I do not like sports, but I like sports movies.
I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. I thought maybe it was because movies cut out all the boring stuff and make the action sequences more up close and engaging. Or maybe it was because movies inserted a plot (or a passable imitation of one) where I got to know each of the players as characters with struggles, flaws and desires that all people share. Or maybe it’s because movie stars are just way better looking than real athletes.
(I challenge you to find real baseball players who look good in uniform. I don’t know if the clothes are just tailored differently or what, but movie ball players always look awesome, while real ball players look frumpy. It’s a mystery.)
But no, as it turns out, it’s none of the above. The answer finally came to me, not while watching a movie, but while reading a news article online.
Twice in the last few months, high school track and field athletes have stopped to help injured players from opposing teams. In June, Meghan Vogel of West Liberty-Salem High School in West Liberty, Ohio, picked up a girl who had been stricken with cramps and carried her to the finish line, even taking the time to push the girl ahead of her so that she finished before Vogel. Just last week, Seth Goldstein of Cooper Yeshiva High in Memphis, Tenn., stopped in the middle of a race to help an opponent who had a seizure.
This, I realized, is why I like sports movies: Because they tell stories about people who overcome their differences and bond in the spirit of the game. This is why my favorite sports films, in particular, are ones based on true stories, like “Cool Runnings,” “Rudy” and “Invictus.” Like many other people, I love stories about people overcoming great odds, proving themselves worthy in the face of opposition, and earning respect from the naysayers and doubters who tried to hold them back.
It’s not just movies — stories in general about sports are full of examples of people who normally would never associate with one another finding common ground and bonding over a game.
Take Earl Woods, father of golf god Tiger Woods, for example. Earl played baseball here at K-State, breaking the Big Seven Conference “color barrier” in 1951, the same year that a class-action lawsuit regarding segregation was filed in Topeka that would eventually become the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case three years later in the Supreme Court.
Earl Woods had support from his teammates and his coach who rallied behind him and boycotted games against teams who refused to play with African-American players, even while, at the same time, people of color could not use Manhattan’s City Pool because of an unwritten policy.
Yes, sports have the power to unite, break down barriers and inspire people to be better players and better human beings. But they also have the power to destroy. For every inspiring story about friendship and good sportsmanship, there are just as many (if not more) incidents of violence and even death, all over a stupid game.
Fights among hockey and baseball players are common enough to have become cliche. Get in the ring with Mike Tyson and you might get your ear bitten off. I have watched 7-foot-tall basketball players throw tantrums that rival the most ill-tempered toddler.
The only thing worse than those who play sports are the fans. “Fan” is short for “fanatic,” a word that often brings images to mind of wild-eyed crazies who form weird cults that involve a lot of chanting and possibly some poisoned Kool-Aid. When I drive by Bill Snyder Family Stadium and see the hordes of people dressed alike, screaming as one and thinking as none, I shudder. It doesn’t take much to push a group like that to violence.
Riots after games, regardless of whether the home team won or lost, are common enough that no one is really surprised when it happens. They don’t just happen in major cities like Los Angeles. There have been two major riots in Aggieville as a result of our own football games. And for those of you who think sports-inspired riots are strictly a modern phenomenon, I invite you to read up on the Nika riots of 532 A.D. which were the result of a rivalry between chariot-racing teams and resulted in about 30,000 deaths. Yes, apparently chariot-racing fans are more violent than soccer fans.
Player violence and mob violence aren’t the only types out there. Individual outbursts from so-called devoted fans occur all the time, too. One of my favorite examples, because of the irony, was an incident on July 5, 2000, when two angry dads got into a fistfight over their kids’ hockey practice because of rough play among the players. One of them beat the other to death in front of about a dozen crying children, including their sons.
Whether you are a sports fan or not, there is no doubt that the love of the game is a powerful, driving force. It has the power to unite and the power to destroy, all rolled into one. Personally, I prefer to focus on the stories of inspiration. But I also try to stay indoors during a home game.
Karen Sarita Ingram is a senior in English. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.