It's a cool October 2003 night in Chicago, and I feel like the luckiest person on the face of the planet. My parents somehow scored tickets to the hottest game in town: the Chicago Cubs vs. the Florida Marlins, in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. As a 13-year-old diehard Cubs fan, I am sure this will be the pinnacle of my life.
The Cubs were cruising along with a 3-0 lead entering the 8th inning, with their ace pitcher on the mound. The packed stadium, along with the thousands of fans outside the stadium, are buzzing with anticipation as it seems certain the Cubs will reach their first World Series since 1945.
Suddenly, a foul ball makes its way toward me and I instinctually reach up to catch it. I missed it, but someone else didn't.
That man's name was Steve Bartman. He didn't catch the ball — he caught hell.
By reaching out and touching the ball, Bartman possibly prevented Cubs outfielder Moises Alou from making a spectacular play that would have been the second out of the inning. Instead, the Cubs proceeded to commit an error, combined with questionable managing decisions, which ultimately led to them giving up eight runs in the inning en route to losing the game.
When the crowd discovered what Bartman had done, beer and food began to fly down from the upper deck, along with chants of profanity. No longer able to guarantee his safety, Cubs security took him out of his seat and waited hours until they felt it was safe for Bartman to return home.
Shaken from the experience, Bartman may have thought he would be able to return to his life as an everyday Cubs fan — until he saw the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times the next day.
The paper posted Bartman's name, place of employment, and the suburb where he lived, preventing any possibility of him returning to his normal life.
After this information was published, not only was Bartman subject to harassment, intimidation, and even death threats, but even his mother became a target of this vile behavior.
After giving a brief statement of apology, Bartman disappeared, allegedly to Florida, to avoid his newfound "fame." Despite being offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to appear at sports conventions or even in Super Bowl commercials in the following years, he remained committed to preserving what was left of his privacy.
For the first time since that incident, Bartman briefly broke his silence on Monday when the Cubs, who finally broke their curse and won the World Series last year, presented Bartman with a World Series ring.
His entire statement is moving and worth reading in its entirety, but one part was particularly poignant in today's climate: "My hope is that we all can learn from my experience to view sports as entertainment and prevent harsh scapegoating, and to challenge the media and opportunistic profiteers to conduct business ethically by respecting personal privacy rights and not exploit any individual to advance their own self-interest or economic gain."
Across the political spectrum, there has been a movement to erase the privacy of political opponents in attempts to intimidate and harass them into silence. In the language of sports, many political operatives today wish to win their debates by forcing their opponents to forfeit, rather than facing them in a fair contest of ideas.
For example, in Arizona, the Phoenix Coyotes were looking to taxpayers to finance a new stadium. When the Goldwater Institute came out in opposition to this proposal, a dead rabbit was left at the front door of an employee's home.
In the Washington area, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai (and his wife and two young children) was harassed in May by "net neutrality" supporters who swarmed his home and took pictures of the inside.
In a rush to mobilize against those whose views or actions we oppose, we don't take the time to consider the lasting impact and damage we can cause by violating their privacy.
If we want to change this, it has to begin with a cultural shift. The media, sports fans, and social media aficionados alike should stop eroding the personal privacy of those we disagree with and treat them more like human beings.
Then again, as someone who also suffered trauma as a child during that infamous play, I think I should get a championship ring, too. I'll make an exception for the Cubs and give them my address.
Eric Peterson (@IllinoisEric89) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity.
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