Amid riots, Nuggets' Will Barton hosts BBQ in Baltimore | Will Barton

Amid riots, Nuggets' Will Barton hosts BBQ in Baltimore


Tuning into the news on Tuesday meant watching police hold back protesters. It meant images of National Guardsmen wearing head-to-toe protective gear and holding thick plastic shields as rocks and blocks of cement, thrown by protestors fed up with the conditions in inner-city Baltimore, sailed toward them.
A small portion of the city's residents were gaining the majority of the attention. These images told one story. Walking around the city, and following on Twitter, told another.

New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore and has a long history with the city's police, expressed his support for the community and his shared frustration, while imploring protestors to remain peaceful.

Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton took it a step further. He came home to Baltimore and threw a party.

Barton, 24, asked coaches to bring their teams. He gave neighborhood kids an opportunity to express their frustrations on the basketball court, in a non-violent way. He asked community leaders to start a conversation. He gave everyone somewhere to be, somewhere away from the violence erupting downtown, instead of asking them to just stay home.

Barton capitalized on the fame that comes with playing in the NBA, understanding that as a professional athlete, he could quickly spread the word about the party. More than 500 people showed up, ESPN's Kevin Van Valkenburg told Yahoo Sports in an email.

There were "loosely-defined pick-up games and dancers and young people and old people gathering, talking, hugging, laughing," he said.

It doesn't take NBA fame to know that giving people a place to be, gathering somewhere is the first step towards healing. As Van Valkenburg explored the city – the parts not shown on most news channels – he found other stories like this. He felt safe. 

Baltimore is a city of tight-knit neighborhoods. Many of them have been underserved for far too long, yet they are strong. They have coaches, teachers and mentors who do anything they can to keep the community together and to steer kids down a better path than they might otherwise follow. They recognize that sports, that getting together at a community basketball court, can often offer a way for people to put differences aside and come together. This is the real Baltimore. 

At almost the exact moment that Barton gathered the community at the Cloverdale Courts, the Baltimore Orioles made a remarkably different announcement: that their Wednesday afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox would be closed to the public, a first for Major League Baseball, and that their three-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Rays would be moved to Florida. 

League officials said the decision came down to the best use of city resources. Hosting the games would take police away from the riot zones. They had a point, but they also missed an opportunity. 

They missed the message that Barton clearly understood: sports, and sports figures, have the power to bring a community together in a peaceful way. When healing is needed, sporting events can provide a way for a city to come together and begin the process. They're a neutral ground for those who follow the religion of sport.

In the case of Baltimore, Camden Yards is one of the few places where the residents of the inner-city neighborhoods and the wealthy suburbs actually find common ground. These communities are going to need to come together, to find common ground, if Baltimore is going to begin to heal.

Speaking in a pre-game press conference Wednesday, Orioles outfield Adam Jones added that gathering in a stadium can be just as important for players as it is for fans.

“I’ve been in contact with some of the people on the front line, people who are marching,” he said. “This situation is not easy…. I understand the situation that these kids face. It’s not that long ago I was catching public transportation to the mall (like them). Baseball pushed me in a different direction.

“I wish we had fans to help with the healing,” Jones said. “Sports bring people together.”

Yet if any healing is going to start in Baltimore this weekend, it will not be at a gathering hosted by one of the city's beloved teams. Camden Yards is closed for business. The Baltimore Ravens have cancelled an NFL Draft party planned for Thursday evening, too.

The cameras will likely focus on the empty stadium today. People tuning in from home will see the heart of the city, empty.

For the second day in a row, then, the cameras will not be showing the full story. Go to the neighborhoods, venture to the courts where Barton is gathering kids, teams, coaches, community leaders, and the images there will tell another story entirely.


Danielle Elliot | Yahoo! Sports | April 29, 2015




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