Friday, July 27, 2007

The visceral value of sports


Sitting in the office the other night, I listened intently to a heated argument between one of our newspaper's longest-tenured reporters and our unsympathetic layout guy.

The layout guy claimed that sports — like movies — are nothing more than forms of entertainment. The reporter disagreed, saying that sports are more than a bad comedy. They're not simply games that we watch for entertainment.

I couldn't agree more with the reporter. Sure, sports are probably given way too much attention in the media, and some participants take sports way too seriously, turning games into life-or-death situations. But while losing a game — even a really important game — isn't going to ruin someone's life (well, maybe I'm wrong — how are Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood doing?), what athletes do on the playing surface often affects society more than one might think.

Just take the Detroit Tigers, for instance. Last fall Michigan's economy — like it is now — was in the dumps. People were getting laid off. No jobs were available. College graduates were bailing the state as quickly as possible. Even though I was studying abroad in Australia, I could feel and see the struggles back home.

But everyone in the Metro Detroit area was lifted by the Tigers' miraculous season. People from all over came to downtown Detroit to watch the team, which had lost 119 games three years earlier, put together one of the most amazing seasons in baseball history. Sitting in a hostel in Byron Bay, Australia, I felt chills ripple up and down my back when Magglio Ordonez ended the ALCS with a three-run walk-off home run.

We weren't just being entertained. We were being touched by a sporting event, by a group of baseball players who had come together to achieve the unfathomable and bring us along for the ride. Name me a movie which accomplishes that.

This season the Tigers continue to give hope to the people of this state, many of whom face dire economic situations. Nearly every game is sold out, and TV ratings are as high as ever. I personally can tell you that I'm delaying a move to North Carolina this fall until the Tigers' season is complete.

They are the main reason I'm staying in this state for a couple extra months. When they're doing well, I feel a positive surge. I feel like I can accomplish big things when the Tigers are doing likewise.

The Tigers' relationship with Michiganders is just one example among many of what sports mean in this country.

For many, sports are a way out of difficult circumstances. Sports scholarships are handed out each day, giving athletes from impoverished areas a new lease on life. And for many high school athletes who don't go on to play in college, sports help them compartmentalize their time and become responsible citizens.

Sports also help those in need thanks to the generosity of professional athletes with the funds to help a cause.

And, of course, there are the fans and media. Sports create thousands of jobs for people like myself who enjoy covering the athletes and coaches who make up today's sports landscape. For fans like Detroit's, sports provide an outlet, a distraction, a cause to cheer for when many things in the world no longer make sense.

Call sports entertainment if you want. Call pro athletes nothing more than entertainers.

But when I watched the "My Wish" series on ESPN earlier this summer, which chronicles a group of kids' battles with deadly diseases and their chance to meet their favorites athletes, I knew — as I nearly teared up — that sports are much more meaningful than one might think.


Tyler Hampton said...

I completely agree with you that sports are much more than just entertainment. They have gotten a lot of people through a lot of rough times and they help people live better lives than they normally would. First of all I think that you are delaying your move to North Carolina because that would be way too far away from me. Second of all, Ruben Carter did a pretty good job of moving emotions inside me. Him and his friend Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in the game. I love sports and they definitely move people above real life and the difficulties along with it.

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