As an aspiring sports journalist the comment I hear the most is: ” Why do sports even matter?” My answer is always the same vague quip: “Sports is life in an abstract way.”
But that does not always suffice, so in defense of all sports junkies here are my reasons for loving sports and why they really matter in a world climate of terrorism, corporate scandals, reality television and war.
Most importantly, everyone can participate in sports one way or another and sports create a piece of utopia in even the darkest corners of the world. Young men and women in Iraq risk their lives every day and even in the toughest job they are able to find happiness.
In a recent column in Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly describes how troops play baseball in Iraq using an old tennis ball wrapped in toilet paper, bases made of plastic plates and handmade bats.
Sports transcend race, gender and social class; athletes come in every shape, size and color. I still get crossed over by a man with gray hair three times my age on a daily basis at the gym. Sports demand commitment, and dedication. It teaches respect, teamwork and lessons about both the glory of winning and the grace of a good loser.
In everyday sports, anyone has the ability and chance to become a hero that cannot be found in life’ s daily grind. There is the incomparable joy of the underdog defying odds and coming out a winner. In front of your peers, there is nothing better than scoring the game point, hitting the winning single or beating that nearly perfect friend in a friendly game of racquetball.
Sports even play a role in politics and social issues, such is in the case of “the miracle on ice” when the underdog United States hockey team beat the U.S.S.R team for gold in the Olympics during the cold war. There was national hero Jackie Robinson, who defied institutional racism in the United States and paved the way for the future of baseball. Who can forget Muhammad Ali refusing to be drafted and being imprisoned for it, all in the prime of his career? Sports sometimes plays a major role in social commentary.
The late Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren once said, “I always turn to the sports section first. The sports section records people’s accomplishments; the front page (shows) nothing but man’ s failures.”
Political issues can sometimes be a foreign language and what 13-year-old should be thinking about Wal-Mart consuming the American economy anyway? The joy of winning and the crush of defeat are all magnified in sports. The evidence lies in the dog piles, the hugging, the high fives, buttock slaps and the crush of defeat. Imagine a Congressman doing a celebratory dance after a bill is passed or after a heated debate, hugs all around with some Hi-C and pizza.
The late famous actor Humphrey Bogart said it best with ” A hot dog at the ball park is better than steak at the Ritz.” Nothing beats a summer game at Dodger Stadium, paying a ridiculous amount to watch the Lakers at Staples Center, or putting yourself in the middle of the red and yellow at a USC game. The devotion of fans to their teams is religious and inspiring. One of the greatest debates mankind has seen is whether the Yankees suck or not.
Many argue that sports is just an industry with million dollar delinquents, but for every athlete referring to themselves in the third person there are hundreds of kids twisting their ankles on their skateboard, sliding home on asphalt, everyone piling on the hero of the game like flies to a watermelon during a picnic, counting down the time for a buzzard beater against Michael Jordan, turning the driveway into Madison Square Garden, pointing to the left bleachers and predicting the grand slam before mom calls everyone in for dinner, learning the art of trash talking, playing ball in the house next to the vase and the seven foot mirror, planning weekend games and plays during algebra, walking or being carried off the field feeling like the greats of the sport, and praying not to be picked last for the team. It’ s not the professional athletes that drive sports, it’s the common person having fun and enjoying the true essence of sport and loving every moment.
Sports will forever be invaluable to people and will always serve as a teaching tool. Something to keep in mind in sports and in life is, the ball only stops bouncing when you let it.