Guest Post by Kent Somers
We sportswriters gather around our subject, recording devices held at the end of out-stretched arms, waiting for an explanation, an observation, a quote — anything that will entice people to read the other 700 or so words in our stories.
And sometimes this, or something like it, comes.
“I’d like to thank God for putting me in position to make that touchdown/tackle/winning shot.” Or maybe, “we have to accept that this loss/injury/disappointment as part of God’s plan.”
Thumbs reach for the “pause” button. Eyes roll. Feet tap.
No one wants to read that.
I don’t know where or when religion and sports braided themselves into a knot that seems impossible to untie.
I’m pretty sure God doesn’t have a rooting interest in football, the sport I write about the most, though it’s hard to imagine mankind alone came up with the idea of playing games on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.
If there is something spiritual about sports– and I’m pretty sure there is– I like to think it’s in the playing of them, not in the outcome. I prefer to believe that God doesn’t care about scores or records or championships. If so, fans of the Cubs, Cardinals, Lions and Browns must wonder why they have been made to suffer for so long.
Call me a sap, but I believe in all the corny stuff about sports: making friendships, learning how to work, how to handle achievement and disappointment.
I came by it honestly. My mom, who is 80 now, played basketball in high school. My father, also 80, played all sports and coached high school football for a time.
My brother and two sisters played. My youngest sister, who ate Cheerios and colored while watching her older siblings’ games, went on to play college basketball and coaches in high school today.
My parents wore out a Corolla driving to her games.
They still go to most of her games and those of her two sons. They watch another grandson compete in horse shows.
Often, they watch my 5-year-old niece during those games, in much the same way they watched her mom 40 or so years ago. (Except the iPad has replaced the coloring book).
During the basketball season, my mom, who once said she never wanted a cell phone, uses one to call family members with updates after every one of my nephews’ games.
We are a competitive family. Family reunions are filled with memories of competitive Whiffle Ball, basketball and football games and the occasional fights that resulted.
Winning was important but playing hard and with humility were valued even more.
When I was 10 or so, I moved up a weight class in football and remember being scared of some other players. In one practice, I finagled my way to the back of the line during drills so I never had to meet any of the older kids one-on-one.My dad watched, and when we got home, he said in a calm voice: “Don’t take your pads off. We’re going in the backyard. If you are not going to work in practice, we’ll have practice at home.”
And we did. Back then, it seemed like we were there for an hour. More likely, it was 15 minutes. After that, I took my regular turn in drills.
I’ve seen sports and other activities, like band, do magical things in the lives of my three kids.
My oldest is 25 and says today one of the best decisions in his life was not to quit his high school football team before his senior year. Only 175 pounds, he was a center and played a lot.
My second child went through a tumultuous basketball season his senior year. But he and a handful of other persevered and made it to the state tournament. They lost in the first round. I couldn’t be there, but afterward he sent me this text.
“I wanted to win so bad for you and mom, so you could watch me play again. I played so hard. The whole team played hard. We just came up short. You would have been proud of us, though.”
My daughter met two of her best friends through basketball. I’ve never heard three people laugh so much when they’re together, and they still see each other, even though they left school three years ago.
Like I said, the outcome doesn’t matter nearly so much as the playing of the thing. Corny. I know. Sappy? Guilty of that, too. But there is something beautiful and spiritual wrapped in the game. And it’s a knot I don’t want to untie.
Kent Somers is a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic and azcentralsports.com in Phoenix. He’s covered the Arizona Cardinals for longer than he would like to remember and has been a member of Foothills Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for a year and a half–though he wishes he had found them sooner. He and his wife Paula live in Glendale and they are the proud parents of three great kids. And one lousy one.