Last night, the Cubs invited Dan Katz, a.k.a. “Big Cat” of Barstool Sports—an often misogynist, retrograde, and undeniably popular entertainment site—to sing the seventh inning stretch. Though they ended up somewhat downplaying it and pairing Katz with radio announcer Ron Coomer (it was unclear if that had been the plan all along, or if they called a late audible), it nevertheless led to another long day for some in Cubs fandom.
Many fans met this news with a familiar discomfort. Others, many of whom are women that Barstool and its followers have either implicitly or explicitly attacked over the past decade, met this news with a familiar pain. There is no need to rehash the offenses of Barstool and its affiliates over the years, but the pain was another example of something people have experienced—now in many contexts—as they root for the Cubs.
Katz is a popular figure in Chicago sports media, and this is not the first time the Cubs have publicly endorsed him and the site he represents and associates with. He was invited to throw out the first pitch earlier this season—to a similar outcry—and in the past he’s been invited to join in celebrations with Cubs and Blackhawks players during their respective postseason runs. It’s often said in his defense that he is nice and funny, one of the “good guys” at Barstool, and, relatively, that is true. But the Cubs need to better consider the institution and views they are accepting when they invite Dan Katz of Barstool Sports to take part in their traditions—even if the part is small. And they also need to consider who they may be excluding from taking part.
Writers at Wrigleyville, particularly Zack Moser and Mary Craig, have done an excellent job of covering the historical context to baseball, and the slow, ongoing fight to make baseball—and the Cubs—more universal. Racism and sexism were and still are rampant (just ask those fans at Fenway and these fans at Fenway), but pro baseball teams today, the Cubs included, at least pay lip service to the idea that fandom should be open to everyone. But making these sorts of decisions endorses a worldview that excludes those very fans that teams should be most eager to bring in.
Trading for Aroldis Chapman, refusing to talk domestic abuse allegations openly, and insinuating that the Barstool brand of broishness is alright will assuredly turn people off, no matter the intentions. These intentions of the Cubs and Katz are almost certainly not malicious, but that doesn’t mean that the message these actions send is not. For women who feel that the Cubs might not much care about them, these clumsy and ill-thought-out actions give them more and more reason to feel their suspicions are right.
As a white guy, it’s inherently easier for me to shrug this off and continue rooting for the Cubs. And that is assuredly what I will do, as someone who cannot help but love the Cubs and baseball and my dad and the incredible community and city that roots for them. But the accumulation of these affronts to kindness and openness is something the Cubs should be wary of. Fandom is hard to end full stop, but it is something that that can be dulled and wear away over time.
Baseball fans, and all fans, are captive audiences. And the feeling of being unduly captive is the distinct feeling that arose again during the seventh inning stretch last night. On an otherwise beautiful night at Wrigley, following the unspectacular but still exciting debut of a young pitching prospect, many fans—more than the Cubs’ leadership might understand, and especially those who need baseball to function as an escape from the rest of daily life right now—were briefly forced to think about things outside baseball. And that can dull fandom. There are Red Sox fans for whom Curt Schilling’s post-career exploits have damaged the memories of the ’04 run. There are many NFL fans who are growing generally more disenchanted with the league’s reticence to take on head injuries and domestic abuse issues. For many, Chapman being on the Cubs did not ruin the World Series last year, but it did somewhat lessen it.
Because of this, teams, owners, and leagues need to bear this responsibility to their fans carefully. They can’t control everything, and nobody would ask them too, but actively deciding to welcome these ideas without explanation is disrespectful to many in the Cubs community. And those fans who have historically been on the margins of baseball- and Cubs-fandom might slowly get pushed back off.
Cubs fans (like everyone) are complex but largely kind, giving, and well-meaning. In response to the team’s actions, they will continue to do goodhearted things like reacting to the Chapman trade with the Pitchin4DV fundraiser, and they will continue to push forward the conversation about inclusivity in sports and society at large. This, in turn, will lead to a pushback from those who, because it’s easier for them, would rather only talk about the day-to-day entertainment of sports and not the morality and context behind them. They will accuse the marginalized of “politicizing” something that the organization, unwittingly or otherwise, has already politicized. They will tell women to just stop watching the Cubs if they don’t like it. And, one day, those women may start to listen to them.
Pain is inflicted when the Cubs do not think about and handle these things carefully and openly. The Cubs are a powerful enough institution that they don’t need to (and shouldn’t!) settle for what’s easy and popular. Fans will love them anyway and grow along with them.
And if, in the end, we really do just want to talk about baseball and only baseball, the easiest thing to do would be to just let Harry sing the stretch.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports