Keith Strudler: Finding Solace In Sports
I know most all of you don’t want to hear me talk about sports right now. You don’t have the appetite to consider the college football playoff rankings. Or whether NFL officials are missing too many calls. Or if baseball is a regional game. None of these topics sound important, and to be honest, they aren’t. Not relative to the fact that, in the estimation of a lot of reputable sources, we have just put our children’s future at considerable risk and destabilized the world. And potentially validated a pattern of bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism that’s largely unknown to this current generation of Americans. So I get that it’s kind of hard for you all to listen to me talk about sports right now without wanting to either change the station or, more likely, shove something down my throat. Let’s all agree that sports is simply not so important right now, even if it’s kind of what I’m supposed to do.
That’s odd for me to admit, since I’ve essentially dedicated my life to that very social institution. When most the world deals with normal work stuff – like accounting, or law, or medicine, or whatever – I deal with sports. I teach classes in it, I write about it, I do research on it, I hold events about it, I host a weekly two hour radio show on it, and every Wednesday, I get to talk all of you about the intersection of sport and social issues. Which I’ve always seen in basically two ways. First, sport seemed the perfect place to discuss some meaty social issues, like race, gender, globalism, and violence. You know, the stuff we’ve been yelling about for the past two years now. So I always thought talking about sports was my way of talking about more than sports. And second, I figured it worthwhile to remember that there is more to life than the rough and often depressing civic landscape. I never viewed my place as the toy box, but I also never held the delusion that my four to five minutes on the air was going create peace in the Middle East. Although now I certainly wish it had.
Now today, November 9, and speaking to what I assume to be a largely uneasy listening audience, I’m not so sure what it all means. Whether caring about the pastime of people running and jumping and throwing is particularly worthwhile, or even decent. If this who were are and how we act, should anyone have the indulgence of talking about scores and highlights. Am I simply the string orchestra on the 2016 version of the Titanic?
That’s what I’ve been thinking about as I tried to come up with a topic for today’s commentary, which has been more evasive than usual. Because nothing I’m going to say is more important than the fact that our black and brown friends now worry that they’re strangers in their own homeland, or that your daughters might lose control over their own bodies in a matter of years if not months. Or that my own two kids, aged six and nine, could grow up in a world far more dangerous than the one I enjoyed. Nothing I can say about sports is more important than that.
So I’ll say this. Here’s why we can still care about sports. First, we are more divided now than New York during a subway series – and yes, that was a sports reference. We’re split along racial, geographic, and socioeconomic lines, just to hit the high notes. And yet by the grace of God, when you enter a whole lot of football and basketball and baseball locker rooms across America, there is a rainbow coalition that seems to understand that you don’t have to hate someone that doesn’t look like you. So let sports be your shining light in what feels like a galaxy of darkness.
Second, athletes are perhaps our last remaining heroic icons, people that command ears and eyes. And recently, a lot of them have been more than simply good athletes. They’ve been good activists, standing up for social justice, even when it might cost them sponsorship dollars. So LeBron James, you are now on the front lines of America – and not as an athlete. There was a time when a Jackie Robinson moved our country forward even when politicians didn’t. Perhaps the same can happen today.
And finally, maybe the hardest thing for any of us with kids at home, any of us who are truly afraid of what this means for them, was talking about the election this morning. And thank God, about five minutes into our ride to school, I could tell my nine-year-old son Sloan that it will be nice to start watching sports again, now that the election is over. That in itself makes sport worthwhile. Because life cannot simply be pain and stress. And if a Giants game can make it so I can talk to my kids without worrying about their future, then God Bless the NFL.
I know you don’t want to hear me, or anyone talk about sports right now. But honestly, it might just be the best thing any of us can do.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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