digregoriocolumn

Columnist Zack DiGregorio argues that much of the value of sports is in the storytelling that goes beyond the game itself.

As my football life has progressed and my knowledge of football has grown, Brett Favre’s story has been one I’ve come to identify with. He had more fun playing the game than anyone, which I’ve always had great admiration for. His relationship with his dad was deeply tied to football; his dad was his coach in high school, just like my dad was my high school football coach.

Those ties struck a chord with me in watching his game on December 22nd, 2003. On Sunday, Favre’s father passed away from a stroke and the next day, on Monday Night Football, Favre had the best game of his life. Throwing for 399 yards and 4 TDs, with eyes visibly filled with tears and grief all over his face before the game, Favre gave us all something to cheer for, and, more importantly, something to believe in.

Sports allow us to deal in hardships that are manufactured, proxies for our tests. That is not to say they don’t matter; they are, however, something we choose to challenge ourselves with. That challenge is ultimately met with passion, as no great challenge was ever conquered without passion, and that gives us a story: it gives us conflict.

Not everyone has played sports, but everyone has faced some sort of conflict in their life: something standing in between what they are and what they want to be.

What has always amazed me when walking down a busy street, onto the subway, or even into an elevator full of people, is the lifetimes’ worth of experiences, trials, conquests, and defeats contained in such a small area.

In life, these victories and defeats get messy. Sometimes the winner is unclear, or maybe there is no winner. But sports make it easy. The team and the players want to win a game or a championship. We get points to sort out the winners and losers, records to see who wins a lot and who loses a lot, and to see that Jeff Fisher is 7-9 again.

We keep our own records in our heads (my record is 18-6,293, in case you were wondering), and it’s easy to harp on the losses. The losses haunt us, because we are human.

We are not “only human,” as the cliché might suggest. The “only” is meant as a pejorative knock on humanity’s inherent flaws. The cliche suggests that what Eric LeGrand does for every life he touches, whether with his presence or his advocacy, is “only human.” It suggests that there is something flawed about Jason McElwain, the autistic high school basketball player who, despite air-balling his first shot in a real game in 2006, went on to score 20 points in the game and hit six three’s. Terry Fox “only” ran across Canada on one leg in 1980 to raise money for cancer research.

Sports prove to us that there is nothing “only” about being human, it is our greatest strength. Sports remind us that we are all human and capable of conquering whatever opposition we face, as long as we have the passion and the enthusiasm to do so.

In 1980, because of what a group of college kids did in a hockey rink in Lake Placid, we all believed in miracles. After Mo’Ne Davis’s run in the Little League World Series, Little Leagues across the country saw a 25% increase in female participation the next year. Eric LeGrand’s life changed forever Oct. 16, 2010 at MetLife Stadium, but he made a conscious decision to not be known for his disability, but for his indomitable will and with a passion for life that is truly unmatched — even when nothing was expected of him.

Life is one big team game. Sports are a bunch of little, easy games, to remind us that underdogs win, passion matters and that losing isn’t permanent — you just try to win the next one. They reveal the side of our humanity that doesn’t suggest we are “only human,” but that our humanity is our greatest asset, and, when used collectively, can be used to achieve incredible feats.

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