Comparing the Two Victories of Trump and the Cubs

When people look back on the month of November in 2016, they will likely cite two momentous events that occurred in American culture. One was the shocking victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States. The other was the victory of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series to end their 108 year title drought. Both of these things happened within a week of one another.

There are several similarities between the victories of both Trump and the Cubs. Both involved a result so astonishing that many people couldn’t believe what had happened. Both took fans of opposing sides through emotional rollercoasters on the way to the final result. Both will no doubt cause people to forever remember where they were when the victor in the two contests ultimately prevailed.

But any time when there are comparative similarities, there will also be inevitable differences. The Cubs’ epic World Series victory is not as parallel to Trump’s upset win as many have thought. This doesn’t mean that we can’t all stand in collective amazement at both. But let’s also understand what makes the two legendary wins so unlike one another.

1. The hate factor.

It’s certainly not accurate to say that no one hates either the Cubs or the Indians. All teams have rivals who despise them. The Cubs have the arch nemesis St. Louis Cardinals and the crosstown White Sox on the South Side. The Indians have their rivals within the American League Central where there is no love lost as well. But considering the length of time since each team’s last championship (1908 for the Cubs, 1948 for the Indians), it’s harder for sports fans in general to summon intense hatred for teams who haven’t won in so long.

Meanwhile, the candidates put forward by the Republican and Democratic parties were statistically the most hated presidential candidates in American history. Usually a president actually has to serve a four year term to be unlikeable with a significant portion of the public. But Clinton and Trump were both more unpopular having never served as president than any previous president at the four year mark. Not the kind of record you want to own.

2. One was an upset, the other was not.

Many have cited how the Cubs were big underdogs after falling down three games to one to the Indians in the World Series. But this only makes the North Siders strongly disfavored if you cite a specific time after a specific game that put them in a 3-1 hole. Aside from this brief time, no one had better odds of winning the 2016 World Series than the Cubs. They were widely considered to be the best team in baseball the entire season and ended the regular season with the game’s best record.

Compare this with The Donald and a stark difference emerges. Trump’s candidacy was largely considered to be a joke in many circles. Political pundits and experts were constantly predicting that he couldn’t sustain the momentum that caused him to surge to frontrunner status. His election astonished people because of how it flew in the face of so many pollsters and political scientists who attempt to forecast electoral outcomes.

3. The Cubs were long suffering, Trump was not.

The reason Chicago’s win was so memorable was because of how long they waited to finally get to the top of the baseball world. They had failed for so many years that it had seemed like the moment would never happen. Donald Trump, however, had no such long term suffering. Although he had entertained the idea of running for president in the past, this election marked the first time he had ever taken the plunge. A sports team equivalent of the Trump’s victory would be something along the lines of the 1997 Marlins, 2000 Ravens or 2001 Diamondbacks all winning championships within the first five seasons of their existences.

So for those reasons (and likely many more), the Trump victory and the Cubs victory are not as similar as some may think. They will, however, be forever linked by the fact that they both happened in relative succession to one another. The high emotions surrounding both events will likely also be prevalent in people’s memories for quite some time. But look closer and the pronounced differences will be there as well.

The Population Shifts That Don’t Favor Baseball

With the Major League Baseball playoffs now underway, some of the discussion that seems to always emerge every year centers on the television ratings for the playoff games and the World Series. Some of the talking heads will lament that the ratings aren’t high enough. This is partly unfair since the baseball playoffs take place during football season and the number of people who watch the NFL dwarfs the number for all other American sports comparatively.  But the concern over baseball’s playoff ratings is not entirely without merit. When looking more closely, substantial problems are revealed.

More than any other sport, baseball is dependent on popular teams (almost always from big markets) to drive ratings. The lone World Series the New York Yankees played in during the past decade (2009) was the highest rated during that span. This was despite that series only going six games when two other series during that time frame (2011, 2014) went seven (game sevens drive up overall ratings for any series in any sport). The most recent World Series to rate higher than 2009 was 2004, when the Boston Red Sox finally vanquished the Curse of the Bambino. This was despite that World Series being over in just four games.

In contrast, the NFL does not need big market teams or historically successful franchises in order to get people to watch their playoffs games or the Super Bowl. American sports fans tend to watch the NFL playoffs and NFL Football in general regardless of who is playing. The Super Bowl is such an enormous event that many people watching aren’t even football fans and watch for other reasons (like the commercials). The market size and overall popularity of the teams involved is largely inconsequential.

The NBA is much more dependent on great players making deep playoff runs rather than teams from large markets. But this usually isn’t a problem when it comes time for the NBA Finals since at least one team playing usually has one of the league’s best players.  For example, the ratings for the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers (the two most successful franchises in NBA history) were only marginally higher than the ratings for the finals in 2012 featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat. This happened despite the fact that the 2010 series went seven games and the 2012 match up was over in five. This was, of course, due to the 2012 Finals being a head-to-head contest between Lebron James and Kevin Durant who were arguably the two best players in the game at the time. But in baseball, would ratings for a World Series between an average size market like Miami and a small market like Oklahoma City ever be close to that of one featuring the Red Sox and the Dodgers? My guess would be no.

So if baseball more so relies on popular teams from big markets in order to drive viewership, it is then fair to look into the migration trends for the areas in which the sport is most beloved. The general trend has been that Americans are mostly moving away from areas in which baseball is most important and toward areas where the game’s interest is considerably depleted. States which contain the three most popular MLB teams, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs, lost a total of four US Congressional Districts as a result of the 2010 Census (New York lost two, Massachusetts and Illinois both lost one). Other popular teams such as the Cardinals, Phillies, Indians and Tigers are also located in cities/states where people are leaving. This is, of course, consistent with the general migration pattern in the US for at least the past few decades where the northeast and midwest are losing people and the south and west are gaining them.

In contrast to these classic baseball cities that people are fleeing, the southern and western areas they are migrating to typically do not love the sport with the same kind of passion. Although growing states like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Arizona all have baseball teams, those teams all take a back seat to other teams in their respective states (former ESPN writer Rick Reilly assessed which team in a given American sports city was the most important to the fans in that area here). This leads to the observation many have had that there are more Yankees and Red Sox fans at Tampa Bay’s stadium when those teams visit and more Mets and Phillies fans at Marlins home games featuring those match ups then there are fans of those Florida ball clubs. The south in general is statistically less interested in following baseball than those in the rest of the country.

Thanks to modern technology, people in any part of the country can still watch their favorite teams if they are willing to pay for a special TV package. Thanks to the internet, people can get updated scores for any team at any time. But baseball has more of a regional need than most other sports. I’ve heard many times from many people that they don’t like watching baseball on TV, but they do enjoy going to games at the stadium. Thus, people no longer being within close proximity to the stadiums which feature those popular, big market teams presents a bigger problem for baseball than people moving away from their favorite NFL or NBA team. Football and basketball don’t seem to become less watchable without the live stadium experience to the degree that baseball does.

All of this presents a unique set of problems to baseball going forward. The regional population shifts along with the sport’s over-dependence on popular, big market teams comprises a set of bad ingredients for the future of the game. Baseball can certainly survive this type of difficulty. But one can’t help but wonder how this will influence the status of baseball as a major American sport as these trends continue.

 

Conventional Perception of Leadership Driving Negative Opinions of Cam Newton

The two week lead up to the Super Bowl typically gives enough time for those in the sports media to dwell on seemingly every possible angle before the big game. Usually one or maybe a couple of stories dominate the headlines and sports talk shows. Among those big stories this year seems to be the constant asking of why such a large portion of sports fans across the country hate Carolina Panther’s Quarterback Cam Newton. There appears to be no one clear answer, though several theories persist.

Newton is frequently seen in celebratory mode after scoring touchdowns. His dance routines following scores seem to be what rubs so many people the wrong way. Celebrating in this way is thought to be arrogant and unnecessary by those who criticize him. But if we dig deeper, we see that there are many more layers to Newton’s dislike than merely attributing it to his post-TD rituals.

Unsurprisingly, race has been tossed out by some as a reason for the abundance of Newton’s disfavor. According to this theory, many people don’t like the way Newton conducts himself in celebration because of certain stereotypes that still surround blacks in America. A somewhat related claim has also been made about the urban culture (which applies to some, but not all American blacks) that Newton represents and how it is something that the rest of America has difficulty relating to. But both of these claims fail to address why there isn’t similar disdain for wide receivers and running backs who often dance and express an abundance of emotion after scoring touchdowns. After all, not only is the NFL roughly 2/3 black, but the wide receiver and running back positions are dominated by blacks to an even greater degree. Why would race and culture fuel a resentment of Newton, but not other players who are so frequently of the same race and background?

Much of the answer to that question lies in the position in which Newton has had so much success. Quarterbacks are often referred to as “the face of their team” and even more often as the team’s “leader.” Different standards are applied to leaders than those they lead. Many people prefer leaders to be more reserved emotionally. This gives the perception of a more “grounded” leader who is thought to not let his emotions get the best of him. While others may be off dancing and celebrating, the leader is imagined to be calmer and more level headed in order to deal with the added pressures that come from his job. Thus, when these people see Newton showing the kind of emotion he shows, it flies in the face of what they perceive leadership to look like.

The image of a less emotional and more stoic leader doesn’t just persist in the sports world, but in Hollywood as well. In the climactic scene of the 1995 movie Apollo 13, when it first becomes apparent that the main characters have made it safely back to earth, seemingly everyone in the movie seems to be erupting with emotion by clapping, shouting, hugging, or doing a variety of all three. However, the NASA flight Director (played by Ed Harris) doesn’t do any of these things. He shows a bit of relief as he slumps down into his chair exhausted. This character’s lack of emotion is not by accident. The film’s director, Ron Howard, knew the way he wanted the character to act at the moment that those he led were celebrating. His subdued emotion exemplifies his status as a leader that much of the viewing audience could relate to. Many other movies also portray a leader with these near emotionless characteristics that remain even in times of celebration for other characters that they supervise.

All of this leads us back to Newton and why people are so uncomfortable with the way he celebrates success. Here we have a quarterback and leader of his team showing just as much if not even more emotion than that of the players he leads. Those who don’t like this characteristic of Newton will also find it unsettling that his team has been wildly successful this year despite his unconventional leadership style. If Carolina were a bad or mediocre team, then the narrative would be that Newton could have more success if he were less concerned with dancing and celebrating and more concerned with helping his team win. Well, despite all of that dancing and celebrating, Newton’s team has won more games than any other NFL team this season.

Thanks to Newton, the public may be forced to change the way it perceives NFL quarterbacks and the dynamics of leadership that they provide. Rather than being seen as a negative or a detriment to their team, celebrating in the way that Newton does tells us that leaders can show this kind of emotion and still be considered elite in their position. Future NFL quarterbacks displaying this kind of flair may be favorably compared to Newton rather than being maligned as unserious distractions. But it’s difficult to be among the first top tier quarterbacks to exhibit this kind of unconventionality. Those similar to Newton who come after him might have an easier go of it.