It’s hard to fathom after yesterday’s news, but the team will play a football game today.
I know, it seems trivial. In fact, in one sense, it is, and that’s part of the reason I chose to write a sports blog. I am just as opinionated about things like the Water Street development, charter schools, the national debt, the Second Amendment, and the NSA’s activities. The reason I tend not to write about all those other things is that when I do, I find that I just get more and more frustrated. Writing about sports, at the end of the day, I feel like I can always shrug and say, “Well, it’s only a game.”
In one sense that’s obviously true. Football (or basketball, or soccer, or volleyball…) is a game.
But to say it’s only a game — if it were only a game, we would treat it like one. Like Uno, or bridge, or four square, or red rover. Organized team sports1 can provide fans with a tribal identity that can often be missing from modern society, but one that’s not so serious we can’t also usually laugh at it. The value of sports to participants has been more widely discussed, and I won’t revisit all those arguments here, but simply quote Bob Schieffer:
The great value of sport is that it teaches us to recognize the difference between winning and striving for excellence, the better but much harder achievement. More important, sports teaches us how to handle failure, to get up and try again when we lose. That’s the most valuable lesson, since we lose more than we win in life.
Sports are at their best when they draw fans in as active participants. Think of terms like “the twelfth man“. Think of “White Out” football games — which EMU has designated today. The very notion that what fans wear in the stands matters points to the participatory nature of fandom.2
I’m not going to enter into any debate about whether it’s disrespectful to Demarius Reed’s family, friends, and teammates to go ahead with today’s game, or whether he “would have wanted” the game to be played. I didn’t know him, and I don’t know what he would have wanted. I’m not his relative, I’m not on the team, and I won’t speak for how those closest to him feel about this. The university has decided to go ahead with the game, and so it will happen.
I’m also not (yet) going to enter into any debate about safety at EMU, around Leforge, and in Ypsilanti in general. That’s a conversation that’s been a long time in coming, and it’s certainly now underway, but today’s not the day for me to share my thoughts on it.
Today, I’ll play my role as a fan, and today, the team will remember their fallen comrade as they play a game.
- I include here competitive, physically demanding team activities that may not be considered “sports” by others, including competitive cheerleading, competitive marching band, and drum & bugle corps. [↩]
- One of my favorite examples of fan participation comes at 0:33 in this video — yes, that’s the crowd yelling. (If you’re curious, that’s the last couple minutes of the 2008 world championship performance of music from Aram Kachaturian’s ballet “Spartacus”, by Phantom Regiment, a drum and bugle corps from Rockford, Illinois.) [↩]