Dan Le Batard is a sports columnist for the Miami Herald, sports radio talk show host, and writer for ESPN The Magazine. I have read hundreds of Le Batard’s columns, and I can honestly say that I’ve disagreed with about 80% of his opinions. Despite being an excellent writer, he tends toward the sensationalistic just to get a reaction from his readers.
Why am I writing this? Well, Le Batard also happens to be a Cuban-American. Le Batard wrote a column in today’s Herald that everyone here should read, regardless of which side of the fence you stand on the Cuba-WBC issue. Because it’s not just about allowing Cuba to play in a baseball tournament. It’s about our internal struggle to deal with the pain of our parents and grandparents and balancing that with our “Americanism”.
Le Batard has never written a better, more heartfelt column. He probably never will. When I first read it, I could have sworn that Val wrote it. It wouldn’t totally shock me if Val perhaps slipped it to him! 😉
Without further ado, here’s Le Batard’s outstanding piece.
By DAN LE BATARD
This brings it rushing back up on me. Brings it rushing up from that awful, empty place in the stomach. Brings it rushing up with anger and sadness and horror.
The tears of my late grandparents? The suffering of my parents? It all rushes up on me and gathers, as it sometimes does, in a pool in my eyes.
They’re just games. That’s what I keep hearing. What’s the big deal? It’s just a bunch of baseball exhibitions. Why can’t Cuba play, too? And that’s fair and reasonable, perfectly so. I know I have a losing argument here, more than ever today because the United States government Friday reversed itself and is allowing Fidel Castro’s team in the most hyped international baseball tournament ever.
But I can’t help it. This still hurts. Hurts the way my mother did over Elian Gonzalez because she had all this pain in her past — visiting her wrongly arrested brother in prison for nearly a decade, being chased through the streets with chains by Cuba’s thug police, having her land and her childhood stolen from her — and the rest of America either couldn’t understand her tears for Elian or didn’t care enough to try.
What the hell are all those crazy Cubans down in Miami so angry about, exactly?
That was America’s reaction to Elian, as it is today.
A little boy. A baseball tournament. They’re just symbols, right?
And some people look at the American flag and see only fabric and thread.
This is an emotional argument, not a rational one. I usually don’t want government interfering in the great escape of sports. I usually think games ought to be a unifying symbol, transcending politics. That’s my head talking, unfeeling as a calculator.
But then I start thinking about all that my grandparents and parents lost, and how I get to be spoiled and free and Americanized because of their suffering. And what rushes back upon on me — the sadness, the love, the gratitude — are not feelings produced by the head.
Fidel Castro is our Hitler, our Saddam, our bin Laden. Before quibbling over the analogies or getting into a comparison of atrocities, please absorb that. Viscerally, immediately, how would you feel about playing games today with them? Would they just be exhibitions then?
Castro has the blood of my people on his hands. His prisons, his firing squads, his politics, his evil.
The beautiful island of my parents and grandparents is rotting and stuck in the 1950s just 90 miles away because of an assortment of human-rights violations that keep an American embargo in place and wrongly jailed my uncle for nearly a decade.
The desperation on the island is such that people drown in the ocean trying to escape it, literally throwing their lives to the wind.
How oppressed would you have to feel to put your children on a flimsy raft made of wood and tires?
So you understand why I don’t exactly want to play baseball with this man, why I don’t want him wrapping these games in his politics and propaganda, why I don’t want him to even have the chance to feel the way our triumphant country did with the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team. That was only the biggest and most emotional upset in the history of American sports. And America doesn’t even care about hockey.
HIS PROUDEST TOY
But baseball is Castro’s proudest toy, a propaganda army with bats, perhaps the strongest thing left in his bloody reign.
And he has played us for clowns throughout this political debate, at first suggesting that America was afraid to play his mighty team and then getting around the embargo by offering all tournament profits to Katrina victims.
The only remaining solace for those who don’t want Cuba playing is that maybe another batch of Castro’s players will shame Castro by defecting.
But Friday still hurt.
Yes, my pain is borrowed. Learned. Passed down. It is not mine. I have not earned it.
But I feel it today nonetheless, on behalf of those who felt it so I never would, and it stings in my eyes.