I was going to write about the biggest story in America today — Deflategate, the story that has jumped off the sports pages and become front page news, the story that NBC News broke into regular programming for this week in a “special report,” the story that dominated the Sunday morning talk shows. I was going to write about whether or not Bill Belichick or Tom Brady may have lied about doctoring the footballs against NFL rules, and what it could mean for their legacies.
And then Ernie Banks died, and it all seemed so unseemly.
“I guess my critics say: He must be crazy,” Banks once said. “Nothing can be that beautiful. But when you think that there are so many people around the world who have nothing, you realize how lucky you are to be making a living in the big leagues. There’s an unbelievable, indescribable love for baseball in Wrigley Field.”
Banks was one of the greatest players of the 20th century — the greatest power hitting shortstop ever. He was an 11-time All Star, a two-time National League Most Valuable Player who hit 40 or more home runs five times, including 47 in 1958. The following season, Banks hit 43 home runs and drove in 143 runs — as a shortstop. He played his entire career with the Chicago Cubs, 19 seasons, finishing with 512 home runs and 1,636 RBI.
His numbers are staggering, yet what do we remember Banks for? His decency.
“You must try to generate happiness within yourself,” he once said. “If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anyplace.”
That man died Friday night. And we’re supposed to care about someone like Belichick today?
We’re supposed to put the spotlight on the guy who, in the wake of yet another cheating scandal that he is implicated in, responded like this:
“The National Football League is investigating this situation. We have cooperated fully, quickly and completely with every request that they have made; [we] continue to be cooperative in any way that we can. I have no explanation for what happened. That’s what they’re looking into. So I can’t comment on what they’re doing. That’s something that you should talk to them about.”
They are on the opposite sides of the humanity spectrum, Banks and Belichick. Oh, we are to believe that deep down, in a corner somewhere under that hoodie, that Belichick is really a decent person. Jim Brown once declared in a Boston Globe profile that he “loved” Belichick, who helped Brown with his work with gang youth and prisoners — as if this absolves Belichick from the poison he spreads publicly, as if this shields him from treating people with decency.
It’s the mob boss defense — look at the hospital wings and school libraries he has built, how can this man be dark of heart?
Banks? His heart was like the sun, warming everyone around him.
“It all comes down to friendship, treating people right” — the world according to Banks.
The irony is that Banks never won a championship, and was part of the legendary Cubs collapse in 1969 against the Miracle Mets. Belichick has won three Super Bowls, five AFC titles and is now appearing in his sixth Super Bowl.
Yet Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian award in the United States, recognized those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
That’s a champion.
“It means everything to me,” Banks said, when the announcement came in 2013 that he would receive the honor. “It means everything to me. It means life is just wonderful. When you do things to try to help people and share things, it really comes back to you.”
And when you treat people like they are less than human, it really comes back to you as well.
Banks built up a Fort Knox vault of goodwill. Belichick has a vault, too, only his is filled with venom, and it’s gushing out now with the attacks against him. Deflategate isn’t about air in a football. It’s about justice towards someone whose public currency for people has been contempt.
It’s about payback.
Ernie Banks died Friday at the age of 83. His currency was happiness.