Nearly three years ago, I was sitting in Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park watching the Charleston RiverDogs play baseball. I was on a tour to visit minor league parks and the second largest city in South Carolina was the furthest point south. I did all the tourist things, visiting the historic district, where the ugly details of the state’s slave past is conveniently white-washed with phrases that make everyone feel like it was all okay.
One tour guide called an old trading block downtown “the Internet of its era” and others would routinely throw around the phrase “most prosperous” or “most profitable” colony, as if there was a reason that farmers were making money beyond, you know, atrocious human rights activities that allowed them to enrich themselves on the backs of others. I visited seven cities that summer all across the American South.
Charleston was the only place I felt physically uncomfortable just walking around, because the visual vocabulary of the place was so painfully unchanged from one of the most awful chapters of American history.
That night at the park, I had a good time watching the Single-A Atlantic League squad. I bought a RiverDogs T-shirt and a throwback Charleston Rainbows hat in the gift shop, a souvenir of the team’s previous name. The next day, I watched the sun rise at Waterfront Park and had a genuinely pleasant time, weird feelings aside. Then something bizarre happened.
At Goat. Sheep. Cow, a lovely little gourmet cheese, charcuterie and wine shop near downtown, a woman walked in from a dog walk. I was wearing my RiverDogs T-shirt, and the first thing she asked me is if I was on the team. At the time, I sort of laughed it off and said no, I’m just visiting. She appeared genuinely shocked. “And you came here?!” she said. Apparently, my entire existence in that store was so surprising to her that she felt the need to question my presence there.
Today, after nine people were killed in a historically black church in town by a 21-year-old gunman, the RiverDogs are still going to play baseball.
“We all personally feel the grief of the horrifying tragedy that struck our community last night,” said RiverDogs General Manager Dave Echols via a press release. “Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims involved and with the law enforcement agencies working tirelessly in the wake of last night’s appalling and shocking event. We feel it is our duty not to let the acts of one radical human being dictate our lives. The RiverDogs will continue on as scheduled in hopes of providing a sense of normalcy and comfort to the Lowcountry. We understand the donation is a small gesture during this terrible time; one for the families of the victims, the church family, and the entire community.”
Team officials will be giving proceeds from the night’s game to the local charity set up for the church where the shootings occurred, and are doing a moment of silence before the game for not only the victims of the massacre, but also the “Charleston 9” the nine firefighters who died fighting a furniture store door blaze today in 2007.
But the RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate, then go on to rather cravenly bring up the 9/11 attacks as reason to continue to play a kid’s game, even though an entire city and nation is in mourning.
“Sports can serve as a necessary distraction in the days following tragic occurrences. In the wake of such tragic events like the Boston Marathon bombings and 9/11, sports, particularly baseball, brought communities and a nation together and helped to resurrect them in times of need. It is understood that sports take a back seat during times of tragedy. It’s very hard to think about something as trivial as playing a game, when disastrous events that once seemed impossible become all too real. However, sports often return to cities affected by tragedy long before reality does,” the release reads.
The flaws in this logic are glaring to the point of insult. When planes took down the World Trade Center, Bud Selig canceled Major League Baseball games for a week. And even though that tragedy happened on a Tuesday, the following Sunday’s NFL and college football slates were canceled. Is the massacre congruent to 9/11? No. But that’s even more reason why using that day as a rationale makes no sense.
Tonight should not be a night for baseball in Charleston. But in a state where the Confederate flag flies proudly on statehouse grounds, it’s clear that The American Way, however harmful that may be, is all that matters.