I read an article a while back, towards the beginning of summer, about why we need less sports. The article, written by Norman Chad, incites anger and shock at first glance, and by first glance I mean reading the title. Naturally, in an age of impatient and distracted young adults, news is driven by catchy headlines while readers tend to ignore anything past the first two paragraphs. Of course when I actually dove into Chad’s article it proved to be completely different than I expected. It was thoughtful, well-intentioned, and opinionated without being inflammatory (imagine that). I can’t say I disagree with Chad’s article – sports can at times dominate our brains in such a fashion that we lose sight of other more important parts of our lives – but the headline still gets me. For those of us whose lives predominately revolve around sports, saying we need less sports feels like an attack on us personally. Yet, for the first few months of summer that is exactly what we had, less sports. And even as the MLB resumed last night, we were interrupted with yet another delay, this time because of rain. So again, us sports viewers had time to focus on other areas of life, and I took the time to reflect on Chad’s article, and the largest gap in time of my life, sportless.
In the months without sports our country endured social chaos. Arguments over masks and civil liberties, science and conjecture, racial equality and police brutality. During other volatile times of the past, sports were with us. 9/11 – the MLB resumed games a week later, with the Mets and Yankees notably wearing FDNY and NYPD caps in place of their usual team hats. Boston Marathon Bombing – The Red Sox played just a day after, swapping the Red Sox across their home jerseys for Boston. Even during personal tragedy, say a player’s parent dies, the response is always the same – it’s an escape, a distraction, a place to go lose your worries and just play ball. For the fans it can act much the same. But over the past few months we didn’t need a distraction, we needed to face some things head on, and in some respects that attitude will be needed for much longer than just a few months. But now that these issues are in front of us, undeniably so, we can use sports to our advantage.
Much in the same way sports can distract us from tragedy and hardship, it can also distract us from prejudices, politics, and many other things that can divide us. In baseball you have players Bo Bichette, whose father played pro baseball, who has been immersed in the game his entire life. You have a player like Felix Hernandez, a 19-year-old from Venezuela taken into a foreign city and beloved through a postseason-less 15 year career that birthed “The King’s Court” and shimmers in the glow of a Cy Young. You have players that have defected from other countries to play here, players who couldn’t even afford a glove growing up, players that left family behind, players that speak a hundred other languages than English. There are players who struggle with drug addiction, players who have extreme political views, and then there are guys like Mike Trout who stay out of the public eye. All of these differences are irrelevant (for the most part), or put aside once they step between the lines. The same can be said for fans, if you have the same hat on – best buds – if you’re wearing my archrival’s gear – you get the stink eye. All it takes is one common goal, one thing to unite us, and we can achieve greatness. That is the beauty of sports.
Now as sports return into the fold, while social crusades are still being fought, we need to use what sports have taught us. We need to remember our differences do not limit our capabilities or prevent us from achieving greatness. If players who don’t speak the same language can come together, find commonalities and help each other succeed, what in God’s name is preventing us from doing the same. If a player from affluent upbringings can become best friends with a player who didn’t have a pot to piss in, because of a ball and a bat, then we can do the same for a much more important reason. We need sports to remind us all what we are capable of, no matter who stands beside us.