This Election is a Team Sport
I want to tell you a story about a basketball game I played years ago during my college basketball days. My team was playing our archrivals. This team was notorious in the league for playing dirty — holding their opponents’ jerseys, tripping players, dramatizing made-up fouls, and throwing elbows. By playing dirty, they won a lot, but were hated by other teams and fans (of course, loved by their own). In addition to their on-the-court antics, they had a reputation of having a team culture of bullying and harassment. The coach had reportedly skipped over LGBT recruits and said that non-white athletes were a liability to the school because they tended to have poor academic performance and couldn’t afford full-price tuition. All a cover for bigotry, of course. In contrast, our coach was a black lesbian.
We had a good record that season and had mixed success playing this team in the past. Now we had both made it through the playoff rounds and were facing each other in the championship game. A lot was riding on our winning. More funding for our athletics program, recruitment of talented players, the league MVP, and more.
I was “Sixth Man,” meaning I was generally the first player subbed in off the bench. I was proud of this position, having worked up from the warmest of the bench-warmers my Freshman year. The game was tight for the first half, with the starting 5 playing most of it. We were losing momentum in the second half and the other team was pulling ahead. I was subbed in and scored 12 points on a hot-streak. We were up again. The crowd was amped. I was amped. My team was amped. We were going to win. Then, due to a series of turnovers and missed shots, the opposing team caught up and the game was tied. It was down to the wire with 20 seconds left and we had the ball. Coach called a time-out. I anticipated my moment of kudos from my coach. I wanted the ball. I knew I could win the game. I had the hot-hand. We huddled to hear Coach’s plan. The ball would go to my teammate, the captain of the team, for the final shot. I couldn’t believe it. She was having a rocky game. Why her? The favoritism enraged me. I had just gone on a hot-streak and recovered the team from our slump. I was the person for this job. It was MY moment. I visualized scenarios where I would take the ball for myself anyway.
My teammates ran the play and gave the ball to our captain. My job was to fall back toward half court in case of a miss. As I predicted, my teammate missed and the other team got the ball with 10 seconds left — enough time to win the game with a final shot. I thought, “if I had gotten the ball, I would’ve made that shot.” I was annoyed. I felt passed over. Disregarded. Cheated. And now our team would lose this game and this whole season would be a wash.
The opposing team raced down court for a final shot. I was closest to stop them. I was an excellent shot blocker. Sort of Dennis Rodman-esque, some would say. I could chase them down and block that shot and we would go into overtime. I knew I could. But did I really want my coach and teammate to have the relief of another chance after they dismissed my efforts? Did I want to help THEM win? If I let the other team shoot, unchallenged, maybe they would miss anyway. And if we lost, would it really be my fault? After all, I didn’t miss the final shot.
But then I realized that if I withheld my best performance out of anger, out of protest, I’d be failing myself of my commitment to give 100 percent all the time. One hundred percent to lift up all my teammates, especially the ones further down on the bench who won’t be MVP, who won’t play professional ball after college, who won’t even get to be “Sixth Man,” who came to every practice without the promise of playing time, and for whom this is their last chance at championship.
I decided that I would define winning by the number of my teammates I helped lift up, as opposed to the one I wanted to knock down. I ran and blocked that shot.
Now, I feel like I’m on that court again, rooting for Bernie Sanders — the underdog, the Sixth Man coming off the bench and giving the Democrats the hot-streak they needed. He doesn’t just want to win. He wants us of all to win. I believe, if given the ball, he could’ve led the Dems to victory this November. He should’ve had a fair shot. He should’ve been given his due credit and opportunity. But, coaches call wrong plays and referees make wrong calls. That, too, is part of the game. Our performance on the court is defined by our shots, passes and defense, yes. And it is also defined by our recovery after a bad call, our attitude after being passed over, and our commitment to still play the game when we have all the reasons not to.
I know you’re mad at Hillary, hurt by Hillary, dismissed by Hillary. I am, too. But, Yo! We are in this together, and I need for you to block Trump’s shot with me by voting for Hillary this time. Then, next season, we will all rise on that court together and have Hillary become a better captain.
(disclaimer: I really did play college basketball, was really “Sixth Man,” really had a black lesbian coach, was really skipped over for more prominent players, really did warm the bench and really did go on a hot-streak. This story is a composite of many games rather than the single game described here.)