The (Other) Chicago Cubs Downside

Over the years, whenever I’ve told someone that I’m a longtime, die-hard fan of the Chicago Cubs National League baseball club, I’ve had to pause to guage the degree of response, and to discern whether to engage my fight-or-flight reflex.  The reactions have ranged from grimaces, to rude, base comments or even strange looks like I must be an alien, an aberration, and/or that something, somewhere in my life’s journey has gone terribly wrong.

You see, I’m black, and in Chicago, African American baseball fans are “supposed” to be devotees of the Chicago White Sox, the American League baseball team on the city’s South Side.  Now, it’s not that I don’t like the White Sox.  Truly, I do, and I root for all Chicago professional sports teams vs. their opponents.  The Sox are a fine team, and I think that they have a first-rate organization behind them that believes in winning.  But, I’d say that I got my Cubs loyalty honestly.

In my youth, I attended high school in the western suburbs here, and Chicago Cubs all-star Billy Williams’ daughter was my friend and sometime lab partner in science class.  Also, I was sweet on Cubs Hall-of-Famer Ernie Banks’ daughter, Jan, as she was a friend of my younger sisters’ and visited our home now and then.  From the very moment I saw her, I was instantly smitten, and carried her picture around with me in my wallet for years.  And, once I actually met Ernie, a.k.a. “Mr. Cub,” and he personally adminished me to do well in college, well, basically, I couldn’t help but to become a fan.

In Chicago, however, the divide between the mostly African American devotion to the Sox on the city’s South Side, and the mostly white and suburban devotion to the Cubs on the North Side, is about as deep-seated and clear as the two polar opposite sides of the city that separate the teams.  Anyone who doubts the oft-repeated sentiment that Chicago is still “the most racially segregated city in America,” needs to look no further than the ocean of white faces that he or she will encounter in the stands on any given gameday at the Cubs’ home diamond, Wrigley Field.

Or the dearth of black faces…other than on the playing field, or hawking peanuts inside (but mostly outside) the ballpark.

Yes, I’m a fan of the Cubs, and of baseball, but I have to say this: My beloved Cubs do next-to-nothing to attract African American patrons to Wrigley Field, to the team or to the game.  Chicago talks the talk on this being a jewel of a multicultural city–and in many respects it certainly is–but you just do not see that rich diversity reflected on game day or night within the so-called “friendly confines.”

What’s more, I’ve never been to a single Cubs home game in all of my years and not had some drunk white guy from the Winnetka say something under his breath about African Americans, or had some white fan or group of fans glare at me like I shouldn’t be there.  Former Cub player Milton Bradley was completely believable when he reported that he was on the receiving end of racist taunts at Wrigley Field, and most black Chicagoans were not the least but surprised by his statement.

Until something is done to confront this reality, regrettably, the best seat in the house for black Chicago Cubs fans is a soft leather recliner, at home, with your own store-bought peanuts and WGN-TV.

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