As of late, the sports world has been a typhoon of scandal, controversy and all sorts of trouble.
The scope of athletics has narrowed down to more negativity this year than any year in recent memory. From domestic and child abuse cases to failed drug tests and DUIs, a plethora of athletes have been stirring up a lot of anger and disappointment.
During times like these, it is easy to lose track of why we love sports. It’s hard to say how mankind’s admiration of sports and athletes arose. Whether it was a result of survival tactics in hunter-gatherer times, ancient Greek culture or some innate competitive spirit that lives inside everyone, who knows? What we can know is this: sports are a source of inspiration and unity. They can bring people together with a magnitude greater than most known mediums today and there are recent instances in the sports world that remind us why we continue to watch.
Leah Still is the 4-year-old daughter of Cincinnati Bengals LB Devon Still, and she was diagnosed with stage-4 neuroblastoma, a form of pediatric cancer, in June. The Bengals signed Devon Still earlier this season to help him pay for Leah’s treatment, and also graciously pledged that all sales of Still’s number 75 jersey would be donated to research for pediatric cancer. During the primetime Sunday Night Football game when the Bengals played the Patriots, the Patriots cheerleaders all sported the opposing Still’s jersey, and during a break the team paid tribute to the Still family, raising awareness for pediatric cancer. Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced that he would be donating $25,000 to pediatric cancer research. All of this good-heartedness took place in the midst of pink gloves, socks, and pins in support of the October breast cancer awareness month.
JP Gibson is another kid battling pediatric cancer. He is five years old, and was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia two years ago. With the help of the Anything Can Be Project, JP got to live his dream of playing in the NBA on Monday. The Utah Jazz signed him as a free agent, and with his family behind him, JP signed to be a professional athlete in purple crayon. That night, the Jazz played their annual intra-squad scrimmage, and JP got some minutes. He caught an inbound pass, weaved in and out of traffic, and then Jazz center Rudy Gobert helped JP throw down a two-handed jam. Check out the heart-warming video here.
But it hasn’t been just kids that are bringing us to the brink of tears lately. Many people were caught crying on camera during Derek Jeter’s iconic farewell. Heck, I started to choke up watching his Gatorade commercial. Yes, his last game at Yankee Stadium was magical, but it was the game at Fenway Park that really exhibits the power of sports. The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry is one of the nastiest in sports, and a year ago if you mentioned Jeter’s name anywhere in the Boston area, you’d been in danger of being hit by flying objects. But the rivalry was postponed for a night, as Bostonians gave a standing ovation to The Captain, and numerous signs that read “Re2pect” were held in front of Red Sox windbreakers.
It is this kind of unity that sports provokes: the chilling sight of Jeter tipping his cap to a roaring Fenway, the undeniable sense of hope triggered by athletes highlighting something bigger than all of us, and the sensation of your heart melting inside your chest when young JP is hanging, all smiles, from the rim. These kinds of things are not uncommon in sports, and though it is important for us to hold people accountable when something is wrong in the sports world, it is equally important that we recognize the positive things that sports can do.
Thanks for keeping’ track with Zac.
Collegian Assistant Sports Editor Zac Koch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @zactkoch