When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks, does America believe her?
Recent surveys suggest not. A New York Times/CBS poll conducted in early July showed that 67 percent of voters found Clinton to be neither trustworthy nor honest. Perhaps even more damning, 47 percent of registered voters surveyed by Morning Consult said the word “corrupt” was a fit description for the Democratic presidential nominee just one month prior.
Anyone who has read or watched a news report in 2016 needs not ask why. Media outlets across the world report on issues and controversies surrounding Clinton on a daily basis, whether they concern her emails, her family’s charitable foundation or her allegedly questionable health status.
Though these issues have been reported on extensively, they can still feel too complicated to fully understand or too polarized for any voter in America to get an unbiased view. While your distant uncle’s Facebook’s status may claim Clinton’s choice to use a non-State Department email server should be enough grounds to convict her for treason, truthfully, how many of us, your distant uncle included, can fathom the extent to which Clinton’s choice of an email server does or does not compromise national security?
So let’s step away for a moment from the issues dominating news cycles, the importance of which I do not deny, to try to understand Clinton’s political problem in a different way — by exploring the Democratic presidential nominee’s foray into sports fandom, a world where fans are as unforgiving, self-important and loyal to the point of delusion as partisan voters. Though few and far between, Clinton’s documented experiences with professional sports fandom can help explain why millions of Americans have reservations about the trustworthiness of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.
Fandom is one of the most basic aspects of engaging with professional sports teams. At its most elementary form, fandom involves openly supporting the team you love, resenting the rivals of your favorite team and refusing to root for another team, especially a rival team or a championship team, just because your favorite group is in a slump.
Clinton, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, has openly presented herself as a Chicago Cubs fan, and has donned her team’s gear in public appearances dating back to the early ’90s. While serving as first lady in 1994, Clinton even threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Cubs’ opening day game.
In a world where the Clintons are a clean-cut, so-uncontroversial-they-are-boring family, this article ends here. However, not even Clinton’s sports fandom can escape criticism.
On June 10, 1999, then-President Bill Clinton and then-first lady Hillary Clinton welcomed the reigning World Series Champion New York Yankees to the White House — customary presidential happenings. In a series of unconventional moves, however, it was the first lady who opened the ceremony, and she who donned the Yankees cap offered to her by then-Yankees manager Joe Torre.
In an appearance on the “Today” show the following day, Hillary Clinton asserted that she had “always been a Yankees fan.” Katie Couric, speaking for the rest of America, asked Clinton, “I thought you were a Cubs fan,” to which Clinton replied, ‘’I am a Cubs fan, but I needed an American League team because when you’re from Chicago, you cannot root for both the Cubs and the Sox. I mean, there’s a dividing line that you can’t cross there. So as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.’’
For any fan, even a fan of the star-crossed team that is the Chicago Cubs, rooting for another team, much less the New York Yankees, is suspect. Nevertheless, it is still within the realm of believable sports fandom to favor a team that does not pose a direct threat to your favorite one.
However, it was the fact that Clinton made a show of her alleged lifelong Yankee fandom just one week after she announced that she was forming an exploratory committee for the Senate seat in New York that caught the attention of reporters across the country. For Clinton to suddenly express her support for the Yankees at a most politically opportune time is, well, untrustworthy. Or at least it made her look that way.
And this is where Clinton’s problem lies. In her 2004 autobiography “Living History,” Clinton fought off those allegations of pandering to her New York constituents — briefly detailing her admiration of Mickey Mantle since childhood with a photo of herself, donning a Yankees cap five years before any of her New York political ambitions began in earnest. Nevertheless, this is just one of the many instances when Clinton put herself in a situation where suspicious activity, political or sports-related, was entirely plausible.
Because, in the best-case scenario, you take Clinton at her word. But a similar situation happens again. And then a third time. And for someone like Clinton, whose life has endured intense media scrutiny for decades — so intense, in fact, that it allowed me, a person who was four years old in 1999, to write a column about what Hillary Clinton said about baseball in the late ’90s — these little problems add up.