Humans value sports for much more than victory and glory.
To some, sports may have a very brutish reputation. Just a bunch of people running around acting like animals. And to what end? Maybe that’s not the right question to ask.
It’s not really what we are trying to achieve that makes sports so valuable to humanity. After all, the sun always comes up the day after a loss. Rather, it is what sports allow us to access that makes them so important to us. Most people would say the main objective of a sport may is to win or to be the best. And I’d say that’s a fair statement, but the objective of the activity shouldn’t be confused with the PURPOSE or the VALUE of sport. We value sports because they allow us to access the roots and essence of our own humanity. As a society, we continue to play sports because they allow us to connect with our humanity, and remind us what an incredible species we are.
It is the competition of sport that brings the best out of humans, both physically and mentally. It is in those moments of intense pressure and high adrenaline that athletes find the will to dig deeper and discover the true limits of human capacity. Those who witness such magical moments can’t help but be inspired, and reminded of the beauty of humanity. It is Michael Jordan playing through the flu that reminds us about the power of the will. It is Dee Gordon dedicating a home run to his late friend and teammate Jose Fernandez that reminds us of our human bond. And it is David Tyree clutching a football against his helmet as he crashes to the turf which reminds us, that with a moment of intense focus, we can create our own miracles.
Naysayers will have you believe that sports fuel hatred or that sports evoke primal instincts that have no place in a civilized society. I’d say this is a severe misreading of competition and its value.
Competition may be fierce at times, but the organized competition of sports is more about us challenging one another to be better so that we may be better as a whole. Look at the fierce rivalry between O’Dell Beckham and Josh Norman. Every time they play they both take their game to the next level. Although they bicker and fight, this is simply a byproduct of their passion. At the end of the day, I think we all have to acknowledge that they elevate and improve one another. Iron sharpens iron and greatness sharpens greatness. Competition may produce a winner and a loser, but in sports this is only a temporary outcome. There is always a chance to get back up and get back to work, and it is competition that motivates the will to improve.
Although the rivalries can be intense, we as humans tend to understand what is important and when it is appropriate to put aside our competitive rivalry to celebrate our humanity. The best recent example of this is the dwindling career of David Ortiz. The long-time face of the Boston Red Sox baseball club, Ortiz has been hated by New York Yankees fans, and he has been booed each time he’s stepped up to bat at Yankee Stadium. But in his final game at Yankee Stadium, the fans gave him a standing ovation, showing the ultimate respect for such a remarkable person and player. Rivalries may be intense and we may root for different teams, but we can all celebrate the amazing feats of humanity and give respect where respect is due.
Sports don’t just provide us with a path to discovering the limits of our humanity. Sports have also given us some moments that remind us what it means to be human.
During the 1992 Olympics, British track runner Derek Redmond tore his hamstring while running the 400-meter dash. In agony, Redmond decided to finish the race and began to limp down the track, his right leg barely operable. Then, Redmond’s father emerged from the bleachers and fought through several security guards. He jogged up next to his injured son. Redmond leaned on his dad, sobbing, as the two finished the race together.
Sports give us a medium through which to connect to other human beings, whether we know them or not.
I think of the friendship of Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus, goofing around on the left side of the infield. I also think of Dee Gordon hitting a home run in his first at-bat after the death of his dear friend Jose Fernandez. I think of Andrew luck congratulating the defensive lineman after being slammed into the ground.
I think of Lebron James, who managed to form a lifelong bond with an entire city when he brought Cleveland its first championship in over 50 years.
I think of Arrowhead on a September Sunday afternoon. A building full of 79,000 strangers who celebrate a common cause and band together to set a world record, twice. (142.2 Decibels to be exact.)
Sport is an artform. It is the canvas on which we exhibit our being, our essence, our humanity.
Sport is not the daily stats and scores rolling through the ESPN Bottom Line. Sport is Michael Jordan winning his fourth championship on Father’s Day, and then dedicating that win to his late father.
Sport is not a medal count. Sport is the world coming together to celebrate a common passion.
Sport is the dogpile at the mound after a World Series win. Sport is the agony in Tiger Woods’ face as he wins the US Open with a broken leg and torn ACL. Sport is Lebron James coming back to Cleveland to fulfill a promise he made to his hometown.
Sport is a little kid putting his very first baseball glove under his pillow while he sleeps. Sport is the thumbs up of a high school football player as he leaves the field on a stretcher. Sport is tailgating with your family and then cheering at the top of your lungs as the final seconds tick off the clock.
Sport is us. And we are sports.