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Sports and the Human Condition: Why Sports are Necessary in Society

The COVID-19 pandemic that has plagued the world and covered 2020 in a shadow that will gloom on hearts for quite some time has taught us a lot- about ourselves, about the world, and about humanity as a whole. One of the most surprising twists of events, something this present writer never would have foreseen before this year, was the discovery of how necessary sports are to the human condition. Whether it be: football, American football, baseball, basketball, swimming, golf, NASCAR, or whatever else you want to throw into the category; sports have revealed themselves to be critical. To many sports fans that are reading this, you might be thinking, ‘Well, duh.’ And don’t get me wrong, I love sports as much as the next person, but I always thought of sports as a luxury, not a necessity.

By the end of March, most of the nation went into quarantine mode restricting public appearances to a minimum and forcing families to actually spend time with each other. One of the clear rules of quarantine: no more team sports. While this helped individual sports to get a surge of viewership, think racing or golf, it caused all other sports to come to a complete halt. The nation quickly, or not so quickly, moved through the different phases of lockdown: cocktail making, bread baking, and celebrities singing John Lennon songs. All this is to say, the beginning stages of quarantine were not that bad. That is, until it kept going. It started to test how long people could handle being in quarantine trying to avoid an invisible enemy which was being called into question on how bad it really was, or if it even existed. And then the protest phase began.

Beginning at the end of April, protests were being held across the nation over the response to the pandemic, many of which were in retaliation over the idea of a mask mandate. Then by the end of May, the nation exploded with Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd that spread to over sixty countries. Soon the protests splintered off into subcategories: protesting Confederate statues, protests for calls to defund the police, protests against the calls to defund the police, etc. For almost every subject there was soon a demonstration. The interesting thing to note is that none of the ideas behind the protests were new. Racial inequality, gender inequality, police brutality- they were not invented in the year 2020. Everything that was being protested for or against had been in talks for years, sometimes centuries. So what made this year different? What made the conditions so right for protests to ignite, not just across states and nations, but the entire globe?

People had time. People had time, and they were looking for distractions. They were looking for meaning and purpose to be placed back into their lives in the midst of a pandemic that was stripping away the culture that they knew. Since the world was being thrown into chaos, many asked how a little more chaos could hurt. People were seeking a way to fill their day and for a noble excuse to get out of their homes. But people also had pent up aggression that needed to be let out. With less people leaving their homes that meant that they could not change their environment, they could not exercise as easily, and they could not go to their place for creative outlets. In other words, all of the common things that help people release their aggression were not possible in quarantine. So they were left no choice but to release it in a different way (i.e. protests).

Now, how does sports play a factor in this conversation? Quite heavily, actually. Though aggression is a complex study in and of itself, there has been research that suggests that low serotonin levels may lead to violent aggression, and serotonin can be depleted from poor diets, lack of sunlight, lack of exercise, and an increase in stress; also known as: quarantining. So with outside factors creating the perfect setting for aggression, people need to let it out somehow. For many that is sports. Even those that watch the sport are able to let off steam cheering for their team to win, which brings up another subject: us versus them.

It is a pretty natural instinct- the “us versus them” mentality. Some might even call it evolutionary- loyalty to one’s tribe over another. And sports is a perfect example of this mentality, just on a much smaller scale: Yankees versus Red Sox, Lakers versus Celtics, Packers versus Bears; the list goes on and on. And fans take on the team they support as their own. They become one of the team. When their team is victorious then they are victorious and when their team loses then they lose as well. Sports is like war with less of the threat of death. Take sports away and people only have the real thing. So in the spring when sports had been shut down already for a few months and there was a chance to draw a line in the sand, to create new teams, over a cause that was in the news- people followed their natural instinct and began to protest.

This is not to say that sports is the solution to protests. Nor is this saying that protests are always a bad thing. This is simply an observation and a hypothesis: sports help maintain peace. If people spend their time fighting about whether quarterbacks deflated footballs or whether the coach made the right call in substituting a player, which in the grand scheme of life seem like trivial things, then they are not fighting elsewhere. And for those that state that those sports topics are not trivial and do, in fact, represent something bigger and deserve to be debated on a grand scale, then that really just helps prove the point further. Whether it be Romans in the Colosseum or Americans in Lambeau Field, people need sports to blow off steam. And when they don’t have sports they turn their aggression to whatever they can- government, ideals, or just other people in general. It’s the natural instinct. So for the betterment of society, for peace on a larger scale, sports need to play a role. They say for success you need to choose your battles- maybe sports just help us choose the battles that are controlled by referees.

(Cover Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

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