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Don’t get precious with Curt Schilling’s politics

Look no further than Foxborough for lessons in cognitive dissonance

If you’re gonna be good, might as well be great, right?

I think baseball players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame largely based on their numbers. I think Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and even Curt Schilling belong in the Hall, regardless of their supposed off-field transgressions and their politics. As little as I care for Schilling’s politics, I care even less about them.

I nonetheless submit the following two things can be true:

1. Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame.

2. I have less sympathy for his exclusion than I do for that of Bonds and Clemens.

Let’s consider the facts. Schilling had everything going for him during his playing days. In addition to his excellent regular season resume, he won the World Series three times on extremely high-profile teams. He was never implicated in a steroid scandal and, in fact, spent the latter part of his career telling anyone who would listen that he was clean, perhaps to the point of detriment.

Then he retired, potentially defrauding the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for $75 million, and was fired from ESPN for what amounts to a lack of impulse control. Now he spends his day berating journalists and beefing with fake Sidney Ponson Twitter accounts while insisting they’re real. He’s also beaten cancer. It’s been a full life: A Hall of Fame career followed by a Hall of Fame effort to undermine the same career.

As good a troll as he is, he can’t undermine it completely. His arm bailed him out on the field over and over and over, and I thought of Schilling yesterday while watching the Patriots romp to the Super Bowl in the first official game of the Trump era. With the exception of a few prominent Red Sox fans who skew to Steelers fandom (a group that includes Schilling), I daresay most of us root for the Pats and will continue to do so throughout the Trump Administration, even if it rubs against our politics. Sue us.

How can we “possibly” do this? We do it by holding two ideas in our head at once: That what a team does on and off the field are separate events, and the organization of the team, rightly or wrongly, supersedes a player’s politics during his active playing days. For all the hubbub over Patriots and coaches not responding to direct questions about their connection to the new president, their deflections acknowledge the permanent-if-delicate Chinese wall between their public and private selves. The wall is the sine qua non of being a sports fan, especially in the information age, when you are always able to peer around it.

Nonetheless, I have no problem with anyone who cannot resist looking through or past it, and who calls my stance a cop-out. I truly applaud anyone who has stopped following a team or a sport for political or moral reasons, but I cast my lot with the see-no-evil crowd a long time ago. Specifically, I did it in 2004, when a Red Sox team made my sports dreams come true while, boasting Schilling, ran counter to my worldview.

There was little about the 2004 team to suggest a connection to John Kerry, the Democratic home-state candidate; everything indicated a push for Bush. Kevin Millar’s limp high-five of Kerry during a Sunday Night Baseball game seemed a perfect stand-in for otherwise right-leaning players in the blue center of a blue state, but he largely stayed out of it (he has also subsequently warmed to Kerry, which shows that I may have been mistaken). The one who didn’t, of course, was Schilling, who stumped for Bush in New Hampshire after the World Series. I didn’t love it, but it didn’t make me like the Red Sox any less, and nothing Schilling has done since then has, either.

Similarly, I don’t much care what Bill Belichick and Tom Brady do with their scant free time, whom they choose to call on the phone, and what foul island on which they choose to spend their long weekends. I reserve the right to change my mind, just as Brady and Belichick have the right to change their minds with regard to Trump, but in both cases it will likely happen after their playing days, when I can divorce their actions from my own potential gains as a Pats fan. Is this cowardly on my part? Maybe! But it’s clearly possible. We all do it, every day, for virtually every team we choose or are beholden to like. If you think every football team in America wouldn’t buddy up to this president, given the chance, I’d submit you have a bigger blind spot than I do here. It seems as clear as the soft spots in Pittsburgh’s zone D.

As for Schilling, given that he’s not on the Sox any more, I don’t much care what happens to him. All things considered, the least offensive place for him, given our opposite political beliefs, is arguing with the fake Twitter account of a fat, washed out pitcher. It’s the worst version of himself arguing with the worst version of himself, and it’s harmless to everything but his own reputation. Like Brady and Belichick, I felt he helped me win something, even if I’ve just been sitting on the couch the whole time, and I’m not about to give back “our” victories because of his big mouth. They’re precious to me even if they’re disposable to him, and no one — I mean no one — can take away my precious.