themselves, not just crusty league management guys and shitheads like Joe West. But we need to remember that baseball isn’t the only Buzz Killington in the sports world, when in reality there’s a depressingly large number of them.

Take hockey. Mark Lazarus tweeted yesterday about how pretty much every goal in hockey is celebrated with leaps into the glass and music and hugs, and that’s of course true—the visceral release after a goal is one of hockey’s most endearing qualities. But let’s not forget the opprobrium heaped on the Carolina Hurricanes earlier this year by established voices in the hockey world.

Of course the most obvious of these was Don Cherry. First, the fact that Don Cherry even has a job yelling into the TV when he should be yelling at traffic somewhere is absurd, but then throw in how stupid his beef with the ‘Canes was and it’s truly something to behold. The horror! A team whose job it is to physically move together in sync decided to do a different type of movement together in sync that also happened to be clever and entertaining—whatever shall we do? The NHL was rightly criticized for emphasizing faceless monotony among players as the standard of behavior, and the fact that the celebrations even caused a fuss was pretty damn sad. It threw into clear relief how much entertainment could really be getting lost because of outdated norms of behavior.

Remember when football pulled a similar stunt? Not only is excessive celebration still a thing, but it wasn’t all that long ago that group celebrations were banned outright (really, it was 2017 when they lightened up about it). There was a time when a cell phone incorporated into a touchdown celebration led to a penalty. And think of how much more fun it is now that teams can do Motown routines and conduct an orchestra?

Basketball has been better about accommodating personality in its players and acceptance of those players celebrating what they do on the court. But the NBA is basically the exception, not the rule in major American sports in this sense.

Why do leagues hate fun so much? Or, why do they tolerate certain types of fun but not others? It seems like an extension of the behavior that makes team sports function, i.e., subsuming the individual to work together in a complementary way as a whole. When someone breaks out of that systems they run the risk of upsetting the functioning of multiple personalities together, by leading to one person not playing their role or not executing on their tasks. So I guess it’s not all that surprising that even some of the athletes within these systems would want to reinforce the behavior that is fundamental to overall success.

But it’s doubtful that this contradiction is going away, and both the management of the leagues, in all of their incestuousness in terms of the same coaches/GMs/former players that borders on that of the Lannisters or Targareyns, and current players will need to recognize it. The celebrity nature of athletes isn’t going away either, certainly not in our culture right now, so the behaviors that heighten the entertainment factor and play upon the existence of outsize personalities might as well be embraced. It’s not that every player has to act that way or celebrate wildly, but for those who do, at the end of the day sports are entertainment and that’s what this is all about. The drama of competition, and the collective experience of being a fan with countless others focused on a shared goal are part of it too, but the theatrics can’t be discounted. It’s why the amazing feats that athletes can pull off—which us normies can’t even really understand how different that capability is—are cheered by spectators in the first place.

Someone should remind the rich white guys who run these leagues that they can get even richer by allowing those theatrics, and players who may resent it need to examine why they’re so mad anyway. Let’s all agree so we can stop the teeth-gnashing every time something funny or entertaining happens and all the Buzz Killingtons come out of the woodwork.