Sports has always brought out a fevered pitch reaction from fans. Sporting events create great memories, great lessons, and can serve as a great unifier. Sports can also rally beleaguered people out of their despair and malaise. Sports is about inspiration, and challenge. More than just wins and losses, sports can teach us about the ability to win with class and lose with grace.
History gives us so many examples.
In WWII many of America’s athletes went to war. The owners of several major league baseball teams decided to form the “All American Girls Professional Baseball League”. Initially created as a moneymaker the league soon became incredibly popular as it gave the country something to cheer for during a time of war. The league became so popular it played on for nine years after the war ended.
There have been times when individual athletes inspired people to do more, be more, or overcome more. Boxer James J. Braddock did just that at the height of the great depression. In 1934 Braddock was down on his luck as a fighter, striving desperately to feed his family and forced to take government welfare. He earned a chance to get back in the ring and began to make a name for himself as a heavyweight. In mid-1935, as a 10-1 underdog, Braddock was tapped to fight heavyweight champ Max Baer. It was heralded as the fight of the common man against the times and capstoned in the locker room scene of his biographical movie when his wife told him, “You just remember who you are. You’re the Bulldog of Bergen, and the pride of New Jersey. You’re everybody’s hope, and you’re the champion of my heart.” Depression-era Americans everywhere were inspired when Braddock gave more than he got and won a unanimous decision to become the “Cinderella Man”. Even more so when Braddock took some of his winnings and repaid the welfare department for the money he had drawn during his down days.
Sports moments can also show us when an athlete that we already admire for their skill on the field, is actually far more than an athlete. One of those moments occurred in August, 1982, when a line drive foul hit a four-year-old boy named Jonathan Keane in the head at Fenway Park. Future Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Rice was in the Red Sox dugout that day. When he saw the incident Rice knew that it was a desperate moment and jumped into the crowd. Rice carried the bloody child back to the dugout and urged the Red Sox medical team to treat him. Rice finished the game in a blood-stained uniform. Doctors later said that Rice’s actions had saved the boy’s life. But after visiting the family in the hospital he realized they were not well off and had the boy’s medical bills sent to him. Rice and Keane were reunited recently. Young Jonathan grew up healthy and strong and claims that, even though his memory of the event is gone, that he owes his life to Jim Rice.
But sometimes, in and around sports, things just get a bit on the stupid side. Perhaps one of the most ridiculous moments in modern history came recently when a young nine-year-old fan of the Kansas City Chiefs was accused of being racist by a sports podcast called “Deadspin”. The young boy was decked out at a recent game in full Chiefs regalia, with a jersey, feathered headdress, and facepaint. His image has already become iconic. But the fella’s at Deadspin thought that they could use the magic crutch of racism to get some click bait, and accused the boy of being a white supremacist for wearing what they called “black face”. The kids face was, in fact, painted black…..on one side. Half black, and half red, because those are the colors of the Kansas City Chiefs.
I don’t know what the haters are going to use now. Did anyone really believe that a nine-year-old would head out to a public venue with the intent of putting on a racist presentation? The truth is that he was there for the magical moment that kids dream of when they get to dress up to support their team, wear their favorite jersey, paint their face, eat junk food, and yell and carry on at the all-American pastime.
We need for sports to be sports, pure, simple, and unadulterated. Good times under the lights, with cool breezes, popcorn, and the highs and lows of winning and losing. Sports is the great unifier. It is the great distraction from all of the junk of the regular world. Sports is a place where super people do mythical things and fans call out their names loudly and cheer wildly.
Sports should always be what Terrance Mann, James Earl Jones’ character in the movie “Field of Dreams” described in his perfect baritone: “they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Let sports be sports. We need it.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He previously served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute in Birmingham. Phil currently hosts the conservative news/talkshow Rightside Radio M-F 2-5 pm on multiple channels throughout north Alabama. (WVNN 92.5FM/770AM-Huntsville/Athens; WXJC 101.FM and WYDE 850AM – Birmingham/Cullman.) His column appears weekly throughout Alabama. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of this news source. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to www.rightsideradio.org.