On Tuesday night, I watched the ESPN documentary Catching Hell directed by Alex Gibney.
The film debuted at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival, and it was excellent.
The show's premise is to explore how society typically tries to simplify failure. Rather than see all of the miscues that contribute to not succeeding, people tend to focus on one shortcoming or perceived shortcoming to create a "scapegoat."
"Catching Hell" focuses on two such scapegoats in baseball history--one being that of Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman.
In October of 2003 at a Cubs playoff game, Bartman, along with seven other fans reached out to catch a foul ball that was hit near the stands.
Bartman's hand was closest and interfered with Cubs outfielder Moises Alou causing the player to miss the ball--and what would have been an out.
What happened next to Steve Bartman, in the short and long term, was shameful.
Television coverage and announcers singled out Bartman.
A near riot at the stadium ensued.
His face invoked anger among fans.
Talking heads like ESPN and ABC's Michael Wilbon spoke of "hatred" for Steve. Really, hatred...
He received multiple death threats.
Then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (the same character who was later impeached and convicted of a range of crimes) fueled the fires by trying to be funny in announcing that there would be "no pardon" for the young man.
The press published Steve Bartman's name and home address--police then had to provide 24 hour security at his residence.
His life was forever altered.
Even almost ten years later, Bartman lives the life of a hermit living and working in the Chicago area.
His friends say that he put the incident behind him, but to preserve his family's privacy, he won't even apply for a credit card--trying to prevent some still angry fan from tracking him down.
All this for simply trying to catch a foul ball at a game.
Something almost anyone else in the same situation would have done.
Strange how life is.
One unsung hero from this sad tale was Erika Amundsen who worked security during the game. She helped Steve escape the angry mob at the stadium and hid him in a secured area until the game ended.
She then helped him to change his appearance, and led him away from the stadium where she tried to secure a cab--so that Steve could get home.
When Steve was recognized on the streets, the pair fled to Erika's nearby apartment where she allowed him to take refuge until the early hours of the morning.
She risked her personal safety and offered her own residence to someone that she had never met--a person who could have been a serial killer for all she knew.
But, she just saw him as a person in need.
Erika was finally able to get a vehicle to shuttle Steve home.
With the show detailing her compassion and courage, I hope that Erika's actions are now recognized and rewarded.
It is not something that many folks would have done.
In any event, the documentary is moving and well worth your time.
Though if you are a sports fan like me, it will have you reflect on priorities and how low on the list that sports should actually be.
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