Can sports make a difference?

I don’t consider myself to be a sports fanatic or a particularly die-hard fan of a team, but I’m probably like many Americans- I like to root for the underdog, cheer for my home team(s) and perhaps get into the NCAA tourney and attend a Super Bowl party. The closest to die hard I’ve ever been was having student season tickets for Gopher hockey (back when they last won the Frozen Four). Otherwise, I’m the sports fan who likes to participate in and cheer for the less glamorous sports. So can you guess where my attention will be in a few weeks? Yep, I’ll be the employee who comes in with the Olympic hangover each morning.

Taking in all the sporting news this year from horrific (think Penn State), to the local (Vikings stadium), to the good (Title IX’s 40th anniversary), I couldn’t help think that discussing sports’ connective role in our culture for better or worse is worthy of discussion. Through sports we see human triumphs, find friends in new cities, see barriers broken, hear stories of countries we might not otherwise learn about and are forced to examine of our collective values. We are thus forced to look at sports’ role through that political or policy lens.

In talking to guest our Dave Zirin, it’s incredible to note that the London games will cost up to 24 billion pounds. How will that debt be paid? Will this exacerbate England’s ability to play a role in calming the European economic crisis? Zirin also recalled how part of Greek’s debt problems and the L.A. race riots stem from the two cities preparing to host the Olympics. While we all go even more mad for football/soccer, and use it as the sport that exemplifies Title IX’s success, it’s interesting to note that Title IX is not exactly bridging the gaps in diversity gaps when it comes to race and class. Maybe during this year’s anniversary, we ask how Title IX can be improved to truly provide participation opportunities for all girls.

This panel sparked my interest to better understand sports’ hold on us as humans and community members. So think about it, sports fan or not, do you think sports can make a difference?

–Meggan Ellingboe, assistant producer

  • Craig

    Humans lie on the animal continuum, and like many species we have ritualistic, nonlethal competition to inform mate selection. As animals go, we are complex, so athletic prowess is not the only ingredient in our louche cocktail of attractiveness; but for many, especially during the peak fertility years, it’s a potent one.

    In addition, and semi-independent to the mate selection urge, I think natural selection has imbued us with a desire to know which members of our group would make the best soldiers. This vestigial, pro-security urge was rewarded for hundreds of thousands of years, and though it no longer serves its original purpose, it still drives our interest in militaristic games. In ancient Greece the very popular pentathlon involved sprinting, throwing (javelin and discus), long jump and wrestling. Today, people enjoy watching two teams of specialists line up on either side of a mock front and attempt to take territory from each other through ground and air action. Each example is influenced by its contemporary style of warfare.

    If these urges to watch are genetic, they should vary from person to person, like height, weight, etc… and perhaps the reverence given to champions also differs between those with a strong urge to watch and those less interested. This reverence may allow prominent athletes to influence the spectator leaning population on all kinds of subjects, hence the political dimension.