Why Sports Matter

Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.” -Nelson Mandela

Written by Taylor Smith | Healthy-Mag.com

A Nelson Mandela quote that applauds sports for all they can do? It’s probably not hard to guess how I feel about sports. I love sports. Like a lot. Some might say I’m fanatical about certain sports and I can’t categorically deny these claims, although I like to think that I’m in control of my soccer passion. Honestly, I can stop anytime I want…I just don’t want to.

And I know the stereotype many people conjure in their minds when they think about sports fans—the loud, obnoxious man wearing his team’s jersey screaming about the injustice of a foul. It’s easy to criticize such an individual for taking the game, over which he has no influence or control, too seriously. These claims are just. I cannot deny how irrational it is to be so emotionally invested in something you can’t control (and if I’m being honest has a relatively small impact on the course of human history).

But asking whether sports matter is like asking whether art or music matters. Not only do they matter to that psychotic jersey-wearing fan, they matter to children, parents and grandparents. They matter to men and women. They transcend race, ethnicity and culture. They can unite the world’s gaze for a short time, captivate billions and even heal divided nations.

Because You Never Know

The human element is omnipresent in art and music. It makes each piece unique and representative of its creator. The human element is perhaps nowhere more dramatically noticeable than in sports. With sports, you just never know. The outcomes are never certain. Pundits and analysts make careers out of trying to predict score lines and results. And yet (and thankfully), the games are played on the field or on the court and not on paper.

Sixteen seeds beat number one seeds. Underdogs overcome the odds and defeat the favorites. It’s a story we all love. We watch March Madness every year because we know, without fail, there’s a Cinderella story that we can get behind, even if it’s just for March.

Moreover, you never know who’s going to step up. No-namers, nobodies, and unheard-of’s appear at the most unlikely of moments and alter tournaments or seasons. Every year there’s a new standout player in every league that emerges from anonymity. Occasionally, they burn out after a few bright years, but just as often they become superstars or even legends of the game. We look to sports for inspiration and we find it in abundance. Sports are just downright inspiring and sometimes they’re just downright heartbreaking.

Because It’s a Familiar Script

For all that “human element” drama we love so much, sports follow the rules. We know what to expect. They follow rules and remind us that there’s order in this crazy, mixed-up world we live in. And on some level, I think we all need that stability.

The games themselves are all built around a framework of rules. It’s what makes the game interesting and compelling. The rules keep the game fair. More importantly, the rules are what link sports to real life. They’re the most effective teachers of applicable knowledge for everyday situations. You break the rules, you get penalized. That’s a reality that more of us need reminding of.

Furthermore, I think we love sports because they embody an all-important life lesson—hard work brings success. It doesn’t always mean you win, but the people that work tirelessly for their goals and desires are always better off than people who wait for success to be handed to them. Some people have otherworldly talent and squander it for a want of work ethic. Others make more out of themselves than any one would ever dream because they have more grit and determination than anyone else. In sports, hard work pays off.

Because Sports Change Us

Ok. Your seven-year-old’s soccer game is not going to fix the world’s problems. Neither is the Super Bowl, for that matter. But the game could mold your child as sports have for millions upon millions of children over the years. Sports teach us so many important values that apply to life off the pitch or outside of the arena. Teamwork, sportsmanship, courage and the value of hard work are just a few of the important lessons and values children learn playing sports. That doesn’t mean you have to play sports to be a good person, but playing can surely help us become better people.

Sports also give a chance to be a part of something that’s bigger than us. Sports teams can represent a city or a state. Teams represent the hopes and fears of thousands of people every time they take the field to play. As a fan, it’s empowering and perhaps even intoxicating on some level, to be a part of a group with united desires. Simply put, that shirtless man attending an NFL game in freezing temperatures must feel like a part of something greater than himself even if he can’t feel his extremities.

It doesn’t always make sense, but it’s real for those who make themselves a part of the game. Sports can inspire us to believe in and hope for the impossible. Likewise, they can break our hearts. They can teach us how to deal with failure. They can prepare us for real life where the outcomes of our endeavors really matter, unlike the score of our little league game. Sports, like all good culture, can change us—help us rediscover the humanity in the world and all the good that comes with it.

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