Just like the team's rocky start in 2011, the Red Sox hope to convince troubled youth "It Gets Better." (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
A warning in advance: this will not be a very snarky post.
I haven't seen much mention of this since the announcement was made last week, but I thought that the announcement that the Red Sox would produce a video for the "It Gets Better" project (an outreach effort towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth) was rather welcome news. The Sox become the third team in baseball—after the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs—to participate in the project. It will be interesting to see what sort of video the Red Sox put together, and who will be the participants. There's a lot to be said for someone like David Ortiz or Adrian Gonzalez—people with the respect of just about everybody in society at large—to tell a troubled youth, "it gets better."
I'm not exactly sure what's the bigger surprise in the story: that the Sox agreed to participate so quickly, or that the decision was brought about by a grassroots petition organized by a 12-year-old New Hampshire student. Sam Maden, the petitioner (if you will), should certainly be commended for his civic-mindedness, while the Red Sox should also be recognized for being on the forward-looking side of this issue.
For the most part, I managed to evade bullying as a youth—being larger than most of my classmates, I was spared the physical violence that so many youth today face. Of course, I couldn't entirely avoid getting picked on: being the funny-sounding kid of immigrants, some comments of the "anti-brown people" variety were bound to be unavoidable. In addition, I was fortunate enough to have grown up in the pre-Internet age, before email, social media and mobile communications, before your bullies could organize a smear campaign online, and before you had to worry that an embarrassing video would show up on YouTube. I also had mentors and people I felt comfortable talking to when problems occurred, plus the self-confidence to realize I wasn't defined by other people's attempts to knock me down.
Unfortunately, for a lot of today's youth, they're very much on the outside looking in, for any of a number of reasons: race, religion, sexuality, accent, whatever. Worse still, for many of them, they feel that suicide is the only way out. Worst of all, each year, several thousand of them succeed. This is an avoidable tragedy, played out far too many times in a so-called "civilized" society.
Some questions of course remain. An obvious one is: "Will this make any difference?" To that, I don't have a ready answer. I suspect that, in today's celebrity-driven society, the voice of an athlete speaking out on this subject will be much more readily publicized and accepted than just about anybody else. That the Red Sox and the Cubs—two of the most visible franchises in MLB—are among the leaders here should also spearhead other clubs to action.
Another question being asked in the "commentsphere": "Should the Red Sox even be doing this at all?" Here, I think the answer is much easier: absolutely. Even when one subscribes to the mantra that "kids will be kids" or that they should take matters into their own hands, for many young people, particularly those who are (clinically) depressed, the bullying and taunting that comes with their daily lives may indeed seem like the end of the world. (Didn't—or doesn't, depending on your age—everything seem magnified beyond proportion when you're a teenager? A breakup can loom larger than a Sophoclean tragedy, and that bad grade in Spanish? Lo, the apocalypse is nigh!) In a world in which teenagers are equipped with all the trappings of adulthood—but lacking the emotional maturity to use them properly—the "voice in the wilderness" telling them that things can be okay is sorely needed, regardless of its source.
Finally, I suppose one might also ask: "Why?" I suppose I can see the Red Sox taking the opportunity to participate now as an attempt, at least in part, to atone for the sins of its own past. Sports has been a great source for good in society, but it's also had its own legacy of intolerance in many forms. For far too many years, our beloved Red Sox were amongst the worst perpetrators of that hatred. I could certainly see management deciding that it was important for the Sox to take active steps in addressing this latest problem.
Growing up, one of the tenets of faith that I learned was: "To save a single life is to save the whole of humanity." While the Red Sox participating in such an effort is hardly the same as pulling someone out of a burning building, that still doesn't mean it isn't the right thing to do, and there's always the chance that it will make that little bit of difference to someone.