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Cheer On 

In these weird and rapidly changing times, we might need sports more than ever

click to enlarge Have sports become "safe zones"?
  • Have sports become "safe zones"?

Football is done. The Super Bowl — the best one ever, you've been told — is over, and there's no more football on the horizon until sometime too early this summer, when you accidentally see a preseason game at the bar and realize that football has re-entered your life.

You're used to feeling an emptiness in early February, but maybe this year it feels like a little more of a weight than before. You've used sports as a needed distraction the past few months, to the point that you've found yourself flipping the radio from NPR's coverage of the most recent executive order to listen to a couple of guys discuss quarterback ratings and assist-to-turnover ratios. There's nothing wrong with this, and thankfully, there are a lot of sports other than football out there to suck up your attention.

However you feel about the changes happening in our country, it's likely that you've been affected somehow. Maybe your soul has been sanded down by the day-by-day unfoldings of this new administration. It's OK to be scuffed up a bit, and you should care about all of this. But you need a distraction, and sports might be the tonic you need. Sports let you escape, mostly because they exist somewhat outside of reality, in that as a fan, the result won't affect the rest of your life, unless you're wagering your mortgage on games.

In certain circles, it's fashionable to be ignorant of sports. I could be generalizing here, but these are often the same people who have told you that they "don't even own a television." Then there are some people who just don't like sports. That's fine, too, because most of the people glued to SportsCenter don't understand the joy of maintaining miniature Civil War figurines or scuba diving or counting magpies or doing a lot of pushups. And those are all healthy distractions, too.

Sports are easy, though. I was at a gathering a few days after the inauguration, and a friend of a friend, whose reputation had previously been that of congeniality and hugs that lasted too long, was making the rounds. He rejoiced about making America great again and whatnot. I rolled my eyes, and watched as he recited the same script to other partygoers, who also rolled their eyes.

The party went on, and I tried to dodge any post-inaugural talk, which was difficult, seeing as how the transition of power was what most Americans had on their mind. It was weird, until the Gonzaga game came on. Sure, some had plans to watch it on delay after the party. Others didn't know it was basketball season. Still, a hearty contingent of folks found a television and warmed themselves by the glow of what would soon become the nation's top-ranked team.

The basketball talk was much more comforting than the political conversation, and I've been doing a lot of basketball talk as of late. Part of that is because the No. 1 college basketball team in all the land resides in our city, but it's also due to the fact that discussing other headlines is exhausting or enraging, depending with whom you're conversing.

There's this scene in City Slickers where Daniel Stern's character says, "When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn't communicate about anything, my dad and I could still talk about baseball." While I don't always look for wisdom from early-'90s comedies, this is gold. When you can't find common ground with someone, talk about sports, because you probably agree on a lot more than on anything else — unless this person is a Yankees fan.

This isn't to say that sports can't be political at times. Hell, some of the most eloquent criticisms of Donald Trump's demeanor that I've read have come from San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. And there is, and should be, room for sports figures to make big statements. LeBron James — one of the most famous athletes on the planet — has spoken out. Even Russell Wilson, a guy who previously seemed afraid to drink a Coke at the risk of offending his Pepsi-loving fans, offered his opinion on immigration issues.

By and large, though, sports are a unique and amazing space where the real world doesn't always matter. If you're looking for a refuge, turn on a game or buy some tickets. Cheering for something will feel good. ♦

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