Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Robinson Cano Felt Pressure Stretching Far Beyond Baseball

Without the Yankees, Robinson Cano never would have had the opportunity to represent the Dominican Republic.

Cano conceded as much after it was learned that he concealed an injury from Joe Girardi to play in the World Baseball Classic.

He appears remorseful. He appears above all else to have learned his lesson.

However, Cano pointed to an interesting catalyst for his secrecy: PRESSURE.

Pressure is a word commonly associated with sports and its prized athletes, but it is a word that takes on a much different connotation within the context of international competition.

Cano was not feeling pressure to perform for a stadium of 50,000 fans. He was not pressured to play for a large contract to support his family for generations to come.

Cano was feeling the weight of approximately 9.5 million Dominican citizens on his shoulders. They are citizens as passionate about the game of baseball as anything else in their lives.

Cano is not only an example and role model for Dominicans. He also represents countless black and Spanish-speaking cultures throughout the United States.

It is hard for many of us to understand what he is going through. The United States is not as focused or committed to the WBC as other countries.

This disconnect is similar to recent years of international basketball competition, before a powerful rebirth of pride and nationalism during the Beijing Olympics.

While sports in the US are a form of entertainment or a means of escaping life’s problems, they take on a more powerful message outside of our borders.

In many countries, professional athletes symbolize the freedoms that their societies one day hope to achieve.

Sports are much more than entertainment here; they are a means of escaping a lower quality of life or a government that persecutes them.

Does this sound at all familiar to readers? It should remind you of what occurred in our own country during times of segregation and race wars.

Sports became much more than entertainment from the 40s through the 60s here as well.

They became a symbol of progression and equality. They provided a medium for viewing blacks and whites working together to achieve a common goal.

The bravery and determination displayed by Fritz Pollard, Earl Lloyd, Jackie Robinson, and Larry Doby may have been as instrumental in forcing change as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s efforts.

Black athletes were able to reach white audiences regardless of their beliefs. If whites wanted to support the Brooklyn Dodgers, they had to watch Jackie Robinson.

Now imagine if Doby, Willie Mays, or Robinson chose not to play on a roster composed of black stars.

The fans and culture that turned to them for hope would be left wondering how much they truly meant.

Athletes are never left wondering how much they mean to their international fans.

Watching the passion resonate throughout the stands during the Venezuela-Puerto Rico matchup was as exciting as the game played on the field.

Venezuelan fans even forcefully booed their own countryman Magglio Ordonez for his support of Hugo Chavez’s regime.

Athletes are more than role models in foreign countries; they can represent an influence and a powerful voice for the people of a nation in flux.

Cano was faced with much more than letting down his Dominican teammates. He was running the risk of turning his back on a nation that depends on people like him to make change.

It is very difficult for me to agree with Cano’s thought process in hiding an injury from the Yankees.

However, I find it even more difficult to fault him for following his heart.

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