“If you haven’t played the game, you don’t get an opinion.”
It’s not a new sentiment, and it’s one that seems on its face to be pretty easy to debunk. Have you ever run for office? No? Then you don’t get an opinion on politics. Haven’t ever been a chef? Then how can you say this burger tastes bad? Hey, why don’t you wait until you’ve been a writer before you tell me how to write my articles?! Right?!?
Okay, alright. Separate corners, everyone. This argument, just like nearly every argument that came before it, and every one that will follow, has a reasonable middle ground, and it’s one that’s hard to find if you’re not willing to take a moment to see the humanity in the person you’re talking to or about.
I’ll not dignify the shock jock by name or by link, but he had (at most generous) an ill-conceived (and at worst, a willingly ignorant and racist) opinion this week. Then, despite being repeatedly proven to be a failing hot-take hopeful, he continued to double down for days after the fact. So Jake Diekman tweeted in defense of his teammate: “when you can play at the highest level, open your mouth. until then, shut it.”
While it’s certainly not going to make anyone jump to the defense of the willfully stupid radio announcer, it was enough to send eyes rolling. Here we go again. Another athlete with this argument.
But I know Jake. I’ve talked baseball and music and a number of other topics with him. I don’t always agree with him, but he knows me, and knows that I’ve never played the game at the highest level either. That’s never cost me my right to an opinion. So I thought I’d ask him exactly what he meant.
“He should stick to college basketball,” Jake began, still perhaps a little heated. “He’s a shock jock radio host, and he has never reported on baseball, he only talks trash about it. So don’t come over and throw someone under the bus because you want attention. If you want to come in here and be a respected member of the media, journalists, then go ahead and do that, but…” (and it was here that the tone shifted a little)... “That’s what I meant,” Diekman said with what seemed like clarity. “Like, all of you guys are respected members of the media. All of you guys are in here every day, no matter what. I could have worded it better, but I was just so angry. I don’t mean it as an insult to you guys at all.”
In short: it was less about Gottlieb never having played Major League Baseball, and more about him not having put in the time or effort to learn the subject before he started leveling harmful accusations at anyone, much less a universally respected and loved future Hall of Famer.
Jeff Banister smiled knowingly. “You wanna get players emotional? You wanna see emotional? Talk about their teammate,” Jeff Banister said. "That’s what you get. Talk about the guy they see every single day, the guy they go to battle with every single day. And that’s when it becomes raw. And rawness creates short, abrupt, very non-analytic answers.”
But is there any truth in the “never played the game” argument? Banister says it’s a little of both. On one hand, the difference between knowledge and experience is real.
“I can study to be a surgeon, and even pass the test. That doesn’t make me a surgeon. I can have opinions on being a surgeon, but until I actually perform surgery, they’re just opinions, they’re not practicalities. Being a student and gaining knowledge of something, it can make you a scholar of an event, a game(...) but until you are in the event, and have experienced it, I do think there is a gap.”
That’s not just baseball, Banister continued. “There are subtleties within all aspects of life and everything we do that–until you experience it–they really are just educated opinions. (But) that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion. That doesn’t mean I can’t voice that knowledge.”
Some of finding the peaceful and reasonable middle ground, Banister says, is in finding the balance in yourself between student and teacher; recognizing the limits of your own grasp of the game, and allowing for wisdom from places you might not expect it. In short, as Kendrick Lamar so eloquently states it: Be humble.
“There are things that you guys see, and how you see it through your lens," Banister said, motioning to the room of journalists "that educates me on a daily basis. Through questions you ask me, statements you make, how your emotions are. You watch the game of baseball and educate yourself every single day about baseball. I’m not going to tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because you see it through your own lens. (But) a guy that has been in it gets to see it through all lenses, if that makes sense. There’s a difference between standing in the batting cage with a quarter machine, and standing at the plate with Chris Sale heaving a sphere at you. You can have opinions on it. But you’re not going to be able to tell me how it tastes, smells, looks like, or feels.”
Banister says he even keeps that perspective when managing players.
“Look, I set foot on a Major League field. But I don’t put myself in their shoes. Never. Ever. I’m not playing right now, (they) are. I’m not going to argue that. You want coaching mistake #1? Tell a guy ‘Man, I know exactly how you feel’.”
C.J. Nitkowski is another one I’ve heard make the “you never played” argument on Twitter, so I asked him where he thought the line was between things a non-player can learn and where he feels people overstep their ability to understand the experience.
“I empathize with guys (on the field) a lot, especially because I had a lot of failure," Nitkowski began with a raised eyebrow and a smile. "So I get really frustrated when people don’t see it, or don’t empathize a little bit, or forget how hard the game is to play. I have to remind myself of that all the time, too (in the broadcast booth). It looks easy.”
“It’s one thing to have an opinion. It’s another thing to speak as if everyone else is stupid. That’s the stuff that no matter what you’re talking about, rubs people the wrong way, and really ticks people off (...) there are certain things that do require understanding the grind, and how do we get there. It’s not just the situation (at hand), it’s ‘where are we at in the year, what’s going on with the player?’ It matters. They’re still human beings. When we lose the human being factor, that’s when I get irritated.”
It took me 6,378 characters to get to the end of that last paragraph. That’s 45-and-change tweets. Sure, it’s probably lazy to fire off a “you never played the game” response, but perhaps that kind of response is easier to understand when you understand the context. Sometimes it’s an emotional response in defense of a wrongly-besmirched teammate. Sometimes it’s a defensive retort to a poorly-thought-out or genuinely wrong criticism. And sometimes, it’s just a shorter way of saying “I’m not sure you fully appreciate the human element of the situation at hand here, especially as it is framed by the larger picture of an entire season of the everyday grind of a long and often arduous baseball season.”
But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Today’s music recommendation is “Me Veras Volver (Hits & Mas) by Soda Stereo. I heard it playing in the clubhouse today and looked it up. They’re the first really successful latino rock band, and they’re from Argentina. Their heyday was the 80s and 90s, and while that’s all well and good, my next question was “who is responsible for playing an 80s band from Argentina?” The answer: A.J. Griffin.
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)
During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or a tweet here.
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