Post 1: Trust

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The sense of trust built by team sports can led to great collective effort and success. (Cyclones.com).

In January 2017, the great Bay Area sports columnist Lowell Cohn retired after 22 years with the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. During that time, he covered the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Raiders and Oakland Athletics. As a writer he was fair, eloquent, insightful, critical, at times brash and always entertaining.

In his farewell article, Cohn penned a moving tribute to the coalescing effect of sports. [1] Sports, as he put it, are a universal glue with the uncanny ability to bond family and strangers alike over simple inquires such as, “Hey, how about those Forty-Niners?” [2] To emphasize his point, Cohn described a time when he and his father attended a game between the Mets and Dodgers. 

During that game, the Mets turned a triple play, a rare feat. Cohn’s father heard the roar of crowd but was unable to see what had transpired. He was legally blind. His father asked, “Lowell, what happened?” In response, Cohn said the Mets had pulled off a triple play. “You don’t say” his father replied. In that moment, the son had helped the father when he was in need, they had come together. There was trust.

Sometimes, as demonstrated by Cohn, trust may be acquired simply by attending a baseball game. However, in many circumstances such simplicity is not a viable option.

Take today’s racial climate, where trust has eroded considerably. While there are many reasons for this, for the sake of brevity two in particular come to mind. First, social media has helped expose violent white police officer aggression toward black males, such as Walter Scott, by publishing lethal encounters that are perpetrated without good cause. Undoubtedly, these objectionable actions acutely erode trust between white cops and the black community.

On the other hand, impoverished whites from areas like the Rust Belt lament the absence of employment, the explosion of opioid use and cultural denigration. [3] Likely, they feel excluded from the globalized economy, condemned to poverty, all through no fault of their own. In response, many voted for nationalist politicians who promised to return past times of prosperity. In all, the sense of injustice in these communities contribute to the erosion of trust in America.

I wouldn’t attempt to provide a solution for these issues. Their complexity requires intervention on multiple fronts and more space than allotted for a blog post. However, I want to pivot back to sports as an example of establishing trust along racial lines.

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Trust between different races can manifest almost anywhere, including on the football field. (Detroit News).

The story goes like this: two boys play for their high school football team. Both play the running back position. Luckily, their team uses two running backs, so they consistently share the field. What they don’t share is a common race: Darren being white and Jose a second generation Mexican-American. When the ball is snapped, either Darren or Jose receive a handoff from the Quarterback and run hard to gain yardage. The player without the ball is tasked with blocking a linebacker from the opposing team. A linebacker, a coach once said, should be “the kind of guy who you wouldn’t want to face in a dark alley.” In other words, the toughest and meanest player on the field.

Jose receives the handoff. He cradles the ball in his right arm, and extends his left arm to sense the space in front of him as he plunges his body into the defense. At the same time, Darren leaps out of his stance. With shoulders lowered and knees pumping, he locates the feared linebacker. Locking eyes with the defender, Darren knows the moment of impact is near as he throws his body forward. The two player’s shoulders pads collide, making a loud clapping sound, as Darren drives his legs and pushes the defender backwards. Darren bellows and keeps his legs pumping while Jose runs by untouched. Before he is tackled, Jose covers ten yards: a very respectable gain.

The rest of the team helps Jose off the ground, congratulating each other on a successful play. Darren, wearing a big smile on his sweat and dirt covered face, approaches Jose and gives him a slap on the back. “Nice run Jose, you got us a first down man!” Jose surrenders the ball to the referee, catches his breath, and reorients his train of thought. A flash in Jose’s short-term memory sees Darren fearlessly collide with the linebacker and open a pathway for him to run through. Wow, he thinks, what a block! What a sight selfless acts are to behold. “Hey, man.” Jose says. “I always know the path will be clear when you are on the field, I always know you’ll take care of that linebacker.”

“Always man,” responds Darren. “Always.”

Sports. The global endeavor that forces us to check our differences at the entrance gate, and provokes us to act without regard for race or ethnicity. In fact, sports transcend the playing field. It assures us that the person we line up next to won’t hesitate to jeopardize their own well-being for the team. For you. Because they know you will do the same for them. That, in essence, is the definition of trust.

Of course, no variety of athletic event will cure racial divide, and this article does not attempt to provide solutions. However, sports offer a clue for how we might begin to mend our differences. Lowell Cohn found it with his father at a Mets game, Jose and Darren discovered it on the gridiron: we build trust when we know the person next to us, regardless of how he or she looks, will be there for you when you need it most. That kind of community building, I think, would be a step in the right direction.

[1] Cohn, Lowell (2017). In the Final Analysis, Sports Bring Us Together. Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. Retrieved from http://www.pressdemocrat.com/sports/6538754-181/lowell-cohn-in-the-final?artslide=2

[2] Id.

[3] For a stirring account of the sociocultural troubles of Appalachia, see Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.

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