In context of myriad NFL controversies, remembering the classy Ernie Banks.

January 26, 2015

Ernie-Banks-Baseball-Player

Ernest “Ernie” Banks (January 31, 1931 – January 23, 2015)

Below are two posts I wrote on Facebook, a day apart:

I grew up in the shadow of Wrigley Field in Chicago, which at the time was a very sketchy neighborhood. It was really only safe during Cub’s games. But on those days it seemed the sun was always shining. If you weren’t at the game you could hear it blaring on “Chicago’s own” WGN, from literally every open window and door. Back then kids like us would catch the players after a game walking to their cars. Ron Santo. Don Kessinger. And of course, Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. Even after losing, which was often, he’d smile and sign an autograph. Wish I still had mine. Good-bye, Ernie. There’s a bench for you in Heaven.

Been thinking about the ‪#‎NFL and all the broken rules, lack of integrity, addictions, concussions and abuses. What do we expect? It is a hyper violent sport played by men trained to use force in order to prevail. That’s what makes it awesome and terrible. Imposing and expecting reasonable behavior is an oxymoron, like telling the bull in the china shop to be careful.

During his Hall-Of-Fame career in baseball (if not his lifetime) one likes to think Ernie Banks was without sin. He was not only a superior ball player but by all accounts was a superior man as well. Always happy. Always grateful. Always willing to sign an autograph, even after losing, which the Chicago Cubs did often. Granted he played before the prying eyes of social media but Chicago’s sportswriters were not known for their subtlety. If he’d been a cheater or a bad dude in any way chances are we would have heard about it.

Contrast him with what we now have going on in the NFL and professional sports in general. Like night and day, right? In my Facebook post I give the NFL a bit of a pass. The bad behavior is because it’s a violent sport. But still…

We’d like to think Ernie Banks was not capable or willing to cork his bat like Sammy Sosa, let alone knock his wife out in an elevator. Lord knows the man had to have his weak moments, but we never heard about them. Unlike Ray Rice, Barry Bonds or Tom Brady, Ernie Banks played for a perennially losing team. Yet, it seemed, he was always smiling. “Mr. Cub” also was a black man playing in a sport that, when he started, still had a “Negro League.” That could not have been easy. Yet, where was the defiance and even the attitude? Can you imagine Ernie Banks yelling into the cameras like Richard Sherman –a multi-millionaire who had just won the biggest game in sports? No, we cannot.

Sherman-rant

The “best corner in the league” Richard Sherman, being a clown.

Before one states that Ernie Banks played in an era when things were proper and pleasant think again. His peak years were during the 60’s. The Viet Nam War could not be more damning and contentious, rivaling and surpassing much of what we’re now experiencing in the Middle East. At home, Civil Rights were being fought over in cruel and bloody fashion. Stuff like Fergeson, Missouri was happening on a daily basis. No, Ernie played during an equally tumultuous time. Yet, as far as we know, he was a peaceful man who kept his dignity.

While it is possible Ernie Banks had dark secrets it is improbable. After all, Pete Rose played during the same era and we certainly know about him.

So, how is it that a black man playing for a losing team in the chaotic Sixties could keep his cool, play super-well, and be so beloved by everyone? Good question. (Had it been me I would have totally failed.) Yet, a better question is whether it is even possible for role models like him to exist in modern professional sports. I doubt it. And that’s a shame.

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