Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why do we like sports?

The recent death of Cardinal pitcher Josh Hancock has caused me to think about my emotional connection to sports, which are essentially games played by people I don't know but somehow feel I do. Two sports bloggers expressed what I was feeling much more eloquently than I could and I highly recommend them to you. They are "R.I.P., Josh Hancock," at for April 30, 2007 (, written by Will Leitch, and "On Perspective," on for April 30, 2007, by Larry Boros.

For happier reasons we like sports, I turn to my son Nick Renkoski who actually took the time to answer my posted question when I was wondering why no one asks men why they like sports. Here's his post, largely unedited.

In April of 2003 a 13-year-old girl forgot the words to “The Star Spangled Banner” on national television. It was Game Four of the NBA playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks. Little Natalie Gilbert, chosen by fans to sing the song falters around the "twilight's last gleaming" part. This has happened before and it's always embarrassing. Usually the mortified melodist simply treads through it, alone and forlorn, while players and coaches watch on stone-faced. And this appeared to be the case this time, until Mo Cheeks walked over to Gilbert, took her under her arm and began singing with her.

Gilbert regains her confidence and gets back on track, and most stunningly of all the entire arena begins singing as well. After "the home of the brave," Gilbert and Cheeks, who have probably never met before, exchange a hug. This is the kind of moment that can only occur in sports. Sports present us with the unexpected with such frequency it’s amazing that ESPN prognosticators can even keep a job. Usually these stirring cases of unpredictability come in the form of an upset victory or a rousing comeback, but sometimes, every so often if you pay enough attention, sports has the capacity to remind us that it doesn't matter what Stephen A. Smith or Peter Gammons say is going to happen, it doesn't matter what the Vegas odds are, or it doesn't even matter if the Trailblazers beat the Mavericks tonight, because there are things like class and helping those in need, and selflessness that are more important. Sports reminds us of that.

And then there are the games.

We watch on the promise that we might see something we've never seen before, and sports delivers this just often enough to keep us satisfied. We watch to the last minute because of Doug Flutie and Kirk Gibson and Christian Laettner. We watch because they provide the same twists and subplots as our favorite TV shows, but sports can create the emotion in the characters and extract the elation or despair out of us that a soap opera or sitcom can only dream of.

We watch because we've created heroes and villains already, and we must hold faith that the hero will win out. We watch because we must believe that things like will, drive, and determination mean something. We watch because for once we can see issues being resolved on an equal playing field. The size of the basket is the same on both ends, every team gets 27 outs to win the game, the same rules apply for both teams. We watch because we think they're fair, when in the case of Curt Flood, Jack Trice, Katie Hnida, Len Bias, and Josh Gibson they aren't.

We watch because we believe that the good outweighs things coming out of Barry Bonds' locker, the underground history of Maple Leaf Gardens, anything Mike Tyson has ever said, or the ultimate story--double homicide in Brentwood. We watch because once there was a young man from Kentucky with a devastating left hook who used sports as a soapbox for social change. We watch sports because occasionally we see men and women exert all the strength and grace the human body can produce for no other reason than the joy that it can be done.


Blogger Liz Lidgett said...

beautifully written.

1:32 AM  

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