When 9/11 happened some 19 years ago, I wrote about how my family, including my kids, turned to sports as a way to cope. As a parent I found relief and pleasure watching my kids play football, basketball, baseball, and swimming. So we ask, can Americans cope in a world without sports?
As a writer, I wrote about sporting events and people as a therapeutic way to deal with the mind-chilling images and disturbances that 9/11 generated.
Now we have the coronavirus, a cataclysmic event like 9/11 but different in many ways. One difference is that sports have been postponed or canceled for what appears to be a much longer time than the short interruption of sports after 9/11.
These tough realities we know and must come to terms with. We will be without the NBA for an entire season and Major League Baseball for at least another month.
What really stings is that the 2019 Summer Olympics have been postponed. This one hurts me especially.
There are few things I find more moving them watching American swimmers compete in the Games after having spent practically their whole lives practicing to get there. In pools constantly and mostly in obscurity, they have been preparing to get one moment of glory in front of the world on the medal stand.
The sacrifices swimmers make, with their heads underwater for vast chunks of their childhoods, are beyond awesome. It’s an irrational undertaking in many respects. I would go so far as to say it’s sad because so much of their lives must be set aside, including friendships, to become world-class swimmers. It will be tough to have to wait to see America’s swimmers in the Olympics in 2021.
The one sports treat we won’t get that hits the hardest for many Americans is undoubtedly the cancellation of the March Madness basketball tournament.
Right around this time every year, we would normally be talking about the brackets, upsets, buzzer-beaters, and Cinderella teams. Husbands, wives, kids, coworkers – just about everybody – would be engaged in the bracket discussions.
Right about now we would be unified as a country around this one national sports treasure: the college basketball tournament.
Right about now we would be interacting often with our friends and family talking about how many of the teams we picked to advance in the tournament were still alive to win the whole thing.
This is the one sporting event we could always count on, every year, to deliver drama, unexpected results and fun conversations. So many sports get built up but, in the end, don’t deliver the excitement.
March Madness always came through every year, without fail. Delivering something to be surprised at, every year, the tournament spawned compelling storylines that engage us and make us hope that some team out of nowhere would cut down the championship nets.
What I miss is that feeling of hope you get that some team could shock the world. In March Madness, it has happened over and over for decades. I miss that hopeful feeling, dreaming big for some team from a small college.
This year, sadly, we won’t get that hope.
I miss dreaming big for some team from a small college. The country’s annual opportunity to unite around the TV sets has been taken away by a wicked virus beyond anyone’s control.
These are melancholic days, for sure. But it’s not the end of the world. When 9/11 hit, I thought the world would be changed forever. In a sense, it was. But in a sense, it wasn’t.
Sports didn’t really change. We still loved sports after 9/11. Sports continued to give our lives richness. We could get away from the daily and mundane concerns, such as how to pay the bills, by tuning into sports, thinking about something else besides how difficult life can sometimes be.
In America, sports provides an oasis. It’s warm water from a showerhead on a stiff neck. It’s a root beer float. It’s a beautiful painting. It’s a wonderful wonder, a thing to wrap your arms around.
Sports are a place to go relax, to ease your mind, to interact with other people, they get excited, to forget about what’s irritating us, to halt interpersonal conflicts. Sports bring us together. Sports slow us down, enable us to think that life is good and really believe that in our hearts.
Ironically, because of the pandemic, we are being told we cannot be together. And we cannot enjoy live sports. We can’t go watch them, we can’t play them, we can’t count on them happening anytime soon.
Our kids are now being deprived of Spring sports. My heart hurts especially for Little League baseball players, who have been deprived of one of the most precious experiences a young boy will ever have. Those kids didn’t do anything wrong. But the truth is they’ll never get this season back.
Viewed more philosophically, it’s a good thing, I suppose, to spend some time without sports. It gets us to think about other things, to maybe read a book about something else, make a phone call, take in some TedTalks about psychology or inspiration or how civilization became what it is today.
We are now in situations where we are talking with each other about other subjects we probably never would have had this crisis not happened. We are learning different things about the people in our lives, and that’s good.
Without sports, we are learning that we can explore more than being sports fans and athletes. Without sports, we are being forced to explore other aspects of life we may never have. Without sports, we are gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be human beings.
But I don’t want this to go on for too long. Sports are deeply ingrained in my spirit and, I believe, the American spirit. It’s where many of us have enjoyed some of our best moments in life.
You know what totally rocks? Winning championships, scoring the winning bucket, hitting the game-winning home run or – even better – watching your children do these things. These experiences enrich the human experience in ways few things can.
The rest of our lives often make more sense in the context of sports. We learn that be practicing diligently in sports we get better and can achieve goals and success. That lesson applies to various other avenues of life. Yes, sports is one of life’s best laboratories for learning how to persist, to get along, and to lose.
And that’s why we need sports to come back.
The question is when.
Will you be back soon, Sports?
We can be sure of this. Life will be better when You return. We will probably appreciate You more than we ever have. We will savor the moments You give more than ever.
We will never take for granted how fortunate we are to have Sports in our lives.
We need You.
We love You.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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