December 1, 2014

More than just a game: the power of sports

According to Horace Mann, education unites us. “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” In high school, we learned that Mann meant democracy needs an education system in order to survive. If all citizens are educated, everyone is capable of actively participating in such a political structure.

But I’m not here to talk politics, education policy, or the roots of democracy in this country. No, I’m here to talk about something nearer and dearer to my heart: sports. I’d like to offer them up as yet another great equalizer.

Sports provide a window into far more than just who scored more touchdowns, who threw more strikeouts, or who scored more baskets. Sports can reflect human tendencies and help us learn about ourselves and those around us.

I have a lot of personal theories about the value of sports, the merits of following a team or a league and finding oneself wrapped up in these outcomes far beyond one’s own control. I think sports fans and followers get a lot out of the commitment they put in. But that’s not why I’m writing about this.

I’m writing because I see further implications for those who might not be following a sport yet at all. Beyond the philosophical and psychological effects, sports accomplish a few simpler things as well.

So here’s why your winter break homework should be to watch an NCAA football bowl game, get emotionally invested in the college football playoffs, or watch three basketball games on Christmas Day.

Sports give people something to talk about. Sure, any topic can prompt conversation, but sports are maddeningly close to universal, as most people are familiar with top stories in the sports world. Water cooler talk on a Monday morning? The NFL, fantasy sports teams, and that Johnny Manziel fumble.

It’s a great way to connect with someone about his or her hometown, too. Someone from Columbus, Ohio will probably wax poetic about the Ohio State football team, while somebody from Buffalo can tell you about the trials and tribulations of being a Bills fan these days (until this year, at least). It’s personal, but also opinion-oriented, a way to see how this person approaches her life, through the allegiances she’s chosen or inherited.

In middle school, we learned the reasons to stay abreast of current events, and I’m here to argue that sporting events should be a part of that category.

I’ve broken the ice with new professors and countless acquaintances by asking for a hometown, then probing as to whether the sports allegiance was there, as well. You get fun facts, too, like my friend who is from Ohio but is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan…but also a Baltimore Orioles fan.

My evidence here is anecdotal at best, but my point, I hope, is clear. Following sports gives you a whole new avenue of human interaction. It gives you the personal satisfaction of having something to check online, to rely on, to hope for, but to be disappointed by, too.

Sports can be aggravating, because sports are outside our control. But that makes them interesting, too. TV shows are outside of our control, but there’s someone, a producer, a writer, somebody, who ultimately makes the decisions. Someone knows how the show will end long before the public does.

But with sports, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Outcomes depend on many moving parts, and though one big moment can be the determining factor—a walk-off home run, a no-hit performance—nobody knows how it’s going to end until it does. This can lead to aggravation but also makes everything that happens even more genuine, more real, and easier to celebrate or mourn.

Maybe this is just why I love sports. It’s hard to sum up, and it’s a love that’s always changing based on the moment. Maybe this isn’t a level of caring that you ever want to attain, but humor me and watch a game—some game—over break, and watch the benefits you’ll reap at holiday parties, the first day of classes in January, and onward. Everybody should be a sports fan, and I’m here campaigning for this to start with the conversion of our entire campus into sports fans.