So much for the house that Woodstein built. Rarely has the coverage of an event been so pandering, so utterly absent of objectivity than the Washington Post's coverage of the debut of the Washington National's new stadium.
The Post reported on the ballpark's grand opening with hard-hitting articles like, "Lapping Up a Major Victory, and Luxuries, at New Stadium." Without irony, the article quoted people from the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, about how much fun they were having playing Guitar Hero and eating authentic DC half-smokes before the big game. It should have come with coupons for the Make Your Own Teddy Bear booth.
But that was nothing compared to Post sports columnist Tom Boswell, who long ago cornered the market on sloppy baseball nostalgia.
Some Boswell gems from opening night included, "Imagine 25,000 people all smiling at once. Not for a few seconds, but continuously for hours. You won't see it at a tense World Series. But when a brand new ballpark opens, especially in a city that hasn't had such an experience for 46 years, people can't help themselves."
In a nod to actual journalism, Boswell did manage to raise a few questions. "Are they worth the money? Has MLB mastered civic extortion, playing one city against another?" But have no fear. He had no answers. "That's a different story, a different day." Unfortunately it's a story over the last two years he has never written on any day. He did quote another suburban warrior making the trek into the big bad city who said, "Sometimes you got to spend money to make money." Of course, not his money, but why quibble?
Boswell was a model of restraint compared to city columnist Marc Fisher. In a piece titled, I kid thee not, "The City Opens the Ballpark, And the Fans Come Up Winner," Fisher wrote, "An investment in granite, concrete and steel buys a new retail, residential and office neighborhood. It buys the president of the United States throwing out the first ball. And it buys a son showing his father what his boy has become." (I don't even understand that last line. A son shows his father...his boy? So the father is a grandfather? Is this some sort of Southern Gothic goes to the ballpark? Maybe Fisher was just blissed out on $8 beers and making his own teddy bears.)
While Boswell and Fisher were given prime column real estate to gush, columnist Sally Jenkins didn't even get a corner of comics page. It's understandable why Jenkins, the 2002 AP sports columnist of the year, didn't get to play. Four years ago, she refused to gush: "While you're celebrating the deal to bring baseball back to Washington, understand just what it is you're getting: a large publicly financed stadium and potential sinkhole to house a team that's not very good, both of which may cost you more than you bargained for and be of questionable benefit to anybody except the wealthy owners and players. But tell that to baseball romantics, or the mayor and his people, and they act like you just called their baby ugly. It's lovely to have baseball in Washington again. But the deal that brings the Montreal Expos to Washington is an ugly baby."
Jenkins words have come to pass. But this isn't just an "ugly baby", it's Rosemary's baby. It's $611 million of tax payer money in a city that has become a ground zero of economic segregation and gentrification. $611 million over majority opposition of taxpayers and even the city council. $611 million in a city set to close down a staggering twenty-four public schools.
That's $611 million, a mere five months after a mayor commissioned study found that the District's poverty rate was the highest it had been in a decade and African-American unemployment was 51 percent.
That's $611 million, in a city where the libraries shut down early and the Metro rusts over. That's a living, throbbing, reminder that the vote-deprived District of Columbia doesn't even rest on the pretense of democracy. This isn't just taxation without representation. It's a monument of avarice that will clear the working poor out of the Southeast corner of the city as surely as if they just dispensed with the baseball and used a bulldozer. This is sports as ethnic and economic cleansing, as Hurricane Katrina, as Shock Doctrine, as Green Zone. Fittingly, Fisher wrote, President George W. Bush came out to throw the first pitch. Fittingly, he was roundly booed. He stood on the mound, proudly oblivious, taking center stage yet again in what can only be described as occupied territory.
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the forthcoming A People's History of Sports in the United States (The New Press).
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