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The Orioles Won 8-2, But No Fans Were There To Watch

ARUN RATH, HOST:

As the residents of Baltimore await what's next, let's take a look back at an unforgettable scene on Wednesday. The Baltimore Orioles playing the Chicago White Sox in a mostly-empty Camden Yards. No fans in the seats, no vendors or parking lot attendants even. It was surreal. For Dave Zirin, who writes about sports and politics for The Nation, it was symbolic of what he calls a sports-driven apartheid.

DAVE ZIRIN: Oriole Park in Camden Yards is certainly not alone. When I describe this, it's in cities around the country, but the baseball stadium becomes the site of an urban gentrification project that pushes the poor - pushes people of color to the margins. And then the stadium becomes a place that the taxpayers of a city are paying for, yet it's not necessarily a place of fun and games for people who have to work at the stadium.

Just one example of that is in 2007, when many of the workers at Baltimore's Camden Yards went on a hunger strike because their wages were so low. People are then going home from work or going home from protesting at work and going back to their families. And what do the Orioles and Camden Yards represent to those families? Not Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and the possibilities of a World Series. They represent a business that's paying them very low wages and that treats them in a way that's as if they're expendable.

RATH: Dave, earlier this week, you were wanting to hear from some of the players. Let's hear Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.

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ADAM JONES: I feel the pain of these kids. I grew up in similar - similar tracks as them. It's just not easy seeing a community that you - you know, you're trying to affect change in. But it's understandable, because these kids are hurt. And these kids have seen the pain in their parents' eyes, the pains in their grandparents' eyes over decades. And this is their way of speaking on behalf of their parents and behalf of their grandparents.

RATH: Is this what you wanted to hear?

ZIRIN: Yeah. I just wanted them to speak from the heart about their communities. Oftentimes, athletes are able to speak to people in a direct way that other folks can't. And I thought Adam Jones played that role of being that line of communication absolutely brilliantly.

RATH: You've written about how sports played a part in dividing the city of Baltimore. I don't want to sound too corny, but, you know, there have been people - other athletes like Ray Lewis have been very vocal - is there a way that sports could help heal the divide?

ZIRIN: Well, very specifically about Ray Lewis - it would be great if he actually did the less lecturing of people in West Baltimore and more listening. The actions of Adam Jones, saying that he hears the people in West Baltimore, the actions of Carmelo Anthony going to Baltimore to just march with people - frankly, I think that's a lot more beautiful an act.

Absolutely, sports can be a source of community. I saw that happen with my own eyes when I covered New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and saw the way that the Superdome first and foremost was a symbol of sports apartheid, particularly when it became the first place that was refurbished and rebuilt while so many people were still not able to go home. But then when the Saints won the Super Bowl just a couple of years later, it became a source of community.

And it would be a wonderful thing if we could see something similar in Baltimore, but that's not just about people embracing sports. That's about the teams themselves making sure that everybody in Baltimore feels welcome, not only in the stadium, but in the neighborhood around the stadium.

RATH: Dave Zirin writes for The Nation. Dave, thanks so much.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

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RATH: And we want to thank WYPR's Chris Connelly for his help with our reporting from Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.