Just when we had turned the Red Sox going to Washington into a matter of existential importance, the White House press office spelled it "Socks."
"President Trump Welcomes the 2018 World Series Champions The Boston Red Socks to the White House," blared the official event listing online, with a link to the White House YouTube page, which also utilized the Seussian spelling of socks (as in, "Fox in . . .") instead of the baseball one that's easy to screw up because it's only been in place for 111 years.
At times like these, with the nation divided and sports no longer a safe haven for easy-breezy escapism, we should remind ourselves that they spelled it "Socks." This pedestrian buffoonery feels oddly reassuring. If you can't spell the word, you can't rip us apart.
Only the best people, indeed.
The administration has wielded sports as a cudgel in the culture wars, whether it's weaponizing the NFL's anthem protests into some warped battle over patriotism, or questioning the intelligence of an NBA star like LeBron James, even as he opened an ambitious new school in his hometown for disadvantaged kids.
White House visits often serve as Ground Zero in these skirmishes, with NBA teams and their largely African-American rosters declining to attend, many women's champions not even being invited, and football teams falling somewhere in the middle, from the rogue nation (Eagles) to the favored nation (Patriots), to the fast food nation (Clemson).
All that division grows exhausting, which is why the Red Sox have squirmed for about two months over their decision to accept the invite and then leave it up to the players to choose. To the surprise of no one, the inevitable occurred, with the players of color mostly declining the invite and the white ones embracing it. Culture warriors on both sides co-opted the response to suit their personal narratives and away we went.
This resulted in coast-to-coast coverage decrying either baseball's overall racial divide or specifically the one many assumed was splitting the Red Sox clubhouse. Beyond manager Alex Cora and reliever Hector Velazquez -- who objected to the president's rhetoric towards their native Puerto Rico and Mexico, respectively -- most players declined to articulate their reasons for staying home with any specificity.
The Red Sox are sensitive to the franchise's disgraceful history in matters of race, petitioning the city to rename Yawkey Way and trying to make Fenway feel more inclusive with their Take the Lead anti-racism initiative. Baseball's don't-ask, don't-tell culture, meanwhile, effectively limits any meaningful conversation on prickly topics like race and the president, which frankly makes sense as a matter of pragmatism.
After the Red Sox beat the Orioles on Wednesday night behind a brilliant performance from Chris Sale (attending the White House), a home run from Mookie Betts (not attending), a catch of the year from Jackie Bradley Jr. (not attending) and a save from Heath Hembree (attending), Cora defiantly crowed about clubhouse cohesion.
"There's been a lot of talk about what's going on tomorrow, the clubhouse being divided, race, politics, whatever," he told reporters at Camden Yards. "Those kids went out there and they played their heart out. We know who we are in the clubhouse. We know a lot of people doubt that. But like last year, we cancel the noise, we show up every day, and we play. I was watching the game, and I was like, 'You know what, yeah.' It was cool. For everybody that's talking about us, the situation, crushing us throughout the week, well, they played extra innings. They didn't give in.
"You see them in the clubhouse, they're celebrating Heath because of the first save, they're celebrating Jackie, and now, we go. There's a group that's going home, and there's a group going to the White House. And on Friday, we get back – get back to playing baseball."
The team's situation was portrayed as a can't-win. Stay home, and welcome to the Resistance. Attend, and welcome to QAnon.
But maybe it's actually a can't-lose. If these people can't spell Red Sox, they can't divide the Red Sox. Perhaps there's a lesson in there for the rest of us.
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