By Willa Reed
On baseball season’s opening day in 2011, Giants fan Bryan Stow was found in a pool of his own blood outside Dodger Stadium. Stow was beaten up by two Dodgers fans; they dented his skull, deformed his spine, and left him in a nine-month coma.
Vivid memories of this tragedy have stuck with me ever since that day, as they have most people in our community. Brian Stow was from my hometown. His daughter and I went to the same middle school and played softball in the same league.
I couldn’t understand at ten years old — and I still can’t now — how baseball could polarize people so intensely that somebody I knew almost died over it. This fear made me vow that I would never set foot in Dodger Stadium.
Ten years later, I broke that vow.
When I found out that the Dodgers and Giants were playing each other in the National League Division Series, I felt the same excitement any true fan would. When my dad told me he bought tickets and was driving down so we could attend Game Four in Los Angeles, I began reliving some of the fear I felt as a child ten years ago.
I went to the game and meekly wore my Giants jersey and cap, but what I felt in Dodger Stadium was different from what I expected: I felt no hate, no division or animosity — only the electric magnitude of 55,000 fans. I felt unity.
The entire week of the NL Division Series gave me that same feeling. In my dorm hall, my floormates and I huddled in a group around a tiny computer screen watching every game, both Giants and Dodgers fans alike. We joked, teased, and enjoyed our friendly rivalry, bonding not over which team we supported, but over our mutual love of baseball. We all knew it didn’t matter in the end who won or lost; it was about each other– the interactions fellow fans shared.
There was once a time when political discourse was the same way, when the animosity that defines the political landscape today would be unimaginable. Individuals had their party of preference, and often thought and voted differently than the next guy. But at the end of the day, they were friends, neighbors, and family. The country didn’t burn bridges with friends or disown family members because of whom they voted for or because they held uncomfortable views. Nobody was categorized as a Democrat or Republican; they were just a person.
This is a lost world we need to find once more — a place where people can bond as individuals over their shared passions and basic humanity, regardless of their opinions or affiliations. Such civil discourse is largely absent from politics today; instead, division is rampant, political adversaries unabashedly cancel people and ideas they dislike.
Baseball is arguably a microcosm of the political arena. Fans push back on behaviors of hate and division, they stand firm against the radical fringes who use rivalries as an excuse to destroy others. Instead, they engage in congenial discourse that serves as an exemplar for what our nation’s tone of political conversation should be.
Even baseball greats like the Dodgers’ pitcher Clayton Kershaw and the Giant’s former pitcher Madison Bumgarner, once infamous rivals, respect one another greatly. Kershaw said in a 2019 interview with Yahoo Sports that “We all have good times ribbing him back and forth, between our clubhouse and theirs. When it comes down to it, I know everyone… has a ton of respect for what he’s done.” Kershaw and Bumgarner understand the importance of not letting rivalries get in the way of being human, illustrating how unifying institutions such as baseball can serve as a template for a more neutral world.
Extreme behavior that demonizes the other team produces the kind of hate that nearly killed Bryan Stow. In baseball, this kind of radicalism was overwhelmingly denounced by fans, players, and organizations everywhere. Yet in politics, the extremity of discourse has become so commonplace that it hardly warrants notice; it’s even encouraged. No doubt some have convinced themselves that the consequences of certain outcomes in the political arena are so dire, that extreme response to disagreement is both acceptable and essential. Maybe they’ve decided to believe the voices on TV or social media who drum up hate by saying that our very democracy is at stake with every political election; and when we believe our entire livelihood is at stake, we go to extremes to protect it.
However, we must remember: we are a country of laws with a Constitution that keeps no one person or party from gaining too much power. The very framework of our nation encourages moderation and working together to achieve compromise. Our country did not irreversibly dissolve under Obama, Trump, or Biden — and it never has in our nearly 250-year history. Our framework renders this nearly impossible, and therefore makes our war-like reaction to politics unjustified.
Open discussion in the world today is too often met with destructive animosity. Organizations like sports teams — and even political parties — have the potential to be institutions that unite us over common passions. While competition by definition can be inherently polar, people’s responses to division determines its characterization: by friendly rivalries, or by the hate-filled debates that litter today’s political landscape. In sports, a person can root for their own team, while still recognizing that the other team’s players are not the enemy. In politics, we have that same choice: to be civil and look upon each other as different teams in the same sport, or to hatefully divide one another with an “us versus them” mentality. And on that, our democracy does depend. We must work toward our shared goals, while still recognizing that good people can disagree about how to achieve them.
Today, Bryan Stow remains an avid baseball fan. He founded the Bryan Stow Foundation, a philanthropic organization whose mission statement encourages people to “live kinder lives.” Stow speaks at schools about bullying and violence, serving as a symbol of both bravery and hope, a reminder of the capacity sports have to unify.
Despite our differences, we must stand together and celebrate the commonalities that unite us. We may disagree about how to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but at the end of the day, our united goal of achieving that dream burns strong.