More Than a Game

As all of you know, my Jayhawks were crushed by mid-major VCU in the Elite Eight, in the process ruining any hopes of a repeat sprint to Mass. St. until at least next April. It was a lonely drive back to Overland Park from Lawrence, and it was indeed a sad Sunday. I have some friends who understand that sadness felt when their favorite team loses, but I have many more who do not. Either they dislike KU, or they just plain dislike all sports and don’t get why some people become upset/angry when their team loses. That is when I hear the worst phrase ever uttered by mankind: “It’s just a game.”

Sport has been around for thousands of years, with the definition changing over time. I won’t waste your reading with a history lesson, but clearly these games have a great effect on a lot of people. Sport is what gives people hope, it’s what gives them the strength to move on, it’s what serves as a much needed – and healthy – distraction from the occasionally harsh realities of the real world.

I’ll never forget the euphoric release felt by New York Mets – and all baseball – fans when Mike Piazza hit the game-winner in the first game back after the 9/11 attacks. After everything that had happened that past week, suddenly everything seemed conquerable with Piazza’s homer. We can move on, we can rebuild, and we can get through that terrible time. What is said in this video is better than anything I could say or describe. Please watch it, I guarantee the most uplifting three minutes of your day in doing so.

Also, whether you are a sports fan or not, you all have probably heard the story of Wes Leonard, a 16-year-old basketball star who collapsed and died moments after hitting the game-winning shot for his team. An unspeakable tragedy of which I do not want to even try and imagine; but his parents, his brother, his teammates, they were all able to move on with the help of one thing: basketball. Just four days after Leonard’s death, before his family had even had the chance to properly put Wes to rest, his team played in the first round of the state tournament. Leonard’s parents urged them to. And so, with Leonard’s younger brother sitting on the bench, they made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament. It served as more than a distraction, more than a way to heal. Everyone played because they knew this: It’s what Wes would have wanted.

The point I’m trying to get across here is that sports serve a much grander purpose than the effort of putting a ball through a hoop or getting the batter to miss your pitch. Yes, at it’s basest those are the goals attempted to achieve. But it means so much more to so many people. I am able to keep perspective: some of our finest men and women are still putting their lives on the line overseas, natural disasters continue to occur, and millions have lost their jobs. But what do you think keeps people going when those horrible things happen? “It’s just a game” is one of the worst phrases ever conceived, but one of the best is: “To those who understand, no explanation is necessary; to those who don’t, none will suffice.” I hope I have proven the latter phrase wrong.

The Jayhawks may have lost, the Royals may be DOA to the 2011 season, and the Chiefs may not get to seek redemption on their playoff  loss for a while. Many cities have the same story to tell for their teams. But one thing is ever present, ever getting those facing hard times through their day; something of which sport is the greatest provider: hope.

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