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Ingmar Bergman died at the age of 89 on July 30, 2007.

July 30, 2016

Earlier this week, I wrote about Aroldis Chapman, the new closer for the Chicago Cubs, and whether fans should have any sort of ethical quandary rooting for him (a man who was suspended for 30 games this year for a domestic violence incident) or the team he pitches for. It’s a difficult situation to wrap one’s mind around, one that gets at the heart of what it means to care about recreational activities in any sort of emotional matter in the first place, and I was happy with how the piece turned out. The piece must have gotten around a little bit, because I received more responses than usual, and one of them struck me as particularly fascinating. The emailer, defending the idea that it’s OK to cheer Chapman, said, and I’m paraphrasing slightly, “this is all PC crap. Athletes have been beating up their girlfriends and wives forever. It’s terrible, but it never bothered us before. It’s just now all of a sudden we all are pretending that we care.”

The tone is a little crasser than I’d like — I’ll confess that I am one of those treehuggers who tends to think “political correctness” is more accurately described as “not purposely saying asshole things out loud just to make people you don’t know feel bad” — but it is undeniable that this emailer has a point. Domestic violence did never bother us before. Here is a (very) incomplete list of professional athletes who have been arrested and/or accused of domestic violence in the past that no one thinks of as having had any domestic violence issues: Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bobby Cox, Larry Fitzgerald, Jason Kidd, Bernard King, Randy Moss, Manny Ramirez, Rasheed Wallace. Each of these people were accused of something as bad or worse than what Aroldis Chapman is accused of. But they had the good fortune of having their domestic violence issues happen before Ray Rice. In a social media age, Ray Rice and that elevator video — and remember, none of us cared until we saw the video — changed everything about the way we discussed domestic violence. There was a time that we could considered domestic violence a private situation, an off-the-field issue, a distraction. There was a time when O.J. Simpson could go on Letterman’s show eight months after being arrested for beating Nicole Brown and nobody batted an eye. Not anymore. Every time we look at Aroldis Chapman now, every time we look at Jose Reyes, we see Ray Rice in that elevator. We see Nicole.

The problem with the email is that he misses the point. This isn’t “pretending that we care.” This is, not to put too fine a point on it ... progress. There was a time that athletes battering women was turned a blind eye to. That time is now over. This is a change, sure, but the emailer sees it as some sort of historical inconsistency or hypocrisy as opposed to what it really is: Human beings raising their consciousness, improving, evolving, being better. When someone attempts to strangle a woman, we as a society should never, ever let him forget it. It should be the first thing we think of when we see him. Forever. That we have just started doing that is not the problem; it is the corrective. The problem was how we handled it before.

After the last two weeks of political conventions, this strikes me as a vital, crucial point: Things are getting better. This does not mean that everyone’s life is wonderful right now, that it’s better than it has ever been, that life is a constant upward swing until that glorious peak right before you die. (I suspect that moment will not in fact be pleasant.) It means that humans improve. We are killing each other at a rate lower than any other time in recorded history. (See here.) Violent crime is down. People who have gone decades, centuries without a voice are now being heard. You can be instantly connected to anyone on the planet and any viewpoint within seconds. Social breakthroughs that would have been thought inconceivable as recently as five years ago are the norm now. The NBA, a league whose star player LeBron James said less than a decade ago that he’d have a problem with a gay teammate because it would mean he “couldn’t trust him,” pulls an All-Star Game out of a state because of discriminatory law, and (almost) everyone applauds them for it. (And even those who didn’t applaud understood it was a wise decision.) I know it doesn’t seem that way sometimes. But we really are better to each other than we used to.

This of course doesn’t mean everything is OK, far far from it, or that all’s working out peachy for everybody all the time. But the amount of progress we’ve had even in the last decade is flabbergasting. We’re getting better. Part of getting better, of course, are dealing with people who don’t want to get better. The reason things used to be worse is because people wanted them worse; those people are always going to want to hang on as long as they can. But the world doesn’t go backward. Think of all those things from when you were young that you’d never see today. That’s things getting better. In 30 years, tons of things we’re doing now, we won’t be doing then, because we’ll understand ourselves and each other better. This election season has been difficult to watch at times because, at various intervals, it appeared that every step forward we’d made didn’t matter, that the entire notion of thinking was at stake. But I’ve found myself feeling better of late. I found the President’s speech on Wednesday night almost overwhelmingly powerful in this regard. There is goodness, and power in decency and hard work and mirth and cheer and trusting your fellow humans to do the right thing.

We’re better than we were 20 years ago. We will be better 20 years from now than we are now. We’re never going to entirely get to where we need to go. But we’ll be heading that direction. Our antagonists are the ones who try to hold us back. But they never win.

(Please delete this particular newsletter from your email folders and your memories if circumstances this November might merit it.)

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Should Cubs Fans Feel Bad Rooting for Chapman? Sports On Earth. Yeah, as mentioned: This one turned out well, whatever side you’re on. I’m starting to get the hang of this rubric.

2. Baseball Can Be a Cruel Game. Just Ask Mike Mayers, Sports On Earth. I feel terrible for the kid. But as a Cardinals fan ... I’d rather never see him pitch for my team again, to be entirely honest.

3. Jason Bourne: Punching Down on a Once-Great Franchise, The New Republic. What a total bummer this movie was. I honestly believe United 93 is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and Captain Phillips is fantastic. But Paul Greengrass, man, what happened?

4. Planning the Ultimate NFL Road Trip, 2016, Sports On Earth. It was a long week, the final week with so much travel, and it wore me down a bit. The dopey road trip piece should never rank this high.

5. AFC West Breakdown Heading Into Training Camp, Sports On Earth. The NFL is a much harder to catch up on if you take a month of from thinking about it than other leagues.

6. How Past Trade Deadlines Impacted the Playoffs, Sports On Earth. A classic “I have to file a column on Friday but man I can barely keep my eyes open” column. Sorry.

7. The Orioles Won Our Best MLB Hat Bracket, Sports On Earth. Way to go, Baltimore.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the four (!) podcasts I do. Here they are:

The Will Leitch Experience, no show this week, taping with Alyson Footer on Sunday.

Grierson & Leitch, discussing “Star Trek Beyond,” “Don’t Think Twice” and “The Proposition.” I am now producing these shows, so take a listen and tell me how they sound. (And if I need improvements, I’m taking suggestions!)

Culture Caucus, no show this week.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, this is the last week with no new episode until the football season is over.

Also, I am trying out a new headshot.

It’s the “secretly haunted” look.

Have a great weekend, all. It’s such a relief to be home.

Best,
Will