Chicago can come together via sports

Longtime Chicago sports writer Fred Mitchell has felt the wrath of racial segregation during his 41 year career at the Chicago Tribune. Although the city’s team reflect aspects of the divide in Chicago, Mitchell believes that citizens can look to these teams differently, and see how people of different origin can work together.

In a city like Chicago, where the words “multiculturalism” and “diversity” only scratch the surface in terms of describing the largest metropolitan city in the Midwest, there is a wide variety of cultural diffusion.

This highly segregated city a hot spot for art, music, sports, and entertainment, and in a setting that is practically defined by the differences of its inhabitants, many Chicagoans rally around the town’s sports teams. And in part, the city’s teams and fan bases actually reflect these very differences.

“For myself, growing up on the south side of Chicago as part of a hard working family, I follow a certain approach to my everyday life that was instilled in me by my parents from an early age,” said Shawn Lipson, a 25 year old construction worker from the city’s Pilsen neighborhood.

Like a lot of south siders, Lipson and his family root for the Chicago White Sox when it comes time to enjoy America’s pastime.

“As a family, we always watched the Chicago White Sox because we’ve embraced the same blue collar mentality that this team stands for. Our team might not spend as much money as the Cubs do, but the White Sox have never afraid to get their nose dirty in order to compete with some of the richer clubs,” Lipson explained.

Before
Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.

Similarly, Stephanie Christopher’s family cheers for the White Sox because when she was a child those were the only baseball games her family could afford to go to.

“My sister and I grew up in Little Italy, and our parents worked for the city. We always went to more White Sox games because honestly they were a lot more affordable,” said Christopher.

Guaranteed Rate Field
Area outside Guaranteed Rate Field.

Conversely, Tyler Green and his family said that he and his siblings were raised only to root for the Cubs. Growing up in Lakeview, he said that Cubs baseball was like a religion, “In my opinion, the Cubs are Chicago’s team, and I could never see myself cheering for the Sox,” offered Green.

According to longtime sports journalist Fred Mitchell, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune for 41 years, this longtime disparity between Cubs and White Sox fans is a microcosm of a reality that exceeds far beyond Chicago’s baseball sphere.

Mitchell
Head shot of adjunct professor Fred Mitchell, courtesy of DePaul University

“It’s always sort of been the elephant in the room conversation about the Cubs and the White Sox and the north siders and the south siders,” Mitchell explained. “The south siders are sort of generalized by referring to them as sort of blue collared, and the north siders are the more affluent. And a lot of the paranoia from south siders and White Sox fans has emanated because of the fact that they feel they’re thought of as being inferior,” he added.

Mitchell began his sports writing career at the Tribune in early 1970s, and as an African American man himself, he felt the effects of segregation throughout the course of his prolific career.

“Well certainly early on in my career there were bumps in the road shall we say. I remember getting letters, name calling, death threats,” he recounted.

“I remember the first time my picture appeared in the newspaper, because before it used to be just the byline, but when my picture appeared then I got some reaction. People would say ‘oh, I thought you were white, the way you write’ or something like that. Like you know, a backhanded compliment. So I would get that kind of feedback, and I always sort of felt that I had something to prove with each new editor that came in. I felt like I had to show him or her what I was capable of doing,” said Mitchell, who now serves as an adjunct professor at DePaul University.

But according to the award winning writer, the citizens of Chicago who may feel divided by race or nationality, or by their socio-economic standing, should actually look to sports for inspiration.

“The unique thing about sports, is that teams are comprised of athletes from various ethnic groups. So to the extent that Chicago is considered one of if not the most segregated city in America, to have athletic teams that are comprised of whites and African Americans and Asians and Hispanics, pulling together on the same team, I think is admirable,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell believes that the common people of Chicago from all neighborhoods could look to winning teams in professional sports as a sort of utopia in the sense that embody unity despite whatever racial differences exist in a locker room, “and I think that ordinary citizens should take to heart what can be accomplished if everybody works together for a common goal,” he emphasized.

wrigley sign

The 2005 Chicago White Sox, and the 2016 Chicago Cubs both exemplified this practice.