Happy New Year to all of you! To get off-topic for a moment, if you guys didn’t watch the NHL Winter Classic outdoor game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres today, you missed out. It was a game where the elements added excitement and both teams were close all the way through, only for Pittsburgh to pull out a shootout victory at the last second.
2007 has been a difficult year for our country, with the wars continuing in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as war and terrorism raging in other nations around the world. The political process and politics in general has become more divisive than ever, as have conflicts between religion and atheism in our nation. The economy is weak, and this will most certainly have an effect on the job market in 2008. On a personal note, I have struggled with doubts when I have seen wicked individuals cause pain to others and profit by it, seemingly without consequence. In the sporting world, we’ve seen Michael Vick, Isaiah Thomas, Barry Bonds, and so many others dragged down by rumors, legal troubles, and their own bad behavior.
Why do I say all this? Because in 2007, I’ve become convinced of the power sports can have to allow us to transcend all of our daily problems and come together, at least for a little while. Whether I’m in the break room at my day job watching SportsCenter, or at my local watering hole watching a game, I can sit down and start chatting with whoever is there, and we’re immediately buddies. Race, political views, religion, none of that matters. Just a couple of friends chatting about sports. Sure, the soccer riots overseas and the relatively rare moments of bad fan behavior get more media attention, but far more people are drawn together in friendship that react with violence. And it’s not just fans of the same team. My younger brother is a Cleveland Browns fan (I don’t know what went wrong, we were raised in the same house), but I’ve enjoyed chatting about our respective teams with him this year, and I’ve grown closer to him at the same time. No matter how much you want to root for your team to win, I think most sports fans realize that it’s more fun when the other guys play you close and beat you every once in a while.
As far as on the field goes, sports can show us beautiful examples of how individuals from different backgrounds can come together and work as a team to achieve. There’s teams where the guys don’t necessarily like one another, but they’re working for a common goal, and when that works, what better lesson could there be for all of us? This year we’ve seen the Detroit Lions unite behind Jon Kitna, a veteran quarterback who’s experienced a Christian conversion over the last few years that has not only had an effect on him, but on his teammates as well, who achieved far more than anyone predicted they would at the start of the season. Some of Kitna’s teammates have said they don’t agree with his religious views, but his attitude and leadership has allowed them to get behind him, and helped him to unify a locker room that had been a contentious place before. In Pittsburgh, Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch has continued to do his charity work with schools and other local community organizations, and has shown us that he can be as unselfish and giving off the field, as he has been on the field. And these are just two examples, unfortunately athlete bad behavior gets far more press than good behavior, but there’s unsung heroes in every locker room in this country.
Certainly, some critics would tell us that sports are trivial, or worse than that, distract us from more important issues. I would beg to differ. In the world we live in and will have to deal with in the coming year, we need sports.