Steve Bartman and the embarrassing truth of sports

In October 2003, the Chicago Cubs were on the verge of winning their playoff series against the Florida Marlins and going on to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They were up 3-0 in the game, and 3-2 in the series. They were only five outs away from the World Series.
Then it happened.
Florida Marlins Luis Castillo hit a foul ball into the outfield. Cubs outfielder Mosies Alou drifted toward the stands, reached for the ball, but the ball wasn’t there anymore. Steve Bartman, a Chicago Cub fan, also reach for the ball and it bounced off his hand instead of falling into Alou’s glove.
The mood changed. And before the inning was over the Marlins had scored eight runs. The Cubs lost game six and game seven and never went to the World Series.
Fans in the stadium instantly began to blame Steve Bartman. They threw beer on him. They threw a variety of food items at him. They threatened him. Large segments of the stadium cursed him. They told him he should kill himself. Security had to escort him out of the stadium and hid him from the mob of fans.
Last night, ESPN debuted a documentary on that one incident. I sat and watched with a growing, sick disappointment in the pit of my stomach. It spent an extended period of time analyzing the drama in the stands after the play. Bartman seemed to be on an island, completely isolated by the hate of the entire stadium. Beer is thrown on him. Security eventually has to escort him out. And the entire walk up the stairs people are screaming at him and trying to get to him.
All because of a foul ball.
A former coach once told me, “Sports do not build character. Sports reveal character.”
Maybe he is right.
And if he is, what does that say about us.


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