Welcome! Here’s a little something to show you what sports mean to me.
“Sports matter” I say. “ Sports matter.” I repeat, endlessly to anyone who will listen.
I have the unfortunate pleasure of being a sports fan with no sports fan friends. I love my friends but when they say things like, “sports are stupid,” I silently wonder why God hates me. Eventually someone will ask, “why do you like sports so much?” and I’ll answer something like: the mix of artistry and athleticism in figure skating is breathtaking, or the hand-eye coordination in hockey is mind boggling, or watching a hail mary pass in football is nerve wrecking. Those are the reasons I like sports, but they’re not the reasons sports matter.
Sports matter, because when my mom asks what time it is my sister and I both respond with the time and then tack on, “and OU still sucks,” because that’s how we were raised. Stewart family values were taught through my mother’s passion for football. When she said, “You never give up on the ‘horns,” when we were losing in the third quarter, she was teaching us to persevere.
Sports matter, because when I’m at American Airlines Center and the Stars are winning, I forget all the medications I take to get my brain to function. People are cheering all around me and I no longer feel so alone. Having a panic disorder and major depression made high school extremely difficult for me. I had a few close friends but it wasn’t easy for me to connect to others. However, I have never felt uncomfortable at a Stars game because I know I have something in common with the other 19,000 fans surrounding me.
Sports matter, because my sister moved to Australia last year and that makes it hard for us to stay in touch. But without fail, every saturday this fall she called me to talk about college football. Those calls started with her yelling about bad calls, but they would last far beyond just games; Kali is the person I argue with about CTE and doping, she’s the person I defend hockey fights to, and she’s the one who sends me articles on figure skating and frowny faces when the Stars lose.
As you can tell, sports have had a profound impact on my personal life. Without being overly dramatic, sports have saved my life on multiple occasions; Someone once told me that, “sports give you something to cheer for when you can’t cheer for yourself” and that has been my saving grace more than once; Sports have been my saving grace.
However beyond myself, sports matter, because when everyone one told Jesse Owens that he was less than just because of the color of his skin, he didn’t stop running, he set records. Owens’ story is a good example of how sports are a soft power. America holds this moment up to say “we’re better than Hitler.” Which of course overall we are. But, what happened after the 1936 Olympics is rarely talked about. No one talks about how President Roosevelt never called to congratulate Owens. No one talks about how Owens had to use the service entrance at the Waldorf-Astoria during a party set to honor him. No one talks about Luz Long, a german long jumper who befriended Owens in Berlin, giving tips that led to Owens’ third gold medal.
Sports are universal which allows them to be a conduit to other cultures and experiences. Sports are a soft power because you sit down to watch Nancy Kerrigan and end up cheering for the 16 year old from the Ukraine wearing a pink tutu. Sports are powerful, they are used to form a narrative and that narrative can be molded to push whatever story you want people to hear. Sports can be used to change people’s minds and that’s really why sports matter.