Sports’ Role In A Time Of Crisis

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

-      John Lennon, Happy Christmas (War is Over)

In a few days, families will gather to exchange gifts and share some Christmas spirit. Perhaps they’ll take time to ponder the fragile and transcendent nature of our existence. We enter this world in miraculous fashion; too often we exit in a manner, a time, and a place not of our choosing. We leave unfinished business, but the holidays provide an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. My hope is that you’ll use this opportunity to tell those you love exactly how you feel about them. As we’ve seen recently, there may not be another chance.

Like many of you, I find myself with much to reflect on, especially given the horrors of the past few weeks. The Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs are dealing with the unimaginable while trying to play a kid’s game. In so doing, those us who look to sports for escape see the brutal truth that the fantastic and the human are very often separated by a very thin line.

The horrific massacres at Clackamas Town Center and Newtown, CT, reinforce the transient, fragile nature of life. Whether we as a society learn the lessons contained in these tragedies remains to be seen. For my part, I’m hoping that those of us who call ourselves sports fans will take a step back and see the Big Picture. Life is not sports, and sports are not life.

Sports are an escape from the day-to-day grind of living- a diversion from being a husband, a father, a mother, a son, or whatever role we fulfill.

Sports can take your mind off the pressures of finishing a project at work or paying the mortgage. In the end, though, life always comes back into the picture. Remembering what’s truly important is what makes that life worth living.

Sometimes I fear that we lose perspective about what’s valuable and worth celebrating. At times, even our vernacular seems out of whack. I hear the word “magical” tossed around with a frequency and ease that belies the true significance of the word. Watching Russell Wilson dance through an opposing defense as the Seahawks chalk up two consecutive 50-point games is certainly awe-inspiring. To describe such a moment as “magical” is to misunderstand what true magic is.

Magical is the excitement on your child’s face as they open their presents on Christmas morning. Magical is waking up next to your spouse or partner and realizing that you’re not alone on this journey. Magical is walking your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day as you marvel at how quickly your time with her has passed. Life is full of moments like this; the truly magical ones don’t happen between the lines.

I don’t mean to devalue sports or the enjoyment of them. I recognize their place in our lives, and the escape they can provide. As I grow older, I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. I’ve come to understand that sports are fleeting. You may celebrate a championship one day. Come the next day, though, your team is once again at the bottom of the hill, trying to push the same rock to the top.

(Quick question: Who won this year’s World Series? Unless you’re a San Francisco Giants fan, I’m guessing you probably had to think about that for a moment. Now tell me whom they defeated and in how many games. Gotcha, didn’t I?)

Tragedy tends to force us to reflect on the world around us. No one sends their six-year-old off to school suspecting they might never see them alive again. No one sends their spouse Christmas shopping thinking they’ll be assassinated by a madman firing indiscriminately into a crowd. Those are the things that remind us that no victory or championship can supplant the people and relationships that enrich our lives.

A few years ago, while I was still living in Houston, I saw how tragedy brought two traditional rivals together. The stack of firewood being constructed by Texas A&M students for the annual Aggie Bonfire collapsed suddenly, killing 12 and injuring 27. Bonfire was a traditional symbol of the Aggies’ burning desire to “beat the Hell out of t.u.” (the lower case t.u. is deliberate). It was an outlet for the collective Aggie hatred of the University of Texas, especially the Longhorns’ football team. The rivalry went both ways; UT students and alumni looked down on the “hayseeds” at A&M in the same way Aggies disdained the “teasips” from Austin. Two bitter rivals, separated by 60 miles of Texas wasteland, might as well have been on opposite ends of the Earth.

Such was the atmosphere that preceded virtually every Texas-Texas A&M football game during the 20th century. (You think the Civil War is a “rivalry?” Texans know that’s for amateurs.) When the Bonfire collapsed, some of the first people to offer assistance were from UT. Longhorns worked alongside Aggies, helping where they could and offering a shoulder to cry on when all else failed. The Texas-Texas A&M game was played a few days later absent the normal passion and tension. Everyone- whether Aggie or Longhorn- recognized that when you get down to basics, all we really have is each other.

My hope for readers of Oregon Sports News is that you’ll cherish those you love and who love you. I hope you’ll have a safe and happy holiday season, and an equally safe and prosperous 2013. May the truly important things in your life- the people we love- never go a day without the knowledge of how important they are to you. And may the same come back to you.

I’ll leave you with a favorite proverb of mine, a traditional and familiar Gaelic blessing that says it better than I ever could:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you; I’ll see you in 2013.


About Arran Gimba