Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Amazing Grace and Us

"Amazing Grace and Chuck" was a 1987 film about a little league baseball pitcher, Chuck, who decides to stop playing baseball - his self-professed "best thing" - until the disarming of all nuclear weapons. What seems like a childish stunt or phase catches the attention of the nation when a fictional professional basketball player, "Amazing" Grace Smith of the Boston Celtics decides to join Chuck in sitting out of the season until the world is rid of nuclear weapons. 

The President visits the family, other professional athletes join in the cause, children around the world stop talking in protest, leaders from around the world join in the conversation and eventually, nuclear disarmament occurs around the world. 

The closing scene of the movie is Amazing Grace's response to a reporter's question about whether or not he thinks these protests are really going to bring an end to nuclear weapons: 

I don't know, but wouldn't it be nice.

The movie is a fantastical fairy tale - albeit one that reinforces racial stereotypes - but seeing it as a young child, it made me ponder the power of sports and the responsibility that all of us have to work toward a better world. 

All of us committed to a better world. Wouldn't it be nice. 

The NBA and other professional sports leagues sat out of their contests the for two days last week in an effort to draw attention to law enforcement's excessive use of force towards blacks, most recently the shooting of Jacob Blake. There were discussions among the NBA players and stakeholders about boycotting the rest of this COVID-affected season. As people everywhere - myself included - pondered the impact that a potential boycott could have, I was reminded of Amazing Grace and Chuck. 

Can sports really affect societal change? 

I don't know, but wouldn't it be nice.

Money talks and perhaps nothing talks as loudly across America, and potentially even the world, as multi-billion dollar sports leagues. How much would our country listen if sports weren't forced to cancel because of the threat and realities of a global pandemic but rather because of the choices of athletes to draw attention to the threat and realities of the evils of racism? 

There is something, even in the money driven worlds of professional and collegiate athletics, that is pure in sports. There is something about sports, when it is played at the highest levels of competition and with the purest of intentions, that draws us out of ourselves. Similar to the power of art, sports can remind us of the true, the good, and the beautiful. 

Sports can demonstrate to us the power of a group of people united in purpose. Sports can give us glimpses of what humans are capable of - amazing feats of strength, speed, agility, endurance, balance, explosiveness - when inspired to stretch beyond their known limits. 

Sports, when done right, can form us in the virtues of humility and courage, among others. Despite the many ways that athletes and coaches try to gain advantages over opponents within the confines of the rules of the game, sporting participants and their accomplishments are tarnished when they violate the spirit of the game (i.e. deflate-gate, stealing signs, steroids/PED/doping usage). 

Sports, when done right, can bring out the best in us. 

People have yearned for sports since their sudden stoppage in March because sports in their entertainment can act as a diversion. In the midst of the trials and tribulations of our lives, sports can draw us out of our circumstances, and elevate us - even if just for duration of the game - to something higher, something better.

In ancient Greek and Roman literature, sports acted as a recess from war. The Iliad spends countless pages detailing the funeral games held between the Trojans and the Greeks after the death of Patroclus. In the Aeneid, sporting events honor the memory of Aeneas's father. 

In modern times, sports can act as a universal language where groups of seemingly different people come together and compete alongside of and against each other. 

Sports, when properly directed, also pause at various times, like last week, to draw attention to more important matters. To grieve. To heal. 

Yes, there are more important matters than sports. 

Sports, like all facets of life, are impacted by the current trends in society and our world. But, sports also have the immense power to impact our society. When done right, sports can affect society and the world in positive ways.  

Can a two day stoppage of play reverse centuries old systems of racism? What about a season of protest? 

In a word: no. But, that wasn't necessarily the point.  

The solutions leading to a better world will require sustained hard work, innovation, forgiveness and hope.  Athletes will have an ongoing part to play, potentially with more missed games. Politicians are essential. So are police officers, and health care professionals and teachers and lawyers and engineers and construction workers and office personnel and priests and counselors and techies and business owners and actors and farmers and...


You. Me. Us. 

A better world won't come easily, or quickly, or through the actions of one person, or one law, or one movement. 

But when it does come, won't it be nice.