October 19, 2019

Sports Connections, Priceless for Our Health

“I did not choose to be a fan of one of the least successful franchises the NFL has ever known. The Lions were given to me, as teams so often are from father to son.” Taylor Plimpton (Sports Illustrated, November 28, 2011)

A heartfelt piece was published in Sports Illustrated emphasizing the highlights of sporting interests that contrast to the ongoing events at Penn State. Terry McDonnell poetically wrote “In My Tribe” — an article on courage, integrity and fair play in sports.

Generally no one says it better than Sports Illustrated. Until I’ve read SI, I often say a major sporting event is not done. As sportsman, sports fan and mental health professional, I want to add to what SI offered.

Last week a reader commented on the “We Are Penn State” blog saying there is also the joy of playing a game. Very true! That might be best seen watching our kids follow a soccer ball around, chewing on grass, or laying down in the outfield in a tee ball game. We watch and often become friends with other fans / parents, even those cheering for other teams. Today some people may root for collegiate and professional athletes on opposing teams.

Coaches typically add value. A coach does this work to teach sportsmanship, cooperation and team work. Winning of course but many don’t say at “any cost.”  For the most part coaches are volunteers or underpaid, yet positive models for our children. We can be grateful for their involvement.

Stemm, Siler, Murphy, Janzaruk, Bellamy, Hoover and Ronzone are names from my past that the reader won’t know. But these names ring with honor in my head. Their day at a time, sport to sport influence continues in my life today.

Teamwork and camaraderie are integral parts in the journey of athletes. Even in individualized activities such as golf, wrestling or track, the athlete is part of a larger whole.

Recently Yale Quarterback Patrick Witt was invited to interview for a Rhodes scholarship. His Yale football team was scheduled to play the rival game with Harvard the same time as the interview. He requested a different interview time and the request was denied.  Witt chose his teammates and his responsibility to them first, over the Rhodes interview. Some thought him foolish to choose the game. I suggest they don’t know what it’s like to be with a team, don’t understand the value of that camaraderie and don’t know how, in its strongest form, it speaks to our soul.

Sports have a unique language. People know it. Find a stranger and there is frequently a common thread that will be understood and a conversation begins. Day to day we get together to talk of last night’s game. I see a Lions hat and start a conversation of Bears and Lions, games we commonly know.

Relationships are standard — like the one of author George Plimpton and his son Taylor, also in the same issue of Sports Illustrated. Name the team!  Family and friends unite around that team legacy. I remember clearly the first time I took my family to a White Sox baseball game. As I exited the Dan Ryan and turned onto 35th Street, I saw old Comiskey Park and started crying.

In that moment, I had this memory of my dad taking me to a game at the same park and how that was being repeated. The reaction was unexpected and now in itself a fond memory.

My son and I talk of our Sox history. Fox, Melton, Fisk, Ventura Thomas, the 2005 Championship and now, Ventura again. We go to the park and remember: sitting behind the godfather, back to back to back homers off Randy Johnson, and the play inevitably shown on the big park screen of Fisk tagging out two runners at once at home plate. It is part of our history and language.

We have friends that tailgate for every Purdue game. Yes they want Purdue to win but it seems more important that they are with their friends and allies these 6 times per year. This happens at stadiums across the nation.

Go to the sports parks. Observe the pictures being taken with friends and family. These will have significance for them. Being there is a special event and it is being marked by a picture often framed with the field in the back ground.

My friend Jamie tells of listening to the Red Sox baseball games with her grandmother. When Jamie visited grandma and the Red Sox were playing, the game would be on the radio. Grandma remembered the championship in 1916 and hoped they would win another. Grandma would listen and sometimes swear at the radio about a play. She died in the mid 90s.

So when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, after 86 years of futility, Jamie visited grandma’s grave site and tearfully placed a Red Sox pennant on the head stone. She noticed other headstones also with Red Sox Pennants in that same cemetery.

That act was repeated in the Midwest by White Sox fans in 2005. Cubs’ fans will do the same when their next championship comes. The memories, emotions and language, all happen because the connections are more important than the victories. We relish the connections and rarely want those victories at any cost.

We get involved in our sports and are disappointed with a villain of the week. We are Penn State and we (and Penn State) are much more than that.

Sports Illustrated published an expose on Walter Payton, the greatest running back in football. Payton played for the Chicago Bears and was a long time hero of mine. It took a while before I could finally read the article.

I admired him even as I knew only my image of him. The article pointed out stories of his painful humanness.  We can get self righteous (usually it is about the opponent) but we also remember and notice the ongoing list of sportsmanship, courage and integrity from teams and players we’ve cheered for and the experiences we’ve had during those times.

Check out both Sports Illustrated articles: McDowell’s “In My Tribe” and Plimpton’s “In Thanks of Turkeys” — expect you will be moved.

Cheer for your team and your friend’s team. Support fair play, sportsmanship and courage. Enjoy and treasure the memories!

What is your sports story? What is your sports connection? Comment here. Or share via the contact form at www.solutiontherapycenter.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

Bill