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Cardinals' Playoff Success Dampened By Ferguson Protests

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The St. Louis Cardinals face elimination in the Major League Baseball playoffs tonight. They're down three games to one in their series with the San Francisco Giants. The game will be played on Giant's turf. St. Louis is still tense. In the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, reporter John Biewen went to a Cardinals' game earlier in the playoffs to see how those tensions are affecting fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM LINE)

JOHN BIEWEN, BYLINE: It's game day in the National League Division Series - Cardinals and Dodgers. Tens of thousands of fans dressed in red descend on the bars around Busch Stadium in the heart of St. Louis.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAR NOISE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Here we go. I'm going to give this to you. Let's go Cards. Let's go Cards. Let's go Cards.

(MUSIC)

BIEWEN: Thabiti Lewis grew up in the city and now teaches here at Washington University. He notes that faces of color are few and far between.

THABITI LEWIS: I really feel like I'm in Portland, Oregon. I mean, it's really eerie to me.

BIEWEN: African-American attendance at Cardinals games has been sparse for years. Some say the team’s racial makeup doesn’t help. The Cards don’t have a single Africa-American player on their active roster.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

BIEWEN: On this day, maybe the most newsworthy appearance by African-Americans at Busch Stadium is a protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: (Chanting) Justice for Mike Brown. Justice for Mike Brown.

BIEWEN: Demonstrators just outside the stadium are chanting justice for Mike Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson. Video of the protest was posted by Argus Streaming News. Inside the stadium gate, some white Cardinals fans take up a counter-chant in support of Darren Wilson, the white officer who killed Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: Let's go Darren.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: Justice for Mike Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #2: Let's go Darren.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS #1: Justice for Mike Brown.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Left fielder Matt Holliday.

(CHEERING)

BIEWEN: Inside the stadium, things are more peaceful. I ask fan Ryan Ehler if sports can unite communities.

RYAN EHLER: I think it tries. I think that there still are -

(YELLING)

R. EHLER: Inequalities in this world. I think that brings that together.

BIEWEN: Noting the large black population in St. Louis, I ask Ehler to sum up who is at the game tonight.

R. EHLER: About 80 percent white.

BIEWEN: You think that's all?

R. EHLER: Probably 85 to 90. I would say that a lot of the folks that are in yellow are African-American.

BIEWEN: Ehler nods at the concession workers around the stadium.

UNIDENTIFIED CONCESSION WORKER: Cold beer, cold beer. Right here, cold beer.

R. EHLER: They look like St. Louis.

BIEWEN: Ehler’s wife, Sarah, interjects.

SARAH EHLER: They look like East St. Louis.

R. EHLER: Yeah. St. Louis has always been a racially divided city.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)

BIEWEN: About 10 miles away, game day is much quieter. I stop in at a barbershop looking for Cardinals fans.

TOM HENLEY: Prime Time Barbershop - Ferguson, Missouri, I know that’s what everyone wanted to hear. In Ferguson, Missouri. (Laughter) Ground Zero what they call it.

BIEWEN: Barber Tony Henley says, sure, he’s a Cardinals fan. But lately he hasn’t been paying much attention.

HENLEY: Right now, there’s something bigger going on in St. Louis than the Cardinals. We got bigger problems to deal with.

BIEWEN: Henley says he’s been active in the street protests sparked by the Brown shooting, and that right now his city needs justice more than the National League pennant. For NPR News, I'm John Biewen.

BLOCK: John is with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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