For many people, the Super Bowl makes today one of the biggest days of the year. We wish them well, and hope enjoyment of the game transcends any pain that might be felt if your favorite team falls short.
Many people downplay sports. Parents tell their children to avoid becoming too obsessed with sports. They tell their children who are joining their first team that it’s only a game. And yet, the strong, widespread reaction to the death of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant is evidence of the visceral reaction people have to sports.
Public reaction to revelations of Houston Astros’ cheating has far outweighed any reaction to other events such as the city’s crime rate, or even the devastation of massive flooding a few years ago.
Such events have brought strong reactions from people who didn’t consider themselves fans of Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team, or the Astros following the team scandal. With respect to today’s game, the popularity of sport is shown in the fact that nine of the 15 highest-rated television broadcasts in history have been Super Bowls. Other shows listed largely are special events such as the moon landing, Gulf War and O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict.
Most of us will always feel a connection to our high-school football teams, no matter how many years have passed since graduation; it isn’t unusual to see alumni, with no children enrolled, at local games.
We might not realize it, but the importance sports plays in most people’s lives belies our verbal downplays. As coaches have always told their players and parents, sports offers lessons that can go beyond the field of play.
Even parents who caution their children about placing too much importance in the outcome of a game often tout sports’ contribution not only to physical development but also to such important qualities as discipline, teamwork, sacrificing one’s personal desires for the greater good, dealing with pressure and showing grace both in defeat and in victory.
Perhaps one of the lesser-appreciated elements of sport lies not only in supporting one’s own team and teammates but appreciating opponents who made the same sacrifices. No matter how hard players tried to vanquish their foes, they assemble and greet the other teammates in a gesture of goodwill. Fighters, who put their all in punishing an opponent, touch gloves or embrace afterward; court players end tough matches by meeting at the net. Teams, after games filled with harsh play and even perhaps outbursts of anger, exchange jerseys or even gather together for a prayer.
Maybe that’s why grace and goodwill, even amid differences of opinion, is called sportsmanship.
Ideally, these and other lessons learned on the fields of competition would carry over more in other aspects of our lives. Friendships and neighborly relationships can remain strong even if people support different teams; any ribbing and brash talk usually remains goodnatured, and doesn’t affect the relationships.
If only the same could be said about differences we might have over politics, religion or other more mundane issues.
There is much to be appreciated, and much to be learned, in the principles and traditions, both official and unwritten, from sports.