Growing up in New York City during the era of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford one couldn’t help but pick a team and mine was the Yankees. But my version of being a fan was reading the sports pages so I could participate in a conversation with friends many of whom were rabid fans.
As a kid, I played softball, tennis, went ice skating, swam and played stickball in the schoolyard. I did none of them well and soon gave up on all of them. Over the years I would go to baseball games if invited and was at Yankee Stadium the day Sandy Koufax pitched his 16 strikeouts for the Dodgers against the Yankees in the World Series. Even attended games at the old Polo grounds in Hamilton Heights. When I moved to D.C. was invited to a Redskins game, when the stadium was really sold out, but declined, never to be invited again because I had a bridge game.
My favorite sport to watch should have given me an early indication of my sexual orientation. For my birthday each year my favorite present was tickets to see the Ice Capades. Years later at the Holiday Inn outside Albany, N.Y. for a conference I met the stars of Ice Capades also staying there and was rewarded for being a fan by getting to know one of them really well.
In high school I was the kid who got the note asking to be excused from gym claiming my presence was needed in the student government office. In college there was a one-credit gym requirement to graduate. I completed that credit during my last semester by taking golf, which at CCNY involved hitting a whiffle ball around the gym. Two good friends were golfers one having played at Cornell and the other at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. After learning I had taken golf they invited me to play a round with them but after the third hole politely suggested I just ‘walk’ along; that effectively was the end of my golfing career. These days when friends invite me to the renowned Congressional Country Club outside of Washington it’s to join them for a meal.
Sports are important for kids both to ensure good health and to learn to play with others. Team spirit is important. Sports teams also have a great economic impact on the cities in which they are located. It was a financial boon for D.C. when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup and it also brought the community together like no other event had in years.
Every so often sports enters the realm of politics, which it has again this past year in a way it hadn’t since the protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem it created a moment for people to seriously think about what is happening in the country, the racial inequities in society and our judicial system. That incident continues to resonate in many ways because the president in one of his more disgusting rants took a meaningful and important moment and tried to turn it into something ugly.
Many of our athletes become role models for children. Some take this seriously like the Williams’ sisters working to do good for the community. Some others unfortunately let the huge amount of money they earn go to their heads and act out in ways we don’t want our children to emulate. Sports leagues can make a difference if they take their responsibility to their athletes and the community more seriously. Recently the NFL reportedly “denied a request from Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif when he asked the league if he could put the letters “M.D.” on the back of his jersey. He finished up his medical degree at McGill University in May.” It would seem they would be proud to have such an athlete in the league and understand having those letters after his name on his jersey would give young people a wonderful role model to look up to.
As long as our society continues to revere sports heroes and place them on pedestals let’s highlight the best of them; and there are many great ones out there.