'BLO IT RIGHT BY 'EM: Fans at Harvard Exercise Right to Democracy

Thank god Harvard isn’t like the World Baseball Classic.

I say this not because I dislike diversity, baseball, globalization, or international cooperation.

I didn’t even recoil at the utterly sad and somewhat ironic inability of the United States to beat Mexico and Canada.

No, I’m thankful Harvard isn’t like the World Baseball Classic for one reason only: I love democracy.

To be more specific, I love the freedom of speech as much as I love athletics, and I love the two even more when they’re blended together.

And in the World Baseball Classic—on March 13, 2006, hidden in a thicket of good feelings and mostly good baseball—Fidel Castro’s Cuba reared its ugly head.

During the early rounds, on the way to a 7-3 loss to the Dominican Republic, but long before Japan would upend the Cubans in the final, several rowdy fans were causing a disturbance in Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

These enterprising individuals had coordinated the customized lettering on their shirts to spell out “ABAJO FIDEL”—roughly translated, in English, as “Down With Fidel”—when they stood next to each other. They also displayed a smaller, similar sign with the same message.

Before long, however, security guards came to take the sign away. The authorities also demanded that the fans either change their shirts or exit the ballpark altogether.

After an inning-long confrontation in the fifth, these noble fans eventually agreed to put their second shirts back on, kowtowing to the authorities and Cuban fans’ menacing chants of “Fuera!” (“Get out!”).

Here in the United States, the story didn’t get a lot of press beyond a brief discussion in the Associated Press game story.

Apparently, the Classic’s organizers had made the decision long ago to ban signs with political messages in order to comply with an agreement made with Cuba, whose participation hinged on such a requirement.

To be honest, though, this is unacceptable.

And, more than that, any true American should be outraged.

Arguably, the fundamental right of sports fans to heckle opponents and draw large letters on their chests is why so many of our parents moved to this country in the first place.

Now don’t start writing letters to me about how the World Baseball Classic is a private event, or how explosive politics don’t belong at games, or how the animating spirit behind such a policy might be analogous to that of hate speech codes on college campuses. I’ve heard it all before.

And I know that the strategy of those young, anti-Castro dissidents is exactly what we ought to be applauding, not just in the United States but especially here at Harvard, from Lavietes Pavilion to Harvard Stadium.

At last weekend’s women’s water polo game against Brown, for example, a hardy crew of fans exemplified this ideal at Blodgett Pool. They gathered—much like their anti-authoritarian brethren in Puerto Rico—to paint the phrase “I Heart MOLLY” across their bare chests.

Senior Molly Mehaffey responded in turn, fighting off a brutish and one might say oppressive Brown defense. The Bears would surrender two goals to her vicious aquatic low-post game, tallies that would serve as all of Harvard’s scoring output on the night.

And more famously, perhaps, you’re familiar with junior Jarred Brown, the paragon of Harvard fandom for the past three years. Since his freshman year, the men’s hockey enthusiast has been a fixture at Bright and other venues, noticeably attending games while sporting a shirt with a big “H” on it.

A “shirt,” that is, created entirely out of red fabric paint.

“It stains clothing and it kind of stains my skin for a couple days sometimes,” Brown says, “but it’s worth it.”

He has already bought his tickets to Albany, N.Y., for the NCAA Tournament, where red-hot Harvard will face off against Maine in the first round.

His advice to you?

Join him. And possibly give him a ride, because he doesn’t have one yet.

Oh, and one more thing.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve worn a kilt and flip-flops when it’s only 15 degrees outside,” Brown says. “In all seriousness, it’s a lot of fun. There’s sort of an adrenaline rush involved too, which is good, because otherwise I’d probably get frostbite.”

You hear that, World Baseball Classic?

Here in Cambridge, that translates into “God bless America.”

—Staff writer Pablo S. Torre can be reached at torre@fas.harvard.edu.

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