The power of sports

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 07:36 AM

On countless occasions I've spewed my thoughts on how important I believe sports are to the well-being of so many people, and in some cases, the world.

Earlier this week, a great human-being who shared that same belief passed a way at the age of 95: Nelson Mandela.

"Sport has the power to change the world, the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does," Mandela said.

Mandela understood how sports can bring people together. He illustrated his love for competition when the South Africa rugby team won the World Cup on its home field in 1995 and when he played a vital role in bringing the FIFA World Cup to South Africa in 2010.

Now in no way would I ever compare myself to someone as esteemed as Mandela, but I too think that sports can be one of the single-most powerful uniting forces imaginable.

Sports allows fans and players to find an identity as a culture, a region and as a country. The red Sox/Yankees rivalry is one that defines the entire northeastern corner of the United States while Duke/North Carolina basketball rages in our state and Cavaliers/Hilltoppers consumes Rutherford County countless times every year.

Now yes, I understand I said that sports unites people and all those examples show a divide, but that isn't what I'm trying to tell you. I'm saying that sports allow us find common ground with so many people that we may have never known. How much easier is it to strike up and hold a conversation with someone that shares the same love or hate for a particular team? Answer, much easier.

We are all familiar with the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" that connected the entire country as the United States national team built from amateur and college and hockey players shocked the world and upset the Soviet Union. That happened in Lake Placid, New York, and for one night, every American was a hockey fan.

And in times of tragedy we turn to sports for comfort and brotherhood. Think back to the tributes after 9/11 all over the country at baseball and football stadiums alike. Think of the images we saw of fans and athletes shedding tears during the national anthem and how in those moments we were all grieving.

And now on a small, local level we see how sports can bring us together in a time of great tragedy.

Earlier this year a former Chase football player was killed in a car accident. At the next Trojans home game balloons were released in his memory. Again, not a dry eye in the stadium.

And just last week I saw first-hand an incredible tribute to a personal friend.

In late March, a young man who I graduated from high school with died in a hiking accident. He wasn't one of my closest friends, but I certainly considered him a friend. We crossed paths on campus during college a handful of times while he was taking graduate courses and even stopped to grab lunch a few times.

His passing was simply tragic. It rocked a community much the same way the Chase tragedy affected Rutherford County.

My friend was a basketball player. He wasn't a star, but he was known and respected for his hustle while on the floor. It was said that he always played with 10 toes on the floor because he was never caught flat-footed.

This season the Shelby High basketball team is paying tribute to this young man by wearing socks that are embroidered with an image of him from his playing days with Shelby. The team is always reminded to play with 10 toes on the floor.

Imagine if that was your child. Imagine the emotion you would feel every time you saw the image of your son doing what he loved on the legs of a dozen basketball players to honor his memory. How many other tributes can you imagine that could outweigh the power of that gesture? That is what sports can do.

Sports can change the world. Sports can inspire. And sports can unite people in a way that little else does.