Where would we be without sports? Across the globe, there doesn’t seem to be an industry as large and influential as sports. Whether it’s a game or our favorite team we are following, we laugh, cry, mourn, and celebrate with each score or each player’s movement. A simple game can put us on top of the world, or make us feel like life as we know it has ended. This is the only industry where the fans actually feel like they lost when their team loses, or feels like they won when their favorite team wins. We create a bond so strong with athletes and teams that it’s beyond obsession. When discussing a game with fellow sports fan, we actually use the word “we” when talking about the game that was played. We connect ourselves with the team so unfathomable we say things like “we almost won the game last night.” In this paper, I will show the impact that sports and athletes have on the world today by providing examples of how individuals and team efforts have brought joy to many people’s lives who were struggling with adversity and great loss.
Going deeper into the realm of sports, the players themselves have a pretty powerful influence on fans, especially the younger generation. Whether athletes want the responsibility or not, it’s something they have to accept. In 1993, Nike ran a commercial featuring Charles Barkley with the theme “I am not a role model. I don’t get paid to be a role model. I get paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” Technically Charles Barkley is correct. He doesn’t get paid to be a role model. The franchise he played for paid him to play basketball and help them win games. But sports go deeper than that for fans. Kids were playing basketball in the backyard pretending to be Barkley and Jordan. You see young players all the time imitating their favorite stars. I went to a high school basketball game a few years ago up in my hometown in Michigan and watched a kid before the game grab the chalk and toss it up in the air like LeBron James does before every game. I asked the gentleman next to me what that was all about, and he told me the kid does it before every game. He watched his idol do it so he decided he would do the same.
Young athletes, regardless of the sport, typically choose their favorite pro players number when picking out uniforms at the beginning of the season. When I was playing high school basketball, it was always easy to realize who the best player on the opposite team was, because they usually wore number twenty-three or thirty-two, because they wanted to be Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Marketing departments realize this phenomenon, which is why they capitalize on millions of dollars in jersey sales, shoe deals, and other apparel they sell with a player’s logo or name on it.
Besides being a positive or negative influence on the court or field, players also gain public exposure through various charity and volunteer work they perform. The NFL has a community outreach program that they have in place to help give back to the fans. The Cleveland Browns invite local service members to all home games and salute them in the “Hats Off to Our Heroes” program. They also have partnerships with various organizations like the Cleveland food bank and the American Red Cross. Offensive Lineman Joe Thomas has won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his charitable donations and volunteer work that he’s done. He’s teamed with a non-profit organization called “Shoes and Clothes for Kids” that raises money every year for underprivileged kids in the Cleveland area. They provide new shoes and clothes so the kids have confidence going into the new school year. The NFL is an organization that does more in communities than any other sports league. The “Play 60” program is a huge charitable event that the players participate in to encourage kids to be active for at least sixty minutes a day. When kids see their favorite players out running at getting involved, they are more likely to get outside and play because their idols are doing it.
The Olympics are a great example of people rallying around sports. Every four years athletes from all over the world gather and compete in numerous events. There are many third world countries that are poor and underdeveloped, but the Olympics give them an opportunity to have an athlete represent their country and give them hope and excitement, if only for a short time.
Jesse Owens went against all odds in 1936 and competed in the Olympics in Berlin. This was a time when Hitler was charge, and was devastated to watch a black man defeat his Germans in the events. One of the most memorable stories in Olympic history is the “Miracle On Ice”. The 1980 USA hockey team overcame all odds to defeat a Soviet team that was heavily favored. At this time, the USA was not exactly a hockey powerhouse, so nobody expected much from this team. Russia and the United States weren’t on the greatest of terms throughout this decade, so this was a huge win for the team, and the country. Most people don’t even remember that this wasn’t the championship game. The US team still had to beat Finland to win the gold medal. But for Americans all over the country, beating the Soviet team was the ultimate achievement. It was a game that almost didn’t happen because President Carter was considering boycotting the Olympics in Moscow, but they moved it to Lake Placid and all of the events were able to take place, and everyone participated. This game was more than a hockey game for many people. It meant representing your country on the biggest stage that was nationally televised, and earning your place among the elite.
The Olympics allows us to become cultured with all the other participating countries. Through media, we are able to learn about these athletes and where they came from. Americans fell in love with Usain Bolt from Jamaica and he became a star overnight by becoming the fastest man in the world. Canadian skier Sarah Burke won the hearts of everyone around the world with her beauty and impeccable skiing ability. This is why the entire world mourned earlier this year with the news of her death. The media brings these characters to life for us and allows us to create a connection with the athletes regardless of what country they are from.
Every country around the world has their own issues they have to deal with on a day to day basis, and the Olympics give them an opportunity to escape these everyday stresses and cheer for their country’s athletes. This leads me into my next topic of how much sports can influence a nation, a country, or even a city. When a country faces adversity like the United States did on September 11th, 2001, the people go through various stages of feelings. Everyone across the nation went from being scared, to sad, to mournful, to angry all through the course of one event.
September 11th marked the worst tragedy in American history, with nearly 3,000 people losing their lives in a single act of terrorism. Americans all across the country watched in horror as the two massive towers collapsed and engulfed New York City in smoke and debris. Many of our brothers stepped up and helped one another, becoming heroes that day. Others lost their lives, their loved ones, and their sense of security and freedom. But as we always do, Americans bonded together and overcame adversity to not forget, but to put tragedy behind us and move forward with life. But what are the things that help us do this? One that comes to mind is sports.
Just seven weeks after New York was devastated with the disaster, the World Series of Baseball took place with the New York Yankees playing against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Yankees are a team that is not liked or disliked. You either love them or you hate them if you are a baseball fan. But for a short period of time in October and November of 2001, nearly every person in America became a New York Yankees fan. I remember meeting a few gentlemen in a pub during game 1 of the World Series. They were originally from Boston and were wearing Red Sox shirts, but much to my surprise were rooting for the city of New York and the baseball team that they grew up hating. To witness these men wearing their Boston attire and rooting for the Yankees gave me chills. It made me realize that when it comes down to it, baseball is just a game. In the end, we are all brothers and sisters and want what’s best for one another.
The Yankees and Diamondbacks played arguably the most exciting World Series in MLB history. The Diamondbacks ended up winning the series in seven games, but the series showed us that the city of New York will overcome this adversity and get back to normalcy. For a brief moment, the Yankees gave the city something to cheer for, instead of mourning over the devastation.
August 29th, 2005 marked the most devastating natural disaster in US history. Hurricane Katrina became a category 3 storm as it worked its way across central Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The city below sea level, New Orleans, was hit the hardest by the storm. All in all, over 1,800 people lost their lives during the costliest hurricane in American history. The New Orleans Saints Superdome was a key landmark that provided shelter and food for nearly 26,000 residents of the city. In the aftermath of the hurricane, much of New Orleans was left under water, and many people left without homes. While many people were spending energy and resources complaining about the government and what should have been done to prevent this, the world of sports took initiative to step up and help the people that were suffering. Peyton Manning and Eli Manning, originally from the New Orleans area, used millions of dollars of their own money to load food and supplies in a plane and personally deliver the goods to the people of Louisiana. NBA teams like the Orlando Magic visited the area and met with survivors, signed autographs, and simply spent time with the victims. Many NFL and NBA players spent the next few years building homes in the area and donating time and resources to help rebuild New Orleans. Then four years later, the New Orleans Saints went on to win the Super Bowl over the Indianapolis Colts. A team that had never played in a Super Bowl or really ever had a successful track record of winning overcame all odds and lifted a city to the highest peak of enjoyment in the sports world. That is something magical that only sports can provide.
April 25th, 2011 was the most devastating tornado outbreak the US has seen in nearly a century. 322 people lost their lives, including 239 in the state of Alabama. The tornado ripped through the University of Alabama campus and took students lives. Again, many athletes from every major sports league came to the aid of the state and helped clean up and rebuild the cities affected by this storm. This is very powerful because there isn’t a professional sports team in this state, but in times like this, we are all family and we are not prejudice to help any state anywhere in the US. The football team went on to win the National Championship the next season. No matter what adversity we are faced with, sports always lifts us up when all hope seems lost.
Watching the Japanese Soccer team win the championship over USA was bittersweet. After a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown at a power plant in Japan, the country seemed to be on the brink of disaster. The storm claimed over 15,000 lives, making it one of the deadliest disasters in the world. The Japanese soccer team brought hope back to their country and gave the natives reason to cheer as they dominated the playoffs and won the championship in thrilling fashion. As an American, I was obviously rooting for the USA team, but when Japan kicked the winning goal in the shootout round, I could not be angry or upset. I felt joy for these girls who gave everything they had to win a game that would show their country that this disaster was not going to claim their lively hood. It was not going to define them. It was simply a hurdle that they must overcome and they looked ahead to the future.
There are many obstacles in our daily lives that create adversity and cause stress. Sport has become one of the greatest outlets for this stress, giving us something to get excited about. Some great sports movies that come to mind are "Invincible" and "We Are Marshall". These movies depict the struggles Americans go through, and how sports teams are there to lift our spirits when all hope seems lost.
Invincible is a true story about Vince Papali, a common man from Philadelphia who walked on to the Philadelphia Eagles and made the team. His city was stricken by a poor economy and a strike that was devastating the industrial landscape of the area and workers. Papali’s hard work and determination to make a team that the city loved brought everyone together and gave them something to cheer about.
We Are Marshall is a movie based on the tragedy that struck the Thundering Herd football team when the plane they were on crashed and killed everyone aboard, including 37 football players and 8 coaches. This was a community that lost sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands. Despite the tragedy, the University came together and rallied to put a football team together the next year. Coaches from other teams did everything they could do to help the young football team succeed. It was a great story of people coming together and helping one another after a tragic event.
A sport can provide inspiration in our lives. No matter what sport you are a fan of, you can use it to give you a sense of fulfillment and an escape from your everyday problems. There aren't many things out there with this type of power. When times get tough, athletes and sports teams are always there to lend a helping hand. Sports can make us forget about problems we have going on at home or at work. We can be depressed about what we have going on in our personal lives and think that things can’t get much worse. Then our team will pull off a victory that seemed unimaginable and give us joy and hope. It makes us forget about our personal problems. It also makes us believe that anything is possible. If we work hard enough we can accomplish anything that we want in life. That's a pretty powerful thing.
Shilan Shah on May 19, 2012:
What are your sources? I am writing a paper similar to this and I would like to know which sources would help me best. Thank you.