When Sports Can Heal

Nov 2, 2017

  Commentary: Many people in America have become disillusioned with professional sports. Whether it’s the National Football League player protests or the reaction to them by some hardened team owners, or the massive big-money contracts given to sports stars, or the personal conduct problems of many of the players, more and more in our country have soured on professional sports. And, it can be said that these are in fact some pretty good reasons for people to decide to change their minds about this form of entertainment.

But professional sports has served as a much-needed distraction for a long time from some of life’s problems. Sports fans have been able to wrap themselves in a frenzy of passion to take a temporary break from the serious issues of their daily lives. They have found a much-needed bond with others who share their selected passion. And in our modern world today where making real flesh-and-blood human connections with actual human beings is getting harder in an environment of smartphones and social media, this does serve an important role.

But there is a more important function of professional sports in our times today. Recent years have given examples of when a professional sports team has actually worked to hold a city and region together.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed a great deal of the New Orleans and Louisiana areas. It was so bad that there were whispers about whether the city would even survive. For decades, the great passion of this great region has been the New Orleans Saints NFL team. Their home stadium, the Superdome, was a stark symbol of the pain and suffering of a city and its people in turmoil when it served as a relief center. But as if it were some kind of karmic reward for surviving such devastation, the Saints rewarded them in 2009 with its first and so-far only Super Bowl championship. This brought joy and happiness to so many that worked so hard to endure the pain and bring their area back from the brink of oblivion.

Now, in 2017, we have two recent examples of what a professional sports team can accomplish in its very best possible role.

On October 1st, another tragedy took place on the streets of Las Vegas, Nevada. What happened on that day is still in the process of being sorted out and better understood. But just days after that, a brand new National Hockey League team named the Golden Knights took the ice in Las Vegas. The community was able to both honor those affected by the terrible casino area event, and to unleash new civic pride in seeing their first major professional sports franchise win their first home game. For a city that has often lacked a true native identity, this is exactly what their community needed.

And then there is Houston, Texas. The city’s baseball team, the Astros, has been in existence for over fifty years and had never won a World Series. But that changed just days ago when they brought joy and a championship to an area devastated by a hurricane and massive flooding just weeks earlier. And so a city that has a long road ahead to recover has been given an oasis of hope and joy and fun and relief by some professional athletes.

There are many problems in professional sports. There are times that professional sports are drama seekers, silly, upsetting, unproductive, and just another exercise in making money. And then there are other times when professional sports acts as an invaluable balm and bond that works to hold an entire community and region together. It is in such times when these private business ventures perform their greatest social function and highest purpose. And everyone can be a fan of that.