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The Humanity of Sports

Sport has tremendous power on humankind. Could we use that power for good?

By Ayaan Jaiswal Singh

Summer 2017. New Delhi.

It was the end of the day, and shades of sunset filled the sky. Beneath it were bunches of children playing football. After three long days of continuous swimming the young athletes wanted a change in mood. Just as they hoped, the days’ competitive tension was broken by football. Faces once dim now lit up the playing field, and the tense silence was replaced with laughter, as children from all parts of India set aside cultural differences and shared in their love of football.

That evening reminded me why I have always loved sports. I love playing and watching them. I love feeling healthy and energetic. I love building bonds with others through teamwork. And I love the emotional rush of competition that all sports share. Sports show us the power and diversity of the competitive spirit––for better or worse.

One professor at New York University is focussing on the “better.”

In an article by the Associated Press, ​“Can basketball save the world? New NYU course says yes.”​ David Hollander (faculty, NYU Tisch School of Professional Studies) reflects on the huge role sports play in our lives. He asserts that basketball reflects society and modern culture in this day and age.

Hollander continues: “Even the most closed societies, like North Korea, who wouldn’t allow anybody in, was OK with allowing a group of basketball players and Dennis Rodman.” This shows how sports could even be the key to peace between countries. Even dictators such as Kim Jong Un are supporting the role of basketball and sports in

everyday life. Hollander asserts that the culture of basketball is spreading fast through the world.

And he’s right. Michael Jordan’s accessory line, aptly named “Jordan,” has taken global fashion by storm. Jordan shoes have overtaken the market, and not just for basketball players. Furthermore, players’ use of the exclamation “Kobe!”––named for the late Kobe Bryant––while making jumpshots, has extended beyond basketball to other real-life situations & jokes. Basketball influences fashion, consumer culture, memes, and politics. If this is just the effect of basketball, how much could every sport together affect the world?

December 1914. The Western Front.

The world had been at war for half a year. The French border was now a long and winding battlefield. Bodies of the fallen lined the wet, muddy floors of the trenches. Those still alive were not eating. They were not sleeping.

They were playing football.

During these two days the fighting paused in many regions. The game of football ended the violence––if only temporarily––like nothing else could. In the midst of a world war, sport had brought even the fiercest of enemies together.

Sports can bring people together in the worst of times. But it can also drive them apart.

July 2016. Paris.

It was the Euro championship finale, and the first football match I ever attended: France vs Portugal. What struck me most was the rivalry between the two crowds. French supporters were constantly trying to over-shout the Portugese supporters. The voices seemed to echo, as chants rang through the stadium. You could hear the excitement and national pride.

Until Portugal scored the winning goal during extra-time.

The Portugese fans exploded with celebration. The French fans––stunned––had no answer; some were crying of happiness and others of sadness. Some were furious and others indifferent. The French unity was broken.

After the match, the streets of Paris had changed. The roads were suddenly a dangerous place to be. Angry fans were screaming on the streets. Some were even attacking the Portuguese. I felt unsafe and wanted to get to my hotel immediately. To an 11 year-old, the scene was intriguing, but terrifying. I didn’t know how to feel, because I didn’t understand what was happening. All I knew was that I was scared.

Looking back at that moment, I can see the sheer power of sports. I saw the passion that football brings. I saw rivalries made and celebrated. But I also saw the ugly side of sports. People fighting, swearing, and racially abusing. If sports are supposed to unite people, how could they portray such a terrible side of us?

Famous Rivalries

Hundreds of millions of us play or watch sports. In this day and age, if someone uses the word “sports” in a sentence, rivalries will be brought up very quickly. There are no sports without rivalries. And just like sports, they come in different types: some friendly, some verbally abusive, and some downright violent:

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees; baseball. This rivalry is not​ violent or political, but there is no love between these two cities.​ They are often verbally hostile with each other, though some say this is due to the abrasive nature of city folk, rather than true hatred between the cities.

Ohio State vs. Michigan; American college football. This rivalry is year-long, but it peaks in November. Ohio State censors the letter “M” in all social media, in “protest” of Michigan. Many Ohio State students are so dedicated that they jump into a local pond called Mirror Lake, as part of a game day superstition. In freezing November weather.

India vs. Pakistan; cricket. This rivalry is known throughout the world for its massive implications. The religious difference––Muslim vs Hindu. Border violence and political skirmishes. Incidents range from mutual mockery and verbal abuse to riots on the streets and full-on national & religious violence. This rivalry doesn’t just stay within the walls of a cricket stadium; it is also portrayed in real life. And as a result, real lives are lost.

All Things Considered

Sports have an immeasurable effect on our lives. At times, our entire world revolves around it. Whether watching sports on television, a casual match among friends, or a competitive league, sports affect our lives tremendously. But those effects vary. Sports can break or increase stress, shatter or strengthen bonds, build or burn bridges​.

Sport is a catalyst for human behavior. What we do with it is up to us.

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