Op-Ed: Truth about sports

Posted Sep 5, 2010 by Michael Bearak
Any athlete who completes will tell you they would rather win than lose and a championship is the ultimate goal, still there is more to sports than just winning and losing.
It was Vince Lombardi who was quoted as saying, "Winning isn't everything, it is the only thing." Very possibly that is the most mis-stated or misapplied quote out there. The truth of what Lombardi said was, "winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is." Really it wasn't Lombardi who actually said the initial quote first, it was Henry Russell "Red" Sanders, the famed UCLA football coach who used it in 1950 and again in 1956. Lombardi didn't utter his quote until 1959.
You talk to an athlete, especially when they are finished playing, and they will tell you there is more to their sport than just winning. Some will tell you it is the privilege of being able to play the game they loved, even if it wasn't to make a living. Other athletes will tell you that it is the camaraderie of being a part of something, regardless of the outcome.
What is important to understand is that while athletes say this, it never diminished their desire to win, they just realize that there was more than just winning involved.
At the end of their careers often players will talk about missing being in the locker room, just hanging out with their fellow teammates, or being a part of something special. When the 1992 Olympics ended and the U.S. Dream Team returned home it was Charles Barkley who described the scene at the airport as somewhat sad in realizing that while they will all see each other in the upcoming season that they had shared a unique bond between them that no-one else would ever fully understand.
Now that football has once again begun, and this isn't limited to just football, the art of tailgating is back in full swing. T-Shirts are sold that talk about going to games with 80,000 of your closest friends, a number that has grown with additions at many of the country's largest stadiums. Fans, just like the athletes, cheer, scream, and cry together. Season ticket holders know everyone who sits around them and they treat each other like life long friends.
Sports bring people together, on all levels. The scene in 'For Love of the Game' with the wives in the stands standing and cheering for their Detroit Tigers is Hollywood's example of people coming together, in this case the wives and girlfriends of the players. Parents fill the stands at high school games, they travel to follow their school even when they don't have a child on the field.
Especially with football you end up with fans huddled together braving cold temperatures for night games, or up north cold day games. These are people paying to be there, when it is possible they could be sitting in the warmth of their living rooms watching the games and not paying $5 for a 20oz Coke or $7 for an even smaller beer.
Sports brings people together, after 9/11 while all sports were canceled the first weekend, the country healed together as former President Bush threw out the first pitch at the Yankees game after the disasters. The players donned caps with NYPD and FDNY for the game to pay tribute. There were ceremonies throughout the country at the start of college games to honor those who had fallen that day. Still, it was sports, football or baseball or whatever that helped to repair the damages that were inflicted on 9/11.
In the end sports means more to society than just the final score and who won or who lost. Sports can often transcend cultures as was apparent in the World Cup this past summer. There isn't much else in the world today that can do what sports does for people.
The fact is that even in a recession, the world needs sports. We might gripe at the cost of a ticket or salary of an athlete but it is unfathomable to think what the world would be like if sports didn't exist. On fall evenings I can sit on my back patio and listen to the games at District-Three Stadium just up the road from my house (am I am not talking on TV or radio) as almost 9,000 fans pack in for either Rock Hill High School or Northwestern High School game and you can pretty much forget about driving near there if you aren't intending on going to the game.
What seems to be forgotten is that sports is larger than any single athlete. While certain ones can transcend a sport like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird did for basketball they are never larger than the game itself and everything that goes with it.
When sports are kept pure on all levels, with integrity of the game intact the impact that is felt will be remembered far longer than the outcome of the contest and that is the truth about sports.