“Shohei Ohtani, a Japanese baseball player, to receive $700 million to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the next 10 years.”
“Liz Magill to resign as President of the University of Pennsylvania. Claudine Gay will continue as President of Harvard.”
“American support for Ukraine is in question.”
At the risk of conjuring an impossibly difficult billiards shot, be patient with me for a paragraph or two as I associate these headlines. Each of these circumstances and decisions go way beyond baseball or university values or supporting an ally. Let’s take baseball first.
Ohtani has raised the bar even though deferral of payment elements reduce the real value of his deal. Yet, this baseball deal is a win for the most talented players and a loss for the fans.
Bills have to be paid and therefore player expenses must be covered with revenue which means higher ticket prices, more advertising (especially on TV) along with prices for parking, concessions, team-branded gear and anything else the ball club can get parents to buy for their star-obsessed kids. Or, themselves. In short, baseball as a national pastime has suffered. The fans should be at the negotiating table.
On the campuses of three elite universities, in particular, the testimony of their leaders that calling for genocide against the Jews does not necessarily violate the University’s code of conduct is astonishing. Does this reflect America or do the schools reveal the power of identitarian politics to overthrow morality? Yes, morality!
While the Presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT are in the hot seat perhaps the Congress should assemble panels of Professors who lead the schools academic departments. University presidents are not trendsetters. They reflect their faculties. Group think is not punishable but should be revealed.
Today when we are really alarmed about speech or conduct we frequently talk about systemic change. Which is to say that a given episode is not a one-off, but reflective of underlying changes that pose a greater risk or reward.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is, I presume, back in Ukraine. And while I note on this morning’s news, that Norway has just made another commitment, it is hard to know where America and NATO stand. But I know this, if our alliance suffers a reversal of support, American foreign policy will both in fact, and by perception, have suffered a systemic change. While Ukraine has fought Russia after its invasion to at least a standstill, the bravery it has shown will shine an especially harsh light on equivocation. And while Russia might look strong at the moment, Ukraine has dealt a blow to its strength. It is too bad that the West does not have a Winston Churchill whose perseverance and eloquence turned WWII toward victory.
When aggression shocks the conscience, America has a choice. People and its leaders can choose to support the prey or stay on the sidelines. After our disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, America as a force for good was harmed. Now America and NATOs pledges of support are in question.
To sum up. I like to think of America as special, in part, because of our allegiance to transcendent values. But when elite schools walk away from those values and our national pastime, baseball, is turned into a tax on summer fun and internationally our reputation is at serious risk I wonder where we are going.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.