In a nation that can at times seem to be so divided, there is a phenomenon that brings tens of millions of people together on a daily basis virtually year round. It is something that receives a good deal of criticism because it cannot be denied that money, and in times excessive greed, do play a part in this phenomen.
But while that may be true, the reality of it is the wealth involved does not lie at the true heart of this phenomenon. What is this “phenomenon”?
Why these mere “games” play such an influential role in modern society – specifically American society for this piece – is a question that is widely debated.
If sports are just games, why do they have such a profound effect on so many people?
Let’s start small, if you can call the collective society of all athletes a small group.
Sports, as a whole, are incredibly inclusive. Sports are accessible to one of any gender, any race, any religion, any sexual orientation, and even different levels of physical capabilities. One’s ability to be a part of a team has essentially nothing to do with who one is in terms of the aforementioned categories, but rather what one is willing to do to be a part of the team. Not to say different sports have different requirements, but with so many sports available, there is almost certainly at least one for most people.
Hard work is the unifying theme that ties all sports together. It is something that is not only expected but required to, if not be successful, at least be a part of a team. But in the crucible of incredibly hard work, bonds very unique to athletes are forged between members of a team. In virtually all sports, teams have members on the “higher end” and players on the “lower end,” but regardless of where one stands in terms of individual raw talent, the pain of hard work and the myriad of sacrifices athletes make tie team members together. The differences between teammates are all but forgotten.
While American society was torn by a racial divide before the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s, sports were ahead of the times. Teams were interracial, and for the better. In 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed and played an African-American by the name of Jackie Robinson. If memory serves, he didn’t turn out too bad. And this was just one of the first cases of the sports world breaking the racial barrier, proving the athletic community’s ability to see the value of all individuals before the U.S. government did.
So sports bring together players of all backgrounds and break social norms only to better society. What else is there?
There’s the fan base. The number of athletes in the United States pales in comparison to the number of fans and supporters. Anyone who has been to a professional, collegiate or even high school sporting event would see that fan bases are composed of every type of person. The young, the elderly, men, women, people of virtually every background all come together to support their teams.
Why standing in bleachers, surrounded by strangers, or sitting in front of a television for three hours, watching other strangers play a game can bring so many people together is something that vexes any who try to understand it.
At the end of the day, whether your team wins or not – your team that plays hundreds of miles away and that you will never meet in your life – doesn’t affect you, does it? It does. But why? That is the great question. Why do we, as a society, buy into this sports culture and allow it to have such a massive impact? Why do games draw in so may people? Particularly football, such as Michigan, who consistently draws in over 100,000 fans per home game, or Nebraska, who has sold out tickets to every game since 1962 to a crowd of over 91,000 people, making its Memorial Stadium the third largest “city” in the state on game day. Why do games bring so many people together?
Maybe it’s not important why they bring so many people together, but that they bring so many people together. Some people argue that this sports “fanaticism” is asinine. But what else in our nation brings so many people of every walk of life together in such a passionate way? Certainly not politics.
Race causes war; religion causes war; politics cause war. Sports don’t. Sports may be games, but they bring people together, on the court, field, stands and communities. Sports give us a reason to put aside our differences and be a part of an adamantly unified community.