The Healing Power of Sports

The Healing Power of Sports

I love sports.  I love almost every sport out there.  I love college football the most, followed by professional basketball.  I am practically addicted to NFL's The Red Zone on Sundays (or, "ADD Football," as I endearingly call it) and I love my USC Trojans.  I've been known to spend more than 12 hours in front of the television watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament.  And, my husband says I'm probably the only wife in America who grabs the Sports section of the newspaper before her husband does.

As a more-than-casual observer of sports and a rabid fan of specific teams, I’ve used sports as a way to relieve tension and to feel better.  I cry Cardinal and Gold tears when my Trojans lose (yes, I’ve cried a LOT of Cardinal and Gold tears this season).  And, I’ve turned to the Trojans or Lakers or Dodgers when I’ve been down and out because watching sports usually puts me in a better mood.  I’ve even been known to watch old UCLA-USC football games (when the Trojans win, of course) and when I really need an uplift, my go-to DVD is that 2005 USC-Notre Dame game featuring that wonderful fourth-and-9 Leinart-to-Jarrett pass and the Bush Push into the end zone with seconds left on the clock.  So, yes, I turn to sports not just for recreation or to hunt around for something interesting to write about but also to lift my spirits. 

Time to Heal via shutterstock

However, I never really thought about the importance of sports until a few recent events transpired.  The first occurred last month, after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Northeast portion of the United States.  People were left homeless; some have been without power which still has yet to be restored; many lost meaningful possessions in addition to their homes; others were unable to earn a living because they could not put fuel into their cars or trucks.  It has been a tragedy of enormous proportions; those of us living in the sunny climes of California will never understand the horrors they've had to deal with.  (I won't even mention the unsympathetic FEMA and governmental bureaucracies and the union rules prohibiting people from helping unless they are union brothers.  No, I won't mention those foibles.)  What I will mention is the incredible healing power of sports…in the form of a high school football team from the Sandy-ravaged area.  

My husband attended a Jesuit-Military high school located in lower Manhattan called Xavier High.  After the Vietnam War ended, the military component was dropped but it still maintains its high-level Jesuit education.  But then, Sandy hit and chaos reigned once again.  I say "once again" because after the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, Xavier lost more alumni than any other school in the New York area.  This time around, after Hurricane Sandy, 11 of Xavier's players lost their homes and were living elsewhere, some bunking with teammates.  The coach’s basement had 8 feet of water.  One player even had to rescue his siblings, grandmother and pets from the family home using surfboards and a family kayak.  When he returned to his home the next day, he found it leveled.  Gone.   

After Sandy hit, Xavier’s coach didn't think it would be possible to field a team for the rest of the season, let alone the upcoming championship game (should they make it that far).  Not only were players displaced but their football field was under water and there was no place they could practice.  So, he did the most sensible thing a coach could do: he began calling the players to cancel the rest of the season.  But then a funny thing happened: the players didn't want to cancel the season.  They wanted to play.  They had already lost everything; they didn't want to lose this, too.  So, they got together and practiced when and where they could.

Every year, the school plays its arch-rival Fordham Prep on Thanksgiving weekend and this year was no different...Xavier beat Fordham Prep to earn a place in the CHSFL championship game.  Not many people gave them a chance to make it this far and now they were in the championship game!  The boys looked at this game not as a benchmark for athletic prowess or for the chance to walk around campus with a little more swagger than usual but for the opportunity to spend a few more days with each other under the most arduous circumstances.  Running back Trey Solomon told the Brooklyn Daily, "For me it just means I get to spend 10 more days with the guys I love."

The healing power of sports.

Fast forward to this past weekend when news broke from the Kansas City Chiefs' offices that defensive linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and committed suicide in front of his head coach, leaving his infant daughter an orphan.  This is a criminal act and a human tragedy of enormous proportions, considering the baby left behind and the trauma that will likely befall her when she learns that her father killed her mother and then himself.  But, back to my point: Kansas City was set to play a game at home on Sunday, one day after the murder-suicide.  Many people, including my husband, felt that the game should have been canceled.  But, it wasn't.  The players didn't want it to be canceled.  They wanted to play.  They needed to play.  As Kansas City Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said, "...I felt that [playing] was the best thing for us to do because that's what we do -- we are football players, we are football coaches and we play and coach on Sunday."  Insensitive?  Some will say yes.  Necessary?  I insist it was. 

The healing power of sports.

Because when your life careens out of control, you need to take back control and one of the ways you do this is by jumping into your normal routine.  And, sports are all about routine.  To be a successful athlete, no matter at what level, you need to be disciplined and controlled.  If you've played on a team for any length of time, you go to practice, you work out, you find yourself in the company of your teammates, you are ordered around by your coach, you and your teammates may even complain privately about your coach ordering you around.  But, surprise.  There is comfort in these routines, even the negative ones.  And, outside of the military, there is no better place to establish a routine than in sports. 

When Xavier won the championship, it was fantastic.  The boys accomplished an incredible feat but I'm guessing they will tell you that it wasn't the game that was important but the routine of playing that kept them going.  When the Chiefs won, it was an emotional moment seeing the players and their opponents huddled together on the field in prayer after the last second ticked off.  Xavier and Kansas City were beginning their process of healing right there on the field for all to see.

There are stories -- big and small -- of how teams shoulder on in the face of unbelievable odds.  In my opinion, that's exactly why you keep playing.  Because sports is so much more than the game that's being played.  Sports is the bonding between teammates.  Sports is the diversion that helps players get through the crisis.  Sports is the coming together of the fans for a common cause.  Sports is the healing power we need to get through the tough times. 

The healing power of sports?  Absolutely. 

What do you think?  Have you been through a traumatic situation and used the healing power of sports to get you through?    

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