The concept of a hero athlete, a player that becomes a city icon, loyal to one team, was outdated long before LeBron James left his home state to take his talents to South Beach. The concept of the athlete as a role model left town way before Luis Suarez sank his teeth into Branislav Ivanovic in a game last weekend in the English Premier League.
In addition, athletes generally stay away from controversy at all costs, always saying the “right” thing, which amounts to saying nothing at all.
But David Ortiz has bucked those trends for years, doing everything he can to stay with the Red Sox, and spoke for everyone in the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts on Saturday when he addressed the Fenway Park crowd before the Red Sox game against Kansas City.
With the team wearing uniforms with “Boston” stitched across the front instead of “Red Sox,” Ortiz delivered an impassioned speech, where he said five words that articulated what everybody was feeling.
“This is our f—— city,” he said, sending Fenway into a frenzy and causing yet another Twitter stir.
It was unscripted, raw, emotional. It was real. It was just what the city needed to hear. It was the cathartic moment that rallied the city together, and started the healing process.
In times of tribulation, for all our divisions, we still look up to leaders. A nervy nation still tunes into President Obama for words of reassurance, Chris Christie and his fleece sweatshirts become a bipartisan symbol and the police move from a symbol of oppression to the symbol of safety.
Sports unify a community. I don’t have to remind you the effect Mike Piazza’s home run in the Mets’ first post-9/11 game had to the city. Well, the Red Sox mean more to Boston than the Mets could ever to Queens. A Red Sox hat is a wardrobe staple for hipsters, gangsters, lax bros, preps and any other stereotype you can think of.
Boston isn’t like other big cities (if you even consider it to be “big”). It’s parochial, close-knit – a city with a small-town field. Athletes can’t blend in among the 8 million other faces like they can in New York. The sports media is even crazier than New York’s. In short, it has all the fanaticism of a small town team like Green Bay, with the market size of a big city.
Some players wilt under the spotlight. Most find a way to maneuver it. Few embrace it.
Ortiz embraces it, and embraces his role as a role model. The Red Sox garner the lion’s share of that press, even through all the successes of the other Boston teams. The Red Sox are a secular religion in Boston, and David Ortiz is its leader.
Too often, our athletes disappoint us. They leave for more money or if the team isn’t good enough. We, as fans, love them, but they care little about us in return.
“It was something I said,” Ortiz told reporters, explaining his speech. “I don’t know how emotional I get sometimes. What we’ve been through this week, that was my feeling. I was hurting like everyone else. That’s how I am.”
Ortiz is Boston Strong. His passion for the city shone through in his speech, and helped lift a grieving city. In the process, he showed how a conscientious athlete can use his status to help the fans that put him on such a pedestal.