Baseball: America’s pastime, Football: America’s game, Basketball: Back-to-back Olympic gold medalists, and soccer: a game America is wildly mediocre at, but unites a country together during the world cup. These 4 sports provide more than a sense of leisure and freedom for fans. These sports are pastimes and memories; they are vivid moments in people’s lives that they will forever remember. Sporting events are more than a game, the event itself is a community effort, providing an emotional connection between people of every race, creed and color. These events simultaneously unite and infuriate. As former commissioner of baseball, Bartlett Giamatti says “sports can be viewed as a popular or debased religion.” However, Giamatti sees sporting events as a “paradise” where the spectators can feel free. While I disagree with this theory, I agree with his argument that athletics make the spectator feel godlike. It is this godlike aspect of sports that bring communities together and unite under a common cause.
College and professional sports are no longer a leisurely activity. Both college and professional athletes dedicate countless hours of hard work and commitment just as the working man does in his profession. While athletes put in hours of physical work, fans are fully invested emotionally, ultimately experiencing happiness and joy, and at times, frustration and agony. Fans also invest money attending events, purchasing keepsakes, or entertaining fellow fans during these events. Being a dedicated fan of a professional or college team is more than a hobby; it is a commitment and becomes a lifestyle.
I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my life to attend historic sporting events, and have experienced firsthand what the concept of sports mean to people. I was in Atlanta when the unsung hero, Spike Albrecht, put on the performance of his life, and almost carried Michigan to its first NCAA Championship since the fab 5. The performance where a 3-star recruit silenced the nation and the millions of people watching him. Millions of hoping Michigan alumni and fans felt a sense of success that they had not felt in ages. Spike, as well as the rest of the team’s performance, united the world’s largest alumni network around one game.
I also had the privilege of going to the 2008 NBA All-Star game in New Orleans. Following Hurricane Katrina, this event was more than a meaningless game where NBA all-stars put forth a lackadaisically effort. This game brought together a devastated community and provided the hope and promise of new beginnings. While in New Orleans, my father and I took a trip to the Ninth Ward, where we built houses with NBA stars, including Kobe Bryant, as part of Habitat for Humanity. Although building a house with Kobe had minimal effect on the community, it was surreal to be a part of history and be directly involved in an event that inspired an entire community.
Athletes are more then just gifted individuals, they are role models that inspire kids of all ages. Spike went viral in one day, and every young, small point guard aspired to be like him. With the age of social media, public figures are constantly in the spotlight. However, this spot light also highlights the dark side of humanity. Domestic violence and racism are just some of the controversial issues in the NFL right now. Some blame Commissioner Goodell, some blame the individuals, either way the NFL is now under pressure to clean up its act while the athletes involved have disappointed the communities that they are supposed to inspire.
As of Sunday, the country lost arguably the greatest role model in all of sports, the Captain, Derek Jeter. Of course I am a little biased growing up a Yankee fan, but there is no better individual in today’s cynical world of sports than Derek Jeter. Over his 20 year career, he was a winner, on and off the field. He won five World Series trophies to accompany his individual awards. But the Captain was more than a winner. He was sportsmanship in every sense of the word. Jeter stayed loyal to his city and never left New York. He was an inspiration to every young Yankee fan, and his retirement symbolizes an end of an era. Jeter was as godlike to Yankee fans, and even baseball fans as a whole, as any athlete has ever been. RE2PECT.
In contrary to Jeter, Lebron James abandoned the city where he was born and raised, the city that he promised a championship. In a public relations move that made Lebron the villain, he publically embarrassed Cleveland when he “took his talents” to South Beach. However, with a renewed sense of loyalty to his hometown, Lebron is back, and is committed to bringing a championship to Northern Ohio. Lebron’s goals this year are more than just to win an NBA Championship for himself. He has worked tirelessly this summer on the court, enhancing his physical abilities, and off the court, recruiting players in order to field the best team possible to support his efforts. Lebron’s homecoming is more than a just a superstar signing a big contract, it is the greatest player in the game feeling a sense of commitment and responsibility to the city that raised him. An athlete putting his community ahead of his own financial rewards.
Lebron’s coming home, Jeter’s retiring, and Spike is still infamous for his final four performance, but what is the significance? According to Giamatti, these individuals are godlike in the minds of fans. We, the fans worship them, for they give us the opportunity to feel the special bond to the game.