aNewDomain — We’ve all heard people who are lukewarm about sports, or aren’t fans at all, say something like, “It’s an outrage how much money pro athletes make!” Or, “Why are these guys seen as heroes when all they do is play a game?”
I can understand that the headlines about athletes’ huge contracts — and the illegal indulgences that some get involved in — may make ordinary people working at ordinary jobs, specifically not playing a game for a living, be cynical.
Athletes get paid all that money because someone is willing to pay to support them. Why? The easy answer is because society needs those athletes, with their rare blend of talent, discipline, drive and youth. We need to see, hear and read about the exploits of individuals who feel they were born to win and hate to lose.
But that’s not the full story.
North Carolina Tar Heels Baseball via Wikimedia Commons.
Why do sports really matter? It’s the story of an athlete, the stories behind great games, the stories of great champions — human stories that are a crucial part of sports’ importance for us. One of my favorite sports stories comes from Major League Baseball. On July 23rd, 2009, Mark Buehrle pitched a perfect game — at the time the 18th perfect game in MLB history — for the Chicago White Sox. That’s thrilling if you’re a baseball fan.
But there’s a deeper story behind that event, which goes as follows.
When driving to the stadium a few hours before the game, Buehrle forgot part of his pre-game ritual on days when he pitched at home: He forgot to buy himself a Rock Star energy drink. When he realized his terrible oversight, he texted his wife a message from the dugout, telling her he’d forgotten his drink and was, therefore, likely to have a terribly bad game.
Now that’s a great sports story!
And then there’s the story of Miracle On Ice from the 1980 Winter Olympics. These are the kinds of stories that we can find everywhere in sports, behind the events and the logos and the big money, stories that resonate for us.
Transcendent, Unifying Traditions
Sports bring people together — maybe people who wouldn’t normally like each other, or whose paths would never cross. Sports electrify and unite entire cities or regions and give people of disparate backgrounds, cultures and professions something to cheer about together. Even when people get to arguing with each other about teams, players and games it’s usually a “friendly fight” — unless it’s a matter of the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.
A Break from The Usual Morbid Headlines
Sports news is refreshing against the endless barrage of politics, law suits, murders, car wrecks and plane crashes in the news. There’s an old tried and true (and cynical) proverb in journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” This refers to the fact that bad news usually outsells good news. That’s why there are so many horrific or, in the case of politics, divisive headlines. Human beings’ brains are genetically pre-programmed to respond to fight or flight when it comes to “bad stuff” in order to survive.
However, in our modern world most of that bad stuff that we worry about never happens. We live in an astounding, wondrous and sometimes miraculous era of history because of how well we’ve adapted the planet to ourselves. But news outlets need to make sales, and Big Media pounds us with “bad stuff,” appealing to the primitive, tribal brain. Even reports of bad weather get more play than those about lovely weather.
This changes when it comes to sports.
Sports news enlivens us. Even news of a crushing defeat suffered by our favorite team somehow invigorates instead of depressing us (well, in the long run). If there was just one reason to need sports, this would be reason enough.
The Unsexy Discipline that Brings Happiness
When we study or try for ourselves the day-to-day discipline and focus required of professional athletes, we gain a far better perspective on what it takes to find success and make our dreams come true. It requires a unique amount “unsexy” discipline. This unsexy discipline is what lies behind all the glamour and money of athletes, letting them stand as a reminder of what is possible, and what must be done to achieve our imagined possibilities.
Faceoff Calgary Hitmen vs Lethbridge Hurricanes via Wikimedia Commons
Sports remind us that life really is about having a great time … and having a great time requires work. If I imagine an anthropologist looking at us from the future, I’m not sure what he thinks professional sports say about a civilization, one that feels compelled to pay athletes millions of dollars to show us how all how to have a really great time. But in the here and now I know I do make a choice to fork over money to great athletes who inspire me instead of giving it to celebrities who dumb down music or constantly talk and talk about things they know nothing about.
Watching millionaire adults jump up and down with the thrill of victory or gnash their teeth in the agony of defeat reminds us that if we lose our childlike-ness there’s really not much point in life.
The intensity of victory or defeat can only be felt by athletes who have prepared and practiced for their sports all their lives. Their intense passion about something reminds us all to keep our own inner fires of passion burning, even in the face of misunderstanding or indifference from others.
A Healthy Life
Finally, sports remind us that intense, purposeful movement is essential for good health. You don’t even have to play competitive sports to appreciate this. You can go running, kayaking, skiing, hybrid biking, shooting arrows, whacking a racquetball all by yourself or do some other physical activity that involves no competitors and no teams — and still get it.
LeBron James via Wikimedia Commons.
I love the rather new concept of the sport of fitness because it is for everyday people who understand that their bodies are meant to move and feel incredibly good. By taking part in the “sport of fitness”, the everyday person will catch the gist of what the serious, paid athlete is working so hard for.
So, if you’re a passionate sports fan, I hope you now feel vindicated instead of guilty. And if you’re not among the sports fans … well, I hope you’re beginning to get a better understanding of those of us who are.
New England Patriots Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons