Sports have magical quality that unites people and creates excitement beyond a pure business point. For this entry, I want to disregard the money & business aspect for a moment and focus on the idea of sports from the perspective of a fan cheering for his/her team. I want to consider the benefits to society and culture beyond anything money related.
In the past, I did briefly talk about some of the negative aspects of sports as it pertains to society, education, and greedy athletes getting in trouble with the law along with the exploitation by power-hungry colleges/team owners. We know issues exists from both the athletes perspective and the leagues/owners perspective, but it does not make much sense to harp on the negative aspects of sports for too long.
It is too easy to become cynical by seeing some of the negativity & craziness of sports and in the process overlook many of the positive contributions. I want to avoid that cynicism here in this entry. In the end, sports have waaaaay more positive contributions to society and people than any of the negativity surrounding it. There is also another perspective in all this that sometimes gets overlooked in the media and discussions elsewhere – the fans themselves.
Uniting as Fans
Over the years, I have watched basketball, football, boxing, mixed martial arts, some soccer (many around the world call it football), little cricket, and little baseball. Every single one of these sports has massive number of fans and vast global footprints – American football is an exception as it has huge following only in North America.
It is intriguing to see the impacts these sports have on the fans and the excitement felt by fanbases. As fans, we momentarily escape from our everyday hustle and bustle & our own issues, and we momentarily enter the electrifying world of sports. We become mesmerized and united in cheering for our beloved teams & players. There is no divide of culture, gender, politics, age, beliefs, or national borders for the duration of the game as every fan would be united together through purely their belief in their team. Man or woman, 15 or 75, democrat or republican, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, American or Chinese, whatever it may be, everybody is united for the couple hours.
It can also be an occasion to physically bring people together, whether their team is playing or not. The Superbowl is one such obvious example where people gather with family & friends around the nation for parties. Nowadays, the Superbowl has literally become a celebrated festival around the nation. More than 325 million gallons of beer alone is drunk on Superbowl Sunday, which is more than any other day in America – check out this large cool infographic on the Superbowl snacks by mashable. Occasions like the Superbowl go beyond cheering for your favorite teams as you may cheer for a team that may not even be yours for a day. NBA finals and baseball world series are never going to reach the Superbowl level in America since 7-game series limits that possibility. Boxing used to be up there before it fell off the map in popularity and soccer still does in other nations.
Bloodless Competition & Rivalries
For some sports, the celebration may go beyond the borders. For instance, celebrations for the World Cup for global sports such as cricket often go beyond the borders. One such example is India-Pakistan cricket matches over the past several decades due to the long-standing bitter rivalry between the two nations . It is considered one of the biggest rivalries in sports that may not be well known in America where cricket is not played. Around 1 billion people tune in to watch this single matchup globally; entire countries literally shut down for the day and duration of the match with everyone glued to their TV. It can be argued that the two countries go to war with a cricket bats and balls every time they face off in cricket rather than with guns and tanks.
Many other rivalries exist in other sports. Speaking from my perspective, I am a diehard Laker fan. One of the biggest rivalries that exist in American sports is Lakers-Celtics rivalry going back to the 1950s. That rivalry had fallen apart since the days of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but it changed in 2007 when the Lakers acquired basketball superstar Pau Gasol to team up with Kobe Bryant and Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce. The legendary rivalry was rekindled once again.
Much was written and discussed in the sports world as the two teams met up in the finals twice more. The 2008 finals did not go the Lakers way. I recall that dreaded game 6 of those 2008 finals as every Laker fan out there does. I was busy yelling at my TV for the Lakers to just do something. I remember turning off my TV a full 5 minutes before that game ended as “BEAT L.A” chants were being yelled while the Celtics players started dancing & putting on championship caps and shirts 5 minutes before the game ended, and I started raging. AHHHH mjhfjmhrmuhjfjrmnfdmghfgmdym OMFG!!! I was drenched in frustration and anger. I refused to watch the celebrations in Boston after the game, and I simply refused to congratulate Celtics fans. Yes, that was me being a sore loser, but damn it, we were humiliated! (I’m still pissed 8 years later about that result!)
The next time they met was 2010 in the ‘redemption year’ for the Lakers -as I call it- to redeem themselves from the 2008 disappointment. The 2010 series went 7 games as many remember, back & forth the legendary teams went. Lakers win game 1, Celtics game 2, Lakers game 3, Celtics game 4, Celtics game 5, Lakers game 6. Game 7 was it with everything on the line. I still remember the first 3 quarters being a battle that the Celtics were winning. Lakers simply looked lethargic out there, and Kobe Bryant was nowhere to be found. Then the fourth quarter came. I was sweating with my fists tightly clenched and nervous, hoping we could somehow pull this off. The Lakers bench (and couple starters) were able to bring us back to tie the game with 6 minutes to go in the game. That was the point when both teams brought in all of their starters.
Everything had led up to this point – the last few minutes of a must-win game with the championship on the line is where legends are born. Kobe started hitting shots with his Lakers legacy on the line. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Shaquille O’Neal, James Worthy were all watching along with Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan watching from the grave and every other Laker legend. Derek Fisher hit a huge 3 with the game on the line along with Ron Artest hitting a dagger 3 right into the heart of the Celtics. It was almost surreal to see my Lakers rolling on all cylinders. We had a 2pt lead with seconds to go on the clock to seal the deal. Ice cold freethrows by one of our top free-throw shooters Sasha Vujacic sealed the deal.
I was left screaming in excitement as a fan. My Lakers journey that season came full circle with the sweetest victory against our biggest rivals. These are the sorts of moments we fans live and die for.
I feel as if I go on a ride each other with my Lakers and Colts for football. It is truly special to see unity and rivalries form over sports from a fan perspective. These sports become serious competition and battle involving both the players and fans. Without the blood, of course.
Upbringing and Opportunities
Basketball superstar LeBron James had a rough childhood where he was raised by a single 16-year old mother and no father (thepostgame, 2014). He didn’t have much of anything growing up. His mom moved them from apartment to apartment trying to find work. He could have easily gotten into trouble with the law, but he was able to stay out of it. You can see his humble upbringing had a drastic impact on him as a person. It was his athleticism, sports and hard work on his basketball skills that brought him up from rags to riches. Who knows where LeBron James would have been today without sports as his way out?
Sports can help bring up troubled individuals growing up in poor communities and/or stop them from becoming criminals as they have another opportunity to consider in life either as a player or a fan. As a player, they can participate in local tournaments and leagues to work on their skills and maybe end up on the radar of prospective colleges and leagues recruiting individuals for their teams. It can be a source of income if it works out, and the individual no longer has a need to resort to violence or steal to make a living in troubled poverty-stricken areas. Even if it doesn’t work out, it can still be a way to momentarily get your mind off any troubles you may be dealing with. Of course not everyone is physically gifted to become an athlete so even being a fan can be sufficient.
As a fan, people suddenly have a reason to enjoy watching others play and root for those from their community & elsewhere. It, to some degree, brings out qualities like empathy, leadership, dedication and help start discussions with other fans through interaction in person or online. It can be character-developing even as just a fan.
Basketball hall of famer Allen Iverson has also said it was sports that brought him up; he has said several times that without sports, he may have been in jail or worse. Iverson grew up in severe poverty where he often had to go days without food, lights and power when his mother couldn’t afford to pay the bill. Basketball and football was what kept him off the streets from drugs and violent gangs, and he was even arrested on bogus charges (jockbio, 2005). Basketball eventually turned his and his family’s life around. Sports can be a way out for individuals suffering with lack of opportunities in poverty-stricken and dangerous areas. It is truly inspiring to see people turn their lives around through the uniting vehicle of sports.
Sports are also used for social change and to bring awareness to various issues through the platform. For instance, football/NFL has breast cancer awareness week where players wear pink to bring awareness to cancer, education is also often promoted, and health initiatives often start through sports. Societal values, such as freedom, tolerance, patriotism, unity, peace, etc are also often celebrated.
While I understand it is not the job of athletes to inspire people, and sports leagues are not in the business for societal change, they still have enough influence and power to contribute positively to society. As long as they don’t get too involved in divisive issues involving politics or religion, I see no issues with sports leagues actively trying to impact society in positive manners to bring about change, bring awareness to different issues and simply be involved with the fans.
I believe to some degree, sports leagues, including the athletes, executive and owners, have an obligation to humanity just like anyone out there with a platform to at least be involved in their local communities to inspire betterment of society. It is not about providing charity or giving away money but being one with the people.
I have heard the opposing view that since they are not getting paid for social service, they have no obligation to anyone but themselves. I believe that if you have a powerful platform where you can do much good, and if you have the power to uplift others in the process then you absolutely should! This is where sports can be a beacon of hope, change and inspiration in the big picture.
It is said that sports is one of the few things in our lives that is a true meritocracy – that is, performance speaks volumes more so than anything. If you don’t perform at a certain standard, you are out. Fans want you gone for not working hard, and team clubs want you gone if you don’t perform at peak levels. Players get held accountable for the wins and/or losses, but the truth is you win some and you lose some.
I don’t get anywhere as emotionally invested nowadays as I used to when I was younger because I did not always understand the other aspects of sports. The social aspects, such as discussions, spending time with family/friends, humorous trash-talking with other fans, cheering as a fan, joyfulness are all things we as fans sometimes overlook. The impact of sports runs much deeper than simply winning or losing. It is essentially a mirror that reflects our cultures and society, and we can learn much about people and humanity from these very sports.