Sports: What do they mean to you? (kinda meta)

Submitted by Noleverine on October 21st, 2011 at 2:56 AM

I recently began applying to graduate schools for a PhD program in sports psychology.  While writing my personal statement, I was forced to think about what sports represent and mean to people, specifically myself.  Trying to put "what sports mean to me" into writing led to a long, winding road trying to explain something that has always been inherent in me, but I have never even considered trying to define.

For some people, sports is an escape from the monotony of everyday life-- an escape from the world.  For others, it represents past unfulfilled dreams.  For still others, it is just something fun to do at night.  

For me, it goes beyond that.  To me, sports are one of the most primal, real things about life.  They can bring out the best, and worst, in people.  Sports transcend time.  The achievements of a player, or team, live on long after the game is played.  Sports are a connection between generations.  They are a bridge that allows father and son to share something they otherwise may never have.  They bring together entire cities under a singular purpose.  They allow for people with nothing in common outside of sports to share an equal footing.  

From the times of Jackie Robinson, sports have also been an engine for change.  Often social reform takes place only after the same lines have been crossed in sports.  If not for baseball, and Jackie Robinson specifically, evolving race relations may have taken even longer to improve.

So, I'm done rambling, and now I leave you with one decievingly difficult question: What do sports mean to you?



October 21st, 2011 at 3:49 AM ^

But I'll try.

Sports mean a lot to me. Some of what you said and some of what you didn't. Sports give me something to talk about with a father with whom my relationship hasn't been the greatest.

Sports give me an escape. An escape from the stress of classes, an escape from dealing with things that I don't want to think about, an escape from life. When I start playing a game, I don't have to think, I can just react. When I'm playing a game, it's the one time all day where I'm not thinking too much.  I don't have to think about that what I want to do after I graduate, I don't have to think about studying, I don't have to think about anything. 

When I was young, sports gave me a way to shut the older kids up. Yeah, you might be bigger and stronger than me, but I just grabbed that TD right out of your face. You're better than me? Then why'd I just drop those 3s in your face? Sports gave me power.

For my grandpa, sports gave him a connection to this country. It feels like he can tell you just about any score from any Indians, Cavaliers, or OSU game in the past 40 years. (Yeah, he's an OSU fan but don't worry, I got the good genes.)

Sports form friendships and sports form rivalries. Everyone's had that moment in sports where they're hugging complete strangers after something amazing happened to their team (UTL, anyone?) Who can ever forget those times as a kid, eating orange slices and sipping on Capri Sun with your friends after playing a game of soccer.

Sports form connections with people you've never met before. Odd as it is, I'd feel comfortable letting most of you into my house. You're a Michigan fan, that's as good of a reason as any other.

Sports give me freedom and then snatches it away as soon as it gives it. Hitting the game winning shot in a tightly fought game gives the highest of highs, while letting the man you're guarding score that last bucket gives the lowest of lows. 

Writing all that doesn't even do sports justice.


October 21st, 2011 at 3:54 AM ^

Thats why I brought up this topic: because it was so much harder for me to describe than I thought.  I sat down, and thought, "well, sports, duh" but then I started thinking about why, and I sat in silence staring at my computer screen for 2 hours.  There is so much more to sports and athletics than anyone can do justice. It's a relief to know it's not just me.


October 21st, 2011 at 8:06 AM ^

I think that sports are a microcosm of human civilizations. All great civilizations have sport(s) present in their culture. The ball courts of the Maya & Aztec, the Olympic games of the Greeks/Romans. Many cultures start out without much in the way of sports but as they grow they will always find a way to invest time and energy in a sport. Sports can test a person or team to the limits of endurance and the audience gets to experience some of that, even if it is self induced as you sit on your couch, heart racing.

Sport tends to channel our competitive and aggressive natures into something that is accepted in a civilized culture. It reminds us of our past, in which each and every day would be a struggle for survival against nature. The fight for food, shelter, and survival has left its imprint on us, generations removed from actually facing that struggle, we focus this on sport. Imagine if you will that you are a member of a hunter-gather group in the early Paleolithic; your survival depends on coming back with a kill, you and your “team” spend hours planning what to kill and how. With your game plan in hand you go out to execute it. If all goes well you will be coming back with a deer or two to feed the rest of the tribe. If not you will regroup and try tomorrow knowing that each days lack of success drives you harder the next for fear of failure.  This is the genesis of sport, it reminds us of a time when our physical/mental ability was a struggle against the world for survival. We celebrate these traits in our civilized world even though they are not as necessary for survival. 

I love rooting for my team, the raw emotion, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. These are very primally rooted emotions and feelings, that we can all tap into even if we don't play in the sport.



October 21st, 2011 at 8:30 AM ^

Only love of country has the ability to unite a group of people more than love of team. Love of team brings together people from all walks of life, all expecting the same outcome, all praying for that outcome to occur.


October 21st, 2011 at 8:49 AM ^

110k people can hope, dream, scream and cheer together for one team. It has the ability to unite and tear apart, to excite and to depress, and lastly a reason to drink more beer and to eat more food than appropriate! For me it is just a passion, a way of life and gives me something to look forward to. Go Blue!


October 21st, 2011 at 9:49 AM ^

What I'll add is that sports - and I really only mean Michigan sports - is a consistent line through my entire life (which started b/c my parents went there).  Watching Michigan, I am the elementary school kid who saw Michigan win the Rose Bowl and the MMB national title in the same year, the kid who saw Desmond make his catch against ND, the teenager who saw Tim Biakabatuka have a video game day against OSU, etc.  Rooting for the Wolverines is the most long-lasting ritual of my life.  I didn't even go to Michigan, but asking my why I root for them is like asking me why I take a shower and put on clothes in the morning.  


October 21st, 2011 at 9:48 AM ^

Sports, in and of itself is just entertainment.  Going back to the old Roman days, they had a need to be entertained.  But like a lot of you wrote, it has been used as a tool to enrich relationships and other meaningful things like that.  And that is why i love sports so much.

Playing sports, in my opinion, is esential for every kid.  It is a great teacher for teamwork, developing character through sportsmanship, honesty, maturity, and getting along with others.  I believe a lot of my maturity and social skill development is owed to being on various sports teams from age 5-18, intermurel sports and rec leauges beyond that. 


October 21st, 2011 at 9:56 AM ^

     I was still in school when my Mom got sick.  I have to admit that it rocked me pretty hard.  My Dad died when I was real young, and she was pretty much my whole support system.  

     I took a term off to go back home and take care of her, and I wont get into the gory details...but it was hard.  I didn't take a lot of breaks, because as you can guess I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could before she was gone.

     But my sister had weekends off, and she would spell me on Saturday afternoons to watch the football games.  Watching cancer take my Mom a piece at a time was broken up with underage drinking at my buddy's house, watching Glen Steele run through Penn State's offensive line like it was water.  Watching Charles Woodson take a punt to the house against OSU.  Watching him wrench someting out of the sky with one hand and bring it back to Earth--not because it was humanly possible, but because he is Charles Woodson.  And sometimes the universe is fair.  And sometimes the good guys win.

     They say that God doesn't give you more than you can handle(apologies to the atheists, but allow me my comforts), and they say that if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.  Well, maybe bitter.  Maybe even a little bit crazy at times.  For me, it tethered my sense of well being to the sports performance of my alma mater when there wasn't much else around sturdier to tie it to.  

     This post if melodramatic enough without me talking about what happened in December and then January, and I'm not going to say anything as corny as "Michigan football saved my live" or anything like that.  But it definitely helped me through a tough spot.  And I suppose for better or for worse I have a sense of debt there for coach Carr and that team, and it has caused me to say a lot of corny things, not the worst of which is...

     Go Blue.  Always.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:33 AM ^

Sports is today's Valhalla. Most men are competitive in something but few of us have the priviledge/talent to do it on a 'center stage' such as college football. I certainly didn't/don't have what it takes, but I would love to do so; I guess I enjoy the vicariousness of it. That and there are few things that go better with beer.


October 21st, 2011 at 10:59 AM ^

Wow, great post, lots of great comments. I'll try to add, but won't come close.

I agree that it brings people together. It can also divide people though. I think my presence here shows a lot about sports. It's like that crappy sport news' commerical where they show a couple making out wearing OSU and UoM gear and the caption is: Without sports, this wouldn't be gross. I'd just be another guy, not "the buckeye." I come here to talk to other passionate fans of college sports. I can debate with people on here about everything from NCAA sancations to hockey coaching hires. I love sports, even when I hate a game or a team, it means I love sports. Love comes with hate. It's ying and yang. You can't know joy until you know pain and sorrow.


October 21st, 2011 at 11:03 AM ^

Many of you nailed the same sort of sentiments about sports that I would. Sports can teach you about fariness, about leadearship, about being a part of something greater than yourself while realizng you yourself still play a pivitol role. I think it endures because people love to be emotional and invtested; and sport is one place where you can experience it all while the end result is ultimately frivolous. This frivoloity allows our different backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, etc. to fade to the background for a unifying cause, and this unification is so hard to come by in the real world, yet so special when it happens. This real world where we are often too invested, and those differences come into the harshest light.

One thing I'd like to add that hasn't been mentioned: to me, sport is perhaps the truest meritocracy that exists. There is a minimum of bullshit that comes with it. While we often have collective shame of the conduct of our serious athletes, there is also an absence of the everyday nonsense. The resumes, reference letters, networking, societal niceities, deferring to those higher on the chain--and so on. On the field of play, you are a number and maybe a name, your rights are the same as anyone else on that field. The only discriminating criteria of your worth are what you can produce in that time. You are measured by your success; nothing else. Tom Brady is not going to be denied a QB job because he lacks personal references or is ungifted in other aspects that have nothing to do with the primary task at hand. It's put up, or shut up.

I think in that way, sport gets us out of the drudgery of the everyday grind. There is no falseness about it, no over-acommodation.

Sextus Empiricus

October 21st, 2011 at 11:09 AM ^

Sport is metaphor for life. 

As sport is not the end all – neither is life and sport reminds us of this. 

Beauty, ethics and love are played out in sport.   Music and mathematics have little to do with sport but share a similar connection to these ethereal themes that run amok in our world.

What does sport mean to me?  It’s the same as asking what life means to me.  I haven’t figured it out yet.  But this I know… I love it… it is beautiful... and it is right.

Righteous action creates ultimate success in sport.  The consequences in sports of incorrect action are immediately or eventually damning.   Sports mean consequence which in turn allows us to see right from wrong – in limited though understandable form. 

To participate in sport is humbling.  To watch it is joy.

This sounds dumb…this is a difficult question…and a great off week post.  Thanks for this and for the great posts above.  Nice stuff.


October 21st, 2011 at 11:28 AM ^

"Righteous action creates ultimate success in sport.  The consequences in sports of incorrect action are immediately or eventually damning.   Sports mean consequence which in turn allows us to see right from wrong – in limited though understandable form. "

Great post, and I thought this part in particular was fantastic. I think you summarized my meritocracy idea much better in those few sentences. It's so true though. There is little obfuscation in sport as opposed to societal life. Things happen with much greater linearity.


October 21st, 2011 at 11:17 AM ^

A lot of great, thoughtful, and emotional responses here.  What amazed me is how everyone agrees with some of the things others have said, but in their own personal way.  We each have a connection to sports that is our own, and that makes it all the more important to us.  It connects us with our pasts, our hopes, dreams and aspirations.


October 21st, 2011 at 11:52 AM ^

It's all the things you say - an escape, a chance to belong to a group, a chance to live vicariously through others and seems to be inherent in so many of us.

But for me it has changed - a little - over the years. As I get older I find myself questioning why I am so emotionally invested in the wins and losses of Michigan, The Tigers, The Lions and Red Wings. I have no connection other than geography to those teams. I didn't play sports at Michigan.  Also, I have learned to appreciate the pagentry of sports and appreciate good play from other teams. I'll give you an example: A few years back I was at a night game at Spartan Stadium with a friend. They were playing Notre Dame and we had watched the Michigan game on TV earlier. The weather was awful - cold, windy and hard rain - and for some reason we loved it. Sparty had a big lead at the half and collapsed in the second half giving ND a win. I don't care about either team but was thrilled to be there and despite the weather and the free ticket never considered leaving. Well when ND was making their comeback and got the score close the MSU fans were going crazy during a timeout. The band was playing and crowd was really into it. My friend noticed that I was scanning the stadium looking all around. "What are you looking at" he asked. My one word answer "passion".


October 21st, 2011 at 12:29 PM ^

A sense of belonging to something larger than yourself. The fact that u can run into someone wearing Michigan gear in an airport and stike up an hour discussion with a complete stranger. Without this connection, you would have just walked by that person. Being part of the Michigan fanbase family.
<br>Also, when we get back to dominance, bragging rights over inlaws in always nice too.


October 21st, 2011 at 12:49 PM ^

The Nobel-prizing winning economic psychologist Danny Kahneman has observed that the value we place on our experiences is driven in part by its peaks; a life that is pretty-good-all-the-time-but-never-pure-dilithium-awesome is less valued than a life of Occasional Dilithium peak experiences.

The birth of your kids was a peak experience but you'd better not try to repeat it every Saturday each fall.

Thus, sports.

As a yout', I was a theater type, but over time I've come to prefer live sports.  The emotions are REAL (WWF excepted), not real-but-repurposed as in theater, and the plot of a football game is always a masterpiece of improvisation. 

The look on Carr's face and the faces of the players at the end of the Capitol One victory over Florida.  The sheer elation at that Wisconsin comback in 08 or the Notre Dame game (your pick of years but especially this year).  That is Nobel-prize-winning stuff IMHO.

Best of luck in your program



October 21st, 2011 at 6:10 PM ^

Sports give us a way to support our hometowns/states. With the exception of MSU, I root for Michigan, the Red Wings, the Lions, Tigers, and Pistons. I even like to see our smaller schools win like Central, Western, Eastern, and UDM (except when they are playing U-M).