The beauty of sports
I had my heart broken today.
By Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. It’s been 26 years now since my team shuffled on down to win Super Bowl XX. As of this morning, they were one game away from Super Bowl XLV, but they didn’t really show up, and, worst of all, they lost to the Green Bay Packers, their arch rival and the team I despise more than any other. Having grown up a Bears fan in Chicagoland, there is not a bone in my body that doesn’t hate the Pack.
And that gets into what it is I love so much about sports — and the genre of journalism that follows it.
Sports provide us with entertainment, passion and distraction from daily life. Sports give us incredible highs and lows, and they draw from us raw, unfiltered emotion — from guys, and that’s not easy to do.
Sports make us a part of something larger than ourselves. They give us a community and a cause. Rooting for a team, if you do it right, is a lifelong commitment. It gives us a way to bond with and talk to people we’ve never even met, whom we know nothing about and with whom we maybe have nothing else in common. Sports bring people together. Sometimes — as in the Olympics or World Cup — sports can rally an entire nation.
Sports also drive people apart — but in the best possible way. Rivalries can get nasty, but more often than not they make for excited competition and enthusiastic banter, letting one person be happy today and the other celebrate tomorrow. And even while rivals are hating each other’s team, they are loving each other’s sport.
Sports are reliable, but they’re always new. They happen at the same time every year. Play calling might be ambiguous, but rules don’t change and outcomes are concrete. Someone wins and someone loses — but today’s losers can be and often are tomorrow’s winners.
Sports have beginnings and endings. Every year we get some new players and we say goodbye to others. Every day, some teams emerge triumphant and others are left disappointed, but everyone gets a sense of completion and a clean slate, a fresh start next game, next week or next season. Sports give us continual goals to strive for, all the while knowing perfection is impossible.
Sports are one of the few remaining unscripted and uncontrollable and unpredictable forms of entertainment. Even though analysts and so-called experts predict the winners every season, every week, every game, they often get them wrong. Because of that, sports never lose their surprise and excitement, and there’s never a rerun.
Sports stories involve math, science, history, technology. They express hope, joy, success, sadness, frustration, determination, heartbreak, perseverance, motivation. They reward hard work and punish laziness. They showcase the best and worst of humanity, the highest highs and lowest lows of our journeys.
For journalists, sports bring us every kind of story — and I’m not talking scores and stats. Sports journalism at its best speaks to the truest truths of human existence, the rawest emotions and root experiences that all of us can relate to or see in our own experiences.
From sports we get fallen icons (Tiger Woods) and town heroes (Drew Brees); we get euphoric celebrations (World Series wins) and despondent letdowns (winless seasons). Sports give us idols (Albert Pujols) and villains (Alex Rodriguez), people to love (Peyton Manning) and people to hate (Terrell Owens).
This year alone we’ve seen stories of redemption (Michael Vick), scandal (Cam Newton), leadership (Landon Donovan), faith (the San Francisco Giants), surprise (the Seattle Seahawks), demise (Brett Favre), underdogs (Kansas City Chiefs), accomplishments (UConn women’s basketball) and disappointment (football in the state of Texas).
Not to mention, the money speaks for itself. As wasteful, overpaid, overpriced, self-indulgent — whatever adjective you’d like to use — athletes and stadiums and promotions might seem, clearly the sports industries are doing something right and giving us something we want and maybe even need.
So if you’re tempted to say it’s just a game, don’t. It’s never just a game. It is always so much more than that. Sports are about life, in all its facets.
I’ll forgive the Bears, as will fans of the 30 — 31 in two weeks — other NFL teams no longer alive. We’ll all be ready to go again next season, with high hopes and fresh outlooks. Because that’s what we do. We’re sports fans.