Tens of thousands of spectators packed into a baseball stadium in Arlington, Texas, yesterday to watch the Texas Rangers host the Toronto Blue Jays. As the New York Times reported, this was "the largest crowd at a sporting event in the United States in more than a year."
It also seemed quite dangerous given the fact that the pandemic isn't over. The article added that Major League Baseball "requires all fans over age 2 to wear masks at games this season, but a large percentage of the fans in Arlington went maskless. That will undoubtedly raise fears of the event resulting in a spike in coronavirus cases."
But as important as the public-health angle was, there was also a political element to the story. Because as striking as it was to see those who did show up for the game, there was also interest in who did not.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that he won't throw the ceremonial first pitch as planned at the Texas Rangers' home opener — the latest jab in a fight that's pushing corporate America into the political battle over voting rights.... In the letter, Abbott said he will no longer participate and that Texas won't seek to host any future MLB events.
The Republican governor, naturally, is distancing himself from Major League Baseball because the league pulled its All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to Georgia's new voter-suppression law.
In theory, GOP officials could've taken the opportunity to reverse course and end their attack on voting rights, but Republicans are instead lashing out at the MLB. Donald Trump, for example, called for a boycott of Major League Baseball, which was a position quickly endorsed by the Republican National Committee and several GOP members of Congress. A handful of Republican lawmakers have also vowed to target the league's antitrust exemption.
Time will tell whether these partisan antics have much of an effect -- I'm skeptical of the idea that league officials are genuinely worried -- but the fact that so many Republicans now see Major League Baseball as a political foe is itself amazing. It's also a little familiar.
It was less than a year ago, for example, that Trump decided the National Basketball Association also deserved to be seen as a political enemy. The then-president blasted the NBA of acting "like a political organization," and he repeatedly focused on television ratings for basketball games.
Around the same time, Trump blasted NBA players as "very nasty" and "very dumb" for participating in social-justice protests.
Also last year, the then-Republican president turned his animus against the National Football League "into a centerpiece of his campaign's culture war strategy." Then-Vice President Mike Pence even went to an NFL game, saw some players engage in a brief, peaceful, and symbolic protest, and left before kickoff in a performative display that cost taxpayers a fair amount of money.
At one point last year, Trump also said he'd refuse to watch soccer games if players also engaged in social-justice protests.
To the extent that my personal tastes are relevant, it's been many years since I watched sports. But I'm nevertheless well aware of the fact that sports are very popular in the United States, and their cultural footprint is enormous.
If I were advising a political party and its most prominent voices, I might suggest picking a series of public fights with professional baseball, football, and basketball leagues -- for no good reason -- is unwise.