I recently went to Barnes and Noble and and I finally got a chance to read it, The Greatest American Sports Writing of the Century, by David Brad Halberstam. I open up to Page 6, chapter 3 and, again, I helplessly give in to that feeling of romance that had been built between a rapidly expanding 20th century America and the boisterous phenomena that had became of sports. It was the sense of nostalgia that was laced in all of the great stories that hall would include in his series of all of the epic moments in sports that I think drew me in so close. Whether it was the examination of the legendary Yankee batter, Joe DiMaggio, whose perception to the world was far from pure, or lone wolf tennis champion, Richard Gonzalez, who rode the path of victory in his lonesome. The presence of sports in America is a presence unrivaled by any other single entity of our culture in this country. Today, with over half the country in enthralled, it can be hard to imagine a culture living and functioning while removed from the values and teachings the games have instilled into us.
But besides this, we tend to find that the culture of sports is often one tainted by violent and rambunctious conduct. Often times we hear about in the news of violent riots taken place in cities after that city’s team losing, famously in 2012 when the University of Kentucky. Looking in, the world of sports can be defined on two polar halves, on some ends it can look like one of the most beautiful and complex constructs of society, but through some lenses, can look like some sort of wild destruction and demoralization of people.
I sat down with a friend of mine, Kobe, an avid and a long time fan of football, and I got to ask him some questions of what he thinks of the behavior that has become of sports over its time, and what some of his experiences were like as a member of the community. What he came up with was this idea of relatability between the people and the players.
“You relate to them….the journey is something you can relate to even if you haven’t met your destination”
It is in the traits that we share with each other that draw and connect us to one another. By the senses of passion, pain, struggle, and perseverance that we can see in athletes that we often find in ourselves and throughout the challenges we face in life. A large part of the appeal of sports is being able to watch the progression of the individuals, of the teams, people who may come from similar backgrounds as you and have qualities that you have. The stories of their lives begins to resonate deeply with the story of ours.
When answering the question of whether of violence in sports, the story factor is very important for us to consider. It is what practically runs sports, it is the lifeline. This relation isn’t new either, in other forms of media, we already see the same type of passion that sports fans carry with them. Whether we’re reading a book, or catching up on our favorite TV shows, we struggle to separate ourselves from the characters portrayed in the emotions that are involved with them. An unusual, but fitting example would be the popular YouTube series Video Game High School. In the show, teens live high school life in what many would consider a kid’s dream, surrounded entirely by the influence of games and building themselves into young professionals of the gaming industry. They quickly come to realize, however, the myriad of problems inherent of a school like this and we watch the main character, Brian, as he sorts his way through the typical high school drama while trying to rise to the top as a video game athlete. His ambition, despite the odds being against his favor in his inertness and misguiding surroundings, manages to attain the level of success he had always wished for as a child. Not only do we see the characters lows, but we get to watch him on the journey on his way to the highs. And, in that, reflection of our own personal highs and lows in high school. We know what it's like.
“You understand, when you first start playing an instrument, the cramps you get on your hand, or the callouses you get on your finger tips”
That’s the type of emotion that is triggered in watching games like football, this is the story of your favorite television shows, but confided into one dunk.
It's no secret though, that when looking at America in particular, we are especially violent in our culture. “On one hand, it isn’t even that surprising. We are a culture at war, on many fronts.” Between poverty, racism, sexism, immigration and a whole plethora of issues, we have become more divided than ever, with people with many polarizing views on issues has intensified much of our day to day interactions between strangers and friends alike. For example, in 2016, Chicago’s homicide rate was up by 56% by as early as May. This may even go as far as to speak for why 67% of the NFL is made up of black athletes. In a way, our sports has become substitution for hitting people walking down the street. It has become our voice in a voiceless place.
With President Trump in office, there’s been a newly heightened fear among many of the American people. As someone who’s allegedly discriminated against, and taken advantage of a variety people of different backgrounds, it’ll be particularly interesting to examine and understand how the sports world will endure or adapt to this change in leadership. Already, in 2016, we’ve seen figures like Colin Kaepernick take actions against the flag, so what the next four years will say about his reasoning will be particularly interesting to see.
Kobe’s idea of the role violence plays in sports and what sports mean to us was very interesting to hear about. It was particularly interesting hearing what he had to say, and in some senses, gives us an idea of how we should think of the problems in America.
In a way, David’s book is one of irony, because as he tells the most epic stories of sports, those stories manifest into many deeper visions of the underlying violence and story of many Americans everywhere.