A Tale of Two Urban Cities: Sports, Violence and Politics in Ferguson ’14 and Detroit ‘68

As a fan of sports, I often find myself frustrated with many controversies of sports figures. However, what happens when sports fans are the center of attention? After viewing the docu-film A City on Fire: the Story of the ’68 Tigers, and a video of St. Louis Cardinal fans and Ferguson protesters, I realized that sports fans could have a even bigger influence on politics. While the sport of baseball symbolized the resurrecting champs of Detroit in 1968, it represented a “license to kill” for fans in Ferguson of 2014. As one city’s fans untied, the other was torn apart as race tensions impacted the paradise of the sport. It is this aspect of fanaticism that, arguably, sometimes grants a certain level of care in sports toward political power. For this reason, I believe this conflicting relationship between sports, violence, politics, as discussed in my political science 101 course, is of equal importance to fans as the players.wilsoncards_100714-thumb-640xauto-11713

In the wake of Ferguson riots, last week’s play-off game for the St. Louis Cardinals transformed into arena for race wars, instead of baseball. As protesters outside of the stadium pleaded for spectators of the game to recognize the injustice of Michael Brown’s death, some fans were seen wearing Cardinal jerseys with “I am Darren Wilson” written above players numbers. Chants of “let’s go Cardinals “ turned into “let’s go Darren Wilson”. As noted by Color Lines, one female fan went as far as telling the black protesters “we’re the ones who gave all y’all the freedoms that you have!” As a sports institution, it is important to note that none of the fans, not even those with questionable racist and derogatory jerseys, were asked to leave the St Louis Cardinal’s stadium.

This recreation of the game demonstrated a shift in the relationship among people and sports. In Game life and Utopia the grasshopper states, “that everyone alive is in fact engaged in playing elaborate games, while at the same time believing themselves to be going about their ordinary affairs”. As fans argued with protesters, each side became players. While sports officials would say they were doing their job or working by not intervening in such feuds, they too became players in the game of racism. The utopia that surrounded the baseball game was unfortunately ruined by the race driven realities of the Ferguson. A. Bartlett Giamatti argues that, “sports represent a shared vision of how we continue, as individual, team or community, to experience a happiness or absence of care”. However, I believe this situation depicts the opposite. Unfortunately in this instance, this portrays a community that was not experiencing happiness. They instead placed significance on political, racial, and social powers within the context of sports.Protests Continue In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

While experiencing the same racial tensions, the state of baseball and its fans in Detroit during 1968 differs drastically to that of present day St. Louis. In 1967, Detroit had experienced several of the most destructive race riots ever in United States history and in any urban city. Detroit Riots 001  With so much chaos surrounding the city, the Tigers ended the season that year with immense loss. However, as depicted in A City on Fire: the Story of the ’68 Tigers, the 1968 team would go on to bring hope to the fallen city. A seven game series, ending with the Tigers winning the World Series and ironically beating the St. Louis Cardinals, resulted in celebration and unity. Excitement and glee filled the city as fans, blacks and whites alike, cheered as if they themselves were the players in the baseball game. Just as the bases of the city were fully loaded with racial tension, the tiger caught several baseballs of hope that would tag out any rivalry among the Detroit sports community for that year. In this instance, Gimatti would say, the fans and players momentarily transformed themselves, believing that they were above the necessity of race riots. Unlike St. Louis, Detroit was now a utopia.1968WorldSeries

Ultimately, fans’ and players’ participation in both leisure and work while engaging in sports, has a level of political power good and bad for the sports community.

-Jessica Stephenson


2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Urban Cities: Sports, Violence and Politics in Ferguson ’14 and Detroit ‘68

  1. Hey Jessica,
    I liked how you used one example to show how sports/spectators can lead to positive political change and one to show negative political change. I never thought about the power of the spectators before but I guess anytime that many people are gathered in one place they can make their voices heard.


  2. Hey Jessica,

    Really enjoyed reading this article. I thought it was a really cool connection between our class and that of race riots which are a huge problem today. I definitely agree with your point that the Cardinals franchise should definitely not condone the racism of their fans in the stadium. Furthermore the team should act as a way to unite the city. Huizinga mentions that communities form around play. So if this Cardinals fan base can find a way to unite beyond race lines, it would do wonders for Ferguson and the state.

    However, I do have to say that calling Detroit a “utopia” may be going a bit far. At least by the Grasshopper’s definition a Utopia is where all actions are autotelic, which is not true of Detroit back then.


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