Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Power of Sports Reaffirmed in "Invictus"

Having the schedule that I have doesn't allow me to get out to the movies very often.  I have always viewed going to the movies as a social outing.  It's something you do on nights and weekends.  The problem for me, of course, is that I work most nights and weekends.  And when I do have that occasional night off, I feel more compelled to catch up on the other things people do on nights and weekends.  Going to dinner.  Hanging out with friends.  Spending a quiet night at home with the family.

It's a minor inconvenience actually, because I really enjoy going to the movies.  They can be such an escape from our everyday lives while also being quite educational.  Two things I have a fond appreciation for.

While on a recent trip through the South to visit family, my wife and I got the chance to go see Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.  It revisits the story of how Nelson Mandela had the foresight to see how South Africa winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup would be a unifying moment for his fractured and fragmented country.  I don't want to give away too much of the movie in case you haven't seen it, but President Mandela was right.

This movie further strengthened a belief I have long held:  Sports are the most unifying aspect of human society. 

Some of you may counter by saying religion should hold that title, and in terms of pure numbers, you could present a strong case since there are way more Christians and Muslims in this world than football and soccer fans.

However, when I say sports are the most unifying aspect of human society, I am not talking purely about numbers.  I am talking about getting the largest cross-section of the world's population to come together to root for one common team.  Sports are oftentimes the single best rallying point for a country, a state, a city or even a neighborhood.  Sports invoke both passion and pride, while still transcending age, gender and religion.

As unifying as religion has been through the years and can still yet be, how often do you see segregated congregations?  Go into any church in America, and tell me how representative it is of America.  Do you see black, white, brown and yellow parishioners sitting in the pews?  Are there young and old, rich and poor, straight and gay members in the choir?  Sometimes yes, but most oftentimes no.

But go to a Dodgers, Clippers or UCLA game and tell me what you see.  One game you could be sitting next to an old Jewish man and his wife of 50 years.  While the next game, you could be sitting next to a young Latin girl and her domestic partner.  And even though your differences may be numerous, your one commonality of having a favorite sports team can cause you to hug and slap high fives with someone you've never met nor would have otherwise if not for that game.  Does that type of interaction happen in church without being requested or forced by a pastor or priest?

Also, how many wars have been started due to organized religion?  I don't remember too many countries going to battle over the outcome of a basketball game.  I mean, if Team USA getting robbed by the Soviets in the 1972 Olympics couldn't start a war, then no game can.  In fact, sports have often halted fighting between two warring factions as well as played a major role in reconciliation between opposing parties.

I am not trying to say that sports are better than religion, and thus deserve more of your time and passion.  If you are person of strong faith, please continue to be.  Plus, it's great practice for keeping the faith in your favorite team despite it being nowhere close to the playoff hunt.

I just ask you to see in sports today what Nelson Mandela saw in them nearly 15 years ago.  We far too often allow our differences to easily divide us, while forgetting how easily we can be unified through sports. 

If we can all cheer for the Lakers, Angels and USC alongside complete strangers as if we were the best of friends, why can't we just act like the best of friends anyway?  It would certainly make the game of life much more fun and enjoyable.

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