Sports have been a mainstay in millions of people lives for many years. They are there when times are good and allow us to develop a passion for something. They are also there in bad times when we need a diversion for a few hours, to forget about those bad times if just for a little while.
From my own personal experience, being from Detroit, sports had a large impact through some very trying times.
In the summer of 1967, rioting in Detroit caused millions of dollars of damage and the death of 43 people. Just as important, the five days of rioting increased racial tension to a level where the National Guard was brought in to keep the peace.
I was nine years old in 1967. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see one my friends anymore. My father tried to explain to me that it had to do with being different. I didn’t understand then the real reason was because my friend’s father didn’t want his black son to be around my white skin.
But in 1968, the Detroit Tigers healed a city. All people in the City of Detroit were united by their passion for the Tigers. I can remember the hot summer nights listening to Ernie Harwell calling the game and also being in the car with my father with the game on. You could hear his voice everywhere as people came together to root for the Tigers.
After the Tigers won the World Series against the Cardinals, then Governor George Romney wrote a letter to own John Fetzer. In that letter, Romney wrote:
“The deepest meaning of this victory extends beyond the sports pages, radio broadcasts and the telecast that have consumed our attention for several months. This championship occurred when all of us in Detroit and Michigan needed a great lift. At a time of unusual tensions, when many good men lost their personal perspective toward others, the Tigers set an example of what human relations really should be.”
More recently, terrorism hit home on Sept. 11, 2001. The date alone indicates there is no explanation needed to explain what happened on that day. We all know where we were and how we reacted.
When baseball resumed, every person in America was a fan. It allowed citizens to look forward to something that was good and pure…that was American. Then New York mayor Rudi Giuliani was quoted as saying “The only two things that got my mind off it [the attacks] were baseball and my son’s football games.”
"The National Anthem", a song that many people took for granted, became something deeper for people. It reminded them we are American’s, we are strong, we will survive this and we will prevail.
Now in these times of financial crises, we can look back to the 1930’s, the era of the Great Depression. Sports became an escape. People crowded around radios to hear the feats of Joe DiMaggio, Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Don Budge.
Perhaps the most listened to sports events was the 1936 Summer Olympics, which made a legend of Jessie Owens.
In these advances technological times, it is unusual for people to gather around a radio anymore.
In the age of instant information and high definition visuals, we tend to isolate ourselves to watch only with our families and close friends. Even those lucky enough to attend games, chatter among fans in the stands is restricted to only people you know.
It is rare that interaction takes place but when it does, a connection is made even if only for a moment. It gives one pause and a chance to think that not everyone out there is a sociopath. There are good people in this world.
The sports world needs to correct itself. Allegations of steroid use, cheating and greed have permeated the world of sports that cause even casual fans to be caustic toward the players. We need to have these athletes play as if they love the game and aren’t in it just for the money.
We are in danger of losing the one thing we counted on from sports, to be a diversion, to entertain us, to distract us and to allow us to forget about our problems for a while.
Sports needs to be there for us. Not all sports have degraded but the most followed, baseball, football, and basketball, have taken a beating. Drug use, violence, cheating and just plain bad judgment has filtered in. Fans are starting to look at players as nothing more than a collective group of prima donnas who are self-absorbed.
While we may forget about our own collective issues for a while, we worry about the integrity of these sports.
Sports needs to heal quickly to get back to the job of healing our nation. We need them to be what we need them to be: A salve to relieve us of our own worries, if just for a little while.