At face value, sports can entertain us. Every city wants a stadium to fill with people and television networks want the rights to broadcast games because people are interested in them. But it goes much, much deeper than that.
Sports can connect. They've brought me to hug people in the stands I didn't even know, but who were wearing the same color shirt as I was. They've led me to become friends with unlikely strangers, and given me a topic to discuss with people I had nothing else in common with. But most importantly, they've allowed me to grow closer to those I love.
I grew up watching St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Bears games with my dad. When there was a bogus call, we’d yell at the television together. When our teams won, we celebrated together. And when our teams were miserable, as the Bears have been for several years now, we were miserable together.
Sports will always remind me of those times of bringing us together. Many of you probably have similar experiences spending time with people in your life.
Sports can also define. We self-proclaim ourselves fans, paying homage to our loyalty to teams on license plates, with wardrobe choices and sometimes even through the naming of children. We even think of how our teams fair in competition as something ‘we’ experience, even though it’s the athletes, not us, competing, winning and losing.
Sports can divide, in a good way. The historic rivalries of the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox, Auburn versus Alabama or UNC versus. Duke will always bring a storyline. And it’ll always provide an easy scapegoat to blame our problems, or an enemy to hate with a passion.
Sports can distract. During World War II, president Franklin D. Roosevelt famously wrote a letter to MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis giving him the green light for baseball to continue into the war.
“There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before,” Roosevelt wrote after the country declared war. “And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their mind off their work even more than before.”
A long road lay ahead of the country at that time, but sports helped keep some normalcy in the lives of Americans. On a much less serious level, today we unwind from the day or temporarily take our mind off of problems in life by watching sports. It's an escape.
Sports can help us rebound. My last year of high school, I tore my ACL and had to put in a lot of hard work just to relearn walking, driving and getting back to the basic things I enjoyed. I learned plenty about myself in the process.
Outside of my own experience, everyone can root for a good redemption story. In high school, college and professional sports, athletes hit rock bottom in competition or life, then scratch and claw back to the top. Sports gives us a medium to value and understand the journey people go through.
Sports explain and explore larger issues. Some may say, ‘stick to sports,’ but that hasn’t often been possible in the history of these games. The industry allows us to explore issues in race, politics, gender relations and just about anything else imaginable. It isn't hard to see the connection points.
After 9/11, the first pitch of President Bush in the 2001 World Series was much bigger than baseball. The kneeling of football players speaks beyond football, as did the salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics have meaning beyond running around a track.
Stephen Piscotty being traded to the Oakland A's last year to be closer to his mom, who was fighting ALS, was not about baseball. But through it, grief, loss, disease and human compassion, all parts of life, could be explored.
Sports speak in a million ways and bring us just as many connection points with the other parts of our being. These were just a few reasons that came to my mind, the ones that matter and make me want to explore a career writing about everything else through sports.
Truly, sports aren’t just about the games, the stats or entertainment. They're about life.
And that's why I love them. Maybe it's why you do too.
@DTHSports | firstname.lastname@example.org