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Sports: Where Fantasy Meets Reality
From the time sports became a past time of the american public, it has been used in a variety of ways. It has been used as an excuse to get out of the house. It has been used as a reason to hate another person just because. It has been used to dress in ridiculous outfits, get wasted in a bar, be hungover, and at the end of it all say it was worth it. Sports is the basis for many child-, and adult-, -hood memories. Sports also mixes with the political world, however. Whether it was Colin Kaepernick's anthem kneeling. Whether it is any Title IX issue brought up in the past 50 years. Sports is a way to captivate a very different audience than usual political tactics captivate. It is a much more passionate audience. A much more influential audience. Sports is an interesting topic. It can be played with your friends in the driveway or yard. It can be watched with tens of thousands of other people. It can be seen by millions on national television. Emotions can string from outrage, to joy, to despair in a matter of hours. It is interesting how sports changes the american life, making it the perfect political opportunity.
EFFECTS IN THE NEARBY COMMUNITY
Residing in Buffalo, there is an example of this that comes to mind immediately. This past week on international television many people watched what Title IX is doing with a community. During the first intermission of game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, the broadcasters took a trip to Western New York. As the reporters discussed the new craze surrounding women’s hockey, the question arose, why was the craze only happening now? Why do high schools not have a girls hockey team. There is increased support for the idea of every school ending the merging teams to create a team for each school, but the follow through from the girls attending the schools to play is not there. This is where professional sports lent a hand. The Stanley Cup final is watched by millions all over the world, especially in Western New York. This publicity to what a small town nearby is doing is sparking interest in the sport. I do not mean interest in men’s hockey, but in women’s. Girls want to be a part of this new epidemic soon to sweep the nation. It is not every day that a women’s hockey organization of 8 teams receives a donation of $20,000 to continue their work and branch out into different communities. This is not just a game played on ice for these girls. It is a way for the young teenagers to be a part of the sensation that is the sport of ice hockey, and it is long overdue.
The NFL has branched out into the international world of politics very recently. The league has been sending teams of all sorts all around the world, from London to Mexico City. These teams serve as ambassadors into other countries for the spot that is american football. While football, or soccer in America, continues to outweigh all other sports in terms of international popularity and participation, american football is looking to be put on that map. The entire idea of sending teams across the Atlantic to play one game in front of a crowd that has never even heard of the sport is monumental. The money spent, the people sent, scheduling conflicts, the team's willingness to go. All of the headache surrounding sending a domestic team internationally. The security risk. The safety factors. There is major political implications. What if the stadium were attacked? What if a powerful governmental official attended the game? What if the crowd was unamused? So many things can go wrong with this type of risk by the NFL. Yet they go anyways. This is more than just a football game. It is more than just a sporting event in general. This is an international showing of faith. We send forth our best attraction, our best export in the hopes of entertaining the world. We don’t do it just because it makes money. We don’t do it just because it boosts ratings. We also do it as a show of good faith. We believe firmly that nothing bad will happen. That the government in which our ambassadors are in the company will do all in their power to protect our citizens, our treasures. For nearly a decade now the great city of London has seen an NFL game live at Wembley. The NFL has now started to branch out elsewhere. What will be the effect of such a branching out? WIll it continue to help the fight for world unity? Or will it merely serve as the perfect target for an attack to instill fear in the lives of billions?
For decades football players everywhere in America, no matter what age or level, have become accustomed to standing at attention before a game, helmet off, hand over heart, during the singing, or playing of the national anthem. A couple of years ago, Colin Kaepernick surprised the world as he sat and kneeled during each anthem that year. He claimed this was a protest. He was protesting the police brutality, by kneeling during the national anthem. I have no problem with a protest, especially a peaceful one. Police brutality and racism in this country is very far from over. It is even rising as many argue. Something needs to be done. Kneeling during the national anthem, a symbol of unity, a symbol of nationalism, is not the way to bring the country together. That is what the anthem is for. Kaepernick saw an opportunity, however. He used his status as a former top prospect, and backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers to try to make a difference. He realized the potential sports has to affect an audience. It was not his intention, his ideas, or his goal that anybody disagreed with. In those categories he had the country eating out of his hand. It was his execution, his means of protest that got people upset. Yet here we are talking about him. I doubt millions of fans around the country remember San Francisco’s record, big plays, or scores from a couple years ago. Millions still remember the kneeling. It swept the nation, and continues to have an affect. Just one man, with the help of a sports broadcast, can affect millions.
Baseball, since created in the 1920s, has been a past time of the american summer. The sport has encapsulated many during the long 162 game season. The rivalries, the ball park hot dogs, the hot summer days, it’s an experience every time a game is on. For this reason, baseball has been at the head of many key societal events. The first african american baseball player, Jackie Robinson, opened the door for all african american athletes to the purely white sport. The young ball player, beginning his career with the Dodgers in 1947, well before the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s, Robinson faced much criticism as he traveled around the league. As he traveled down south, there were riots, boycotts, and protests. Robinson is still proclaimed a hero among the athletic world, not for being a superhuman athlete, but for exemplifying a change into a new way of life. Without Robinson, who knows how baseball, and the world, would be today. In the modern era, there is a lot of scrutiny surrounding the idea of the foul ball. For decades, parents and children wanted to catch a foul ball, or homerun, as a souvenir. Recently, many people have been struck by foul balls and have called for regulations to prevent severe injuries from occurring at such an event. The debate has gone beyond baseball. Where is the line drawn between safe and fun? Should there be rules to take the idea of catching a foul ball, many a child’s dream, out of the game? Should other sports, such as hockey or indoor lacrosse, take into account stray balls and pucks and implement tactics to 100% prevent the idea of serious injury? It is a truly aching subject facing the sporting world, and it has only come about with the changing attitude of the american public. These are just a few ways in which baseball has affected the american public alone, both the athletic and political parts.
Baseball, while being America’s pastime, is very popular in many central and south american nations. The sport encapsulates audiences in Cuba, Japan, Brazil, etc. Stars such as David Ortiz, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Altuve are among the legends that are Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Barry Bonds. The sport entices audiences around the world to tune in to the MLB each and every summer day. The MLB is now taking its best rivalry over the pond. The red sox and yankees will battle in a 5 game series in the great stadium of Wembley. This is a monumental step. The sport of baseball has never been in Europe, a continent dominated by cricket. For the first time ever the sport will debut thousands of miles away. A tactic already in use by the NFL, the MLB hopes to gain viewers and boost ratings. This is an international statement. The league has become an ambassador for american customs. Nothing exemplifies the american culture quite like the sport of baseball. The songs, the traditions, the peanuts, the beer. All of it exemplifies what american culture during the hot, humid months of May through September is. That is the reason why when Big Poppy gets shot in a bar in the Dominican Republic, the entire world holds its breath. Baseball has an effect on the world, more than what many people think, or know.
For decades the US was a dominant country when it came to the international basketball discussion. Collegiate athletes were all that were needed to grab gold every four years. Seemingly out of nowhere, they began to lose. They began to bring home silvers, then bronze, then not even metal. Other countries began to use professionals from the NBA to play for their home country, and claims were made that the US was soft, weak, and blatantly worse than its competition. Then came the Dream Team. This was a US team designed not only to win, but to destroy anything in its path. The team was mde of legends such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, and the list goes on and on. Hall of famer after hall of famer was on the list. The team embodied a renewed US strength in the sport. Since the creation of the Dream Team in the early 1990s, the US has never lost gold. The Redeem Team, headed by Lebron and Kobe, have taken the reigns, leaving a legacy for more young superstars to shine on a global level. The Olympics, created by Ancient Greece as a form of entertainment and earned respect, the US has used its strength in basketball in the same way. Global superiority in the athletics field has been a strength of the US since the Olympics began, but the basketball domination has taken things to a whole new level. Gone are the days where the US has been mocked for its cockiness, and subsequent failure. Now the US has a renewed sense of nationalism, all sparked by the domination experienced by the US in the sport of international basketball.
It’s that time of year. No work gets done. People take time off from work. Brackets are made. Bets are waged. The NCAA March Madness tournament encapsulates the american public. Whether you root for you home town university, the #16 underdog, the #1 seed to go all the way. The tournament brings feelings of tremendous joy, as well as overwhelming heartbreak. There is no other event that happens yearly that builds a national feeling of amusement and entertainment. From Duke to North Carolina. From pep bands to mascots. From cheerleaders to student sections. These games, usually filling arenas of about 10,000 fans, fill arenas of 25,000 in March. These games are cause for firings, detentions, and many more penalties in schools and the workplace. Night in and night out the thrill of an upset, the verge of a monumental win, the idea of a history making moment, fills the homes of millions. Snacks are eaten, beers drunk, countless TVs watched at once. Parties are thrown, neighbors come over, bars are filled. The nation transforms into a basketball frenzy, making it a perfect time to affect an audience of millions. Commercials gain views, advertisements in the arenas gain popularity. The game itself boosts ratings for other collegiate sports. The nation adapts a sense of unity as the tournament rolls on, and by the end, the nation goes back to normal. For 11 months of the year, life seems to drag along, people searching for a meaning. For the month of March, that life takes a pause, and a new life begins. There is no other feeling like March Madness. That’s exactly what it is. Madness.
Ice hockey is perhaps the most international professional sport the United States endorses. With players from the US, Canada, Scandinavia, Russia, Eastern Europe, etc, the league known as the NHL is among the most diverse of its kind. This leads to the NHL being a very vocal and persuasive way to affect not only the american people, but the world as well. Look at Buffalo. The city is renowned for having the best sports fans in the country. These fans tune into Keybank Center in downtown Buffalo every fall and the belief and faith in the team does not stop until their final game in early May. What was once a dangerous, run down part of the city, has now become a nationwide attraction. The newly built Canalside, outfitted with an outdoor skating rink, indoor rinks at Harbor Center, as well as outdoor activities to partake in during the summer months, has once again put Buffalo on the map. The sport of hockey in Buffalo is rebuilding the city. In terms of the international influence Hockey has on the world, the effects are dramatic. Every 4 winters the world tunes in to see which country has the best hockey team. For decades now the world has experienced the Canada v. US rivalry. The two countries have battled and battled. Overtime after overtime. Shootout after shootout. Stars such as Zach Paraise, Ryan Miller, Sidney Crosby, and many more have led their teams with passion and integrity. This fuels nationalism for many countries around the world. Nothing brings a country together like a major sports victory. Just ask those alive for the 1999 Women’s World Cup how it felt when Brandi Chastain made the penalty kick.
MIRACLE ON ICE
For a sporting event to be made into a movie, and for the movie to break records and affect a country as much as the Miracle on Ice did, the event itself needs to be monumental. One cannot describe such an event as the 1980 Lake Placid thriller that was the Miracle on Ice. In the time before the United States used professional athletes in the Olympics, collegiate athletes were used. For the 1980 Winter Olympics coach Herb Brooks put together the best of the best from rival universities. In the weeks prior to the Olympics, the Soviet team, who ruled the international sport for 2 decades, had beaten the young US team by 9. The Soviets were beating the pros of the NHL. Expectations for the US were low entering the game. What would happen on that 22nd day of February would change the world. As the game went along, the story was built. The heart that embodied the teenage athletes, as well as those in attendance, willed the US team to a come from behind victory. The emotion and exhilaration felt as the buzzer sounded was like no other. Many argue the miracle gave such nationalistic power to the US and such a demoralizing feat for the Soviets it changed the course of the Cold War. As those young men stood on the podium, respecting the US flag as it rose above all, listening to the anthem, one phrase would ring true in american hearts, and still does in many. Coach Herb Brooks told his team before the game of their lives how great moments are born. It was a phrase never to be forgotten.
“Great Moments are Born from Great Opportunities.”