The Role of Sports in a Fractured Nation

Daniel Kishi: Sports can help alleviate the hunger of a country starved for shared experiences.

It bordered on idolatry. Baseball cards, posters, and paraphernalia adorned my family’s entertainment center as I sat completely engrossed by the game that flickered across the television. I was a love-struck eight-year old, head over heels in awe of America’s National Pastime. Before there were girls, there was baseball.

It was game six of the 2003 National League Championship Series and the Chicago Cubs were on the verge of making it to their first World Series since they were cursed by a billy goat in 1945. They were up three games to two in a best of seven series against the Florida Marlins, and with one out in the top of the eighth inning, they were winning 3-0.

The Cubs have an extensive history of not merely losing, but losing in grandiose fashion. That mid-October night at Wrigley Field was no exception. The Marlins scored eight runs in the eighth inning, went on to win game six, and the next night they eliminated the Cubs from the playoffs.

Sitting on the couch after game seven, I pulled my Cubs hat over my waterlogged eyes and cried like a teenager who just got dumped. The tears streamed down my face not only because my team lost, but because my grandfather’s team lost. Two weeks after the historic collapse, the cancer won. My grandfather, born to Hungarian immigrants on the North Side of Chicago in 1930, died having never seen his beloved Cubbies win the World Series.

Born in Missouri, raised in Texas, and currently living in Virginia I am delighted to see Cubs fans in every corner of the country. Whenever I see a hat or shirt with the blue and red logo, I feel an immediate connection to the person wearing it. This is my brother, my sister, a member of my clan. We have experienced the same joys and, more often than not, experienced the same sorrows. They too have endured the relentless reminders of the historic championship drought. 1908, 1945, 1984, 2003. They too have heard the jokes about their postseason futility. The Billy Goat. The Black Cat. Steve Bartman. These years and words mean little to the average person, but to the Cubs fan it elicits anguish.

A history professor of mine once said that sports are increasingly not just about sports. In a country that has witnessed the decline of social institutions such as the family, the neighborhood, and the church, he says that sports have managed to foster a community with camaraderie, bounded by the glue of the home team. If you find yourself at Wrigley Field on a hot summer day, you will quickly see the validity of his claims.

Sitting in the Budweiser bleachers, you are likely to be surrounded by people from all walks of life: Christians, Jews, and atheists, blacks and whites, old and young, supporters of Donald Trump and devotees of Hillary Clinton. On game days, however, these differences are nowhere to be found. A Cubs’ home run or a nice defensive play prompts the diverse fan base to high-five one another and cheer in unity for the players in blue pinstripes.

The poet and writer T.S. Eliot penned these words in his 1934 play, The Rock:

What life have you if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community.
And no community not lived in praise of God.

Sports are no substitute for the worship of God and are an inadequate foundation on which to build a healthy community. But in an increasingly secular and polarized nation, they can help alleviate the hunger of a country starved for shared experiences. With the help of the home team, a hot dog, and a few beers, the differences that divide us can be washed away–if only for a few hours.

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Daniel Kishi is a fourth year undergraduate at Patrick Henry College where he mows lawns, weeds flower beds, and shovels snow. He also studies journalism and the classical liberal arts. He lives in Leesburg, Va. with his wife.

Image: Honus Wagner, 1911. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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