July Fourth Special: How Sports Have Kept the American Spirit Alive

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July Fourth Special: How Sports Have Kept the American Spirit Alive
(Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

I’d like to thank fellow B/R writer Leroy Watson for helping me with this article.


So...which MLB player was accused of steroid use today? Or, who was the latest Hollywood teen superstar to waste their life? Any new politician admit his affair this week?

While the suits and ties among us will ask for a huge bailout package, we will sit at our homes, out of work, feeling helpless, blaming something or the other for this catastrophe.

And that’s the vibe going around right now. One of helplessness, frustration, anger, sadness, and depression.

We are so divided right now, so uninspired. Worse than the depression of economy is the depression of spirit, hopes, and dreams.

The younger generations are growing up in this hollow, fragile society today, whose spirit has been colored in the mistakes of the Hollywood rock stars, while the hopes of a common man are simply to survive the day and not get fired from his job, and the “American dream” is just that—a dream.

Yep, it’s a twisted world today, so unfair, so corrupted, everything is going wrong, everyone is against us, and the American spirit is truly dead and gone.

I won’t blame you if you think that way. But now, wait just a minute...

Didn’t we survive a civil war and end up abolishing the evil of slavery? Didn’t we survive a great depression and come out stronger than ever before? Weren’t we at war before, and didn’t we emerge victorious?

Every society, every nation, every generation faces problems of humongous proportions. And it is at these times the mettle of the common man is tested. It is at these times people reach deep, deep down within themselves, feel that great spirit running through their veins, and accomplish the unbelievable!

The American spirit is not lost. It is there in our hearts. All we need to do is get inspired, let that adrenaline rush take over our system, let those memories fill our hearts with hope, erase the word “impossible” from our dictionary and believe that anything is possible. Anything!

Sports have always embodied that American spirit. And as we celebrate this Fourth of July weekend, not as happily or hopefully as we’d like, maybe reliving some moments and people in sports that united us, that thrilled us, that are etched in history forever, that made us believe that dreams do come true...maybe, just maybe, it’ll be worth something.

 

“Do You Believe in Miracles?”

The 1980 Winter Olympics saw a U.S. team of young and inexperienced amateurs go up against a brutal, professional unit considered worldwide to be the very best hockey team ever—the Soviet Union.

And the United States won!

Not even the biggest believer gave the U.S. team the slightest chance, and their words seemed to be coming true, as the Russians took the early lead. Schneider tied the game for the US, but Makarov brought the USSR right back into the lead.

But with one second remaining in the first period, Johnson scored and put U.S. on level terms. The crowd at Lake Placid, New York, started going wild! Imagine the excitement and atmosphere inside the arena that night.

The upstart U.S. team gained a 4-3 lead in the match, and faced the impossible task of keeping the Soviets at bay for the last 10 minutes of the third—and final—period.

Sportscaster Al Michaels delivered the now-historic call:

“Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”

Right in the middle of the cold war, this victory of the underdog stands as the single biggest adrenaline rush in history for me.

It taught us to keep faith in ourselves, that hard work can achieve everything, that dreams mean something in life, and that miracles do indeed take place...if you only “believe.”

 

“I Ain't Got No Quarrel With Them Viet Cong...”

Muhammad Ali, considered by many as the greatest sports person of the last century, is known for his unrivaled skills inside the boxing ring, and his unparalleled vocal abilities outside it.

But he is also known for saying “no” to being drafted in the U.S. army during the Vietnam War. Any war was wrong, and there was no sane reason for him to take part in 'Nam, he believed.

Whatever your political opinions may be, whatever your views on war may be, there is no denying the man took a stand. He stood by what he believed in and come what may, he didn’t budge.

They stripped him of his title, his right to fight anywhere in the U.S., even threatened an arrest, but he rose above the chains of national bond and stood by his emblem of humanity.

Soon, the public sentiment echoed his words.

Years later, The Dixie Chicks took a stand, said what they felt. Sadly, we didn’t learn our lesson back in the '60s, and they faced criticism. Natalie even got a death threat.

It isn’t about the war, really; it isn’t about politics. Patriotism isn’t just waging wars on anyone, it's about doing for your country that what is right. Like President Lincoln said, “I don’t know if God is on my side, I care if I am on his side.”

 

Shut Up, Male Chauvinists!

Sept. 20, 1973 is the date when a female tennis player beat a male in the historic “Battle of the Sexes” and dealt a severe blow to those morons who discriminated against women, at home and professionally.

When Billy Jean King beat Bobby Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, the world admired the spirit of a woman who was tired of hearing that the female tennis circuit was inferior to the male one, and that in general, “Men are better than women.”

She didn’t file a lawsuit, or give a sappy TV interview, or cry in public to gain sympathy.

She went out there, and let her tennis racket do the talking. And talk it did, it shut up the biggest mouth of the time, and sent a message of gender equality. It inspired not just future tennis stars, but girls of all generations and career paths.

God has created everyone equal, and that match was a living proof.

 

“It Doesn’t Matter If You’re Black or White”

When we salute our forefathers who fought for our freedom, established a democracy based on principles of liberty and equality, we should also salute a few others.

What about Don Haskins of Texas Western, the coach who won a National Title in college basketball with an all-black starting lineup? In the Deep South, no less!

What about that NFL player (to whom history has not been so kind; I could not find his name anywhere) who gave an earful to his close friend on the opposing team for racially abusing his colored teammate, whom he didn’t even know so well?

What about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American MLB player of our times, who brought an end to a 60-year long reign of segregation in baseball?

What about Althea Gibson, the first African-American tennis player to win a Grand Slam event in 1956?

The contributions of these sports men and women cannot be described in words. Today, as we stand divided on so many fronts, we should recall that decades ago, we stood divided on the issue of racism.

Sadly, that evil still exists to some extent in our country, but when these men and women broke through those barriers of color, by the force of their will, it sent us all a message of unity and equality that cannot be encompassed even by the most gallant of words.

 

Dad and Me

Remember the days when dads and sons used to play catch? Or when they played hoop in the backyard?

Of course not. It’s a sin these days to step out of the house. Why go out when you can play the same thing on your Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, or whatever?

It was more than just a social ritual, that game between father and son. It was something special, when dad and son bonded. They used to discuss jobs, studies, girls, teenage angst, family, home, problems, dreams—life.

It meant something back then and I am sure, even today, those fathers and sons who do that, know what I am talking about.

It's not just these few people or events, of course; there are many, many, many examples in our sports history from which we can feel inspired.

From that extraordinary Michael Jordan to the current U.S. soccer team. From that last-minute touchdown in football to that great, diving ninth inning catch in baseball. Sports IS inspiration.

Sports, my friends, have an amazing ability to bond us all, unite us under that common emblem. Athletic endeavors teach us so many things.

Sports have had an immense role in keeping that flame of hope burning in our minds. Every time, sports have given us something to believe in, told us to fight for what we want, prescribed us a medicine of dreams as a cure to our lack of creativity.

It's not just America. American sports can and have inspired everyone around the world. Magnificent feats achieved by American sports persons stand as inspiration for one and all. The social ramifications of these events, have had far reaching effects.

This is not, of course, to minimize the accomplishments of sportsmen and women all over the world.

Sports gave us Franz Klammer barreling down the slopes at Innsruck, health and welfare be damned, to win a most stirring gold medal in 1976.

Or, how about Nadia Comaneci and her perfection, later that same year?

Pelé. Do I have to speak on his artistry and transcendent greatness on the soccer pitch?

Sports brought Yao Ming across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, showing the world that a big man from China could play basketball anywhere and be a smash success.

It has united us, it has pumped into our veins adrenaline that can drive even a dead guy to rise. It has told us to hold our heads high with pride, never to accept defeat, be audacious, be gallant warriors in the war of life.

Do the right thing, achieve the impossible, script miracles, make the unbelievable happen.

Do it, you know you can do it. You know it can be done, so do it. Do it damn it, do it now! Do it!

That spirit is not dead. As long as sports are around, the spirit will never die. Reach within your souls, and you’ll find it.

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