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Pots & pans: From sports to politics to life, we must face our truths, problems and all

If we are increasingly willing to ignore facts, we’ll end up in real trouble

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced three new inductees for the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York: Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell. On Thursday, the NBA announced the starters for February’s All-Star Game. The sports pundits marched out a phalanx of statistics to defend or attack the decisions of the Hall of Fame and NBA All-Star voters, including leaving Russell Westbrook out of the Western Conference’s starting lineup.

Going into Thursday’s All-Star Game announcement, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard was averaging more than 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists per game. Meanwhile, outfielder Barry Bonds, the top position player of his era, and Roger Clemens, the top pitcher of his era — the steroid era — fell short of election to the hall, prompting a new round of an old conversation: the morality of including Bonds and Clemens, all-time greats, in the hall, though they might have been cheaters.

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park on October 7, 2001 in San Francisco, California.

Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers at AT&T Park on October 7, 2001 in San Francisco, California.

Sporting News via Getty Images

The Hall of Fame and NBA All-Star Game votes and the exclusion of Bonds (762 home runs, 2,935 hits and seven MVP awards) and Clemens (354 victories, 4,672 strikeouts and seven Cy Young Awards) from Cooperstown show how we think of sports is similar to thinking and behaving now in our general society: rooting important arguments and decisions in facts (often another word for statistics) and making stark and definitive moral judgments.

In sports, everything from choosing fantasy sports teams to selecting the teams that will play for big-time college football national championships is rooted in statistics and statistical analysis, wins and losses and strength of schedules. Further, in sports, everything from a player making an obscene gesture to a pro franchise abandoning one city for another can prompt earnest discussions about right and wrong, revenge, rehabilitation and forgiveness.

But in the nation’s public policy, we too often allow ideology and political maneuvering to render facts moot, especially when those facts support inconvenient truths such as global climate change. And morality, if it is acknowledged at all, is presumed to be the province of specific parties or ideologies, instead of governing our thinking, decisions and actions. From public education to health care, we focus more on the politics of changing public policy than the efficacy and morality of making the changes.

Consequently, our nation, a house divided, struggles to stand: We’re a people who talk to one another without a common political vocabulary, a people who seek to silence dissenting voices. We’re a people who seek to move without common direction, a people who would solve our problems without a consensus of what those problems are, or a common moral purpose to guide our actions.

Years from now, after we have survived these challenging times, historians will look back and laud the actions of some of today’s Americans: Those Americans will pull their heads out of their hands, they will seek consensus and comity, they will argue for what’s right with the wit, wisdom and knowledge of back-porch sports conversations — those Americans will fight to make America the country it was always meant to be.

They will bear witness. They will keep watch and keep score and act accordingly, one place and then another and another. And another …

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.