I owe sports an apology.
I am not a sports person. I don’t come from a sporty family, I don’t like competition, I don’t like groups, and I am, to put it mildly, uncoordinated.
I think the way my family treated sports was probably pretty typical for a lefty academic family. In my family, professional sports was always seen as unimportant. Frank DeFord’s comments on NPR were something to get through to get to the real news. College sports were something that took money away from the real work of universities (anthropology and sociology according to my parents).
But, I married a sports fan, a former NCAA athlete (swimmer), a fan of pickup basketball games. A man who still loves to listen to Bears and Cubs games on the radio, who always finds another team to follow as an excuse to keep watching games. Then, I gave birth to a sports fan. A boy who taught himself to read so that he could read the Sports Page. He loves to play sports, he loves to watch sports, he loves sports.
My son has always brought me stories about sports that he thinks I’ll appreciate. Usually, it’s something showing people on different teams supporting or helping each other. Sometimes, it’s just something about U of L Basketball, or an athlete who is from Louisville, a short athlete, or a Jewish athlete.
A few years ago I brought him Chris Kluwe and Jason Collins. He brought me Michael Sam.
Then, a few weeks ago he brought me the St. Louis Rams management saying they wouldn’t ask their players to apologize for making the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture. He brought me LeBron James in an “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirt. When we went to a Black Lives Matter solidarity march this weekend, that’s the sign he wanted to carry. Not just because an athlete had worn the shirt, but because the athlete had shown him how important it was to show your beliefs.
At the march a speaker talked about sports and America. He said Americans love sports because they’re fair. Larry Bird did not get more points for a basket than Michael Jordan. My son gave me a clear look of “I told you so.”
This morning I brought him Andrew Hawkins in his “Justice for Tamir Rice” shirt and told him about his statement refusing to apologize for the shirt. He asked me for more info on Tamir Rice.
A few years ago I realized that team sports, while still probably not a good fit for me, have been excellent for my kids. And now I realize my other mistake, professional sports are not a waste of time and money. Professional sports are part of our culture.
Yes, there are other people I could bring my son: Ray Rice, Michael Vick, Oscar Pistorious, Adrian Peterson. As horrible as their behavior is, it is still part of our culture. Like other entertainers and artists, athletes have a voice and how they use it is sometimes good and sometimes bad.
The actress Nichelle Nichols has told a story about wanting to quit Star Trek and being talked out of it by Martin Luther King, Jr. King told her that she needed to stay in the role, to show a future where a black woman was in a position of authority, to show a future where races worked together.
President Obama has said that his thoughts on gay marriage evolved in part because of TV shows like Will and Grace.
The Jungle, Grapes of Wrath, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, everyone can think of a book that helped change someone’s mind or a policy.
I get it now, sports has the same power.
So, I apologize, for all the cracks about dumb athletes and for all the rolling of eyes at sports talk.
But, I’m still only watching the Super Bowl for the commercials.