How the Game Unites Us All Through Difficult Times

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It was a 2022 summer day in Kentucky–hot, humid, sunny. The day was spent lounging by the pool while watching the kids I nannied. Then at night I played baseball with my friends. And by “played” I mean I controlled the aux and chatted with my friends while we watched our other athletically-inclined friends play. That’s a snapshot of how the summer months were spent. We were all students at the University of Kentucky and considered Lexington to be our home. I was going into my senior year and I had a lot of love for the city and the state as a whole. So, naturally, when a part of the state was hurting, it truly affected and moved me and others who called this place home.

In late July of 2022, there had been a flooding crisis in Eastern Kentucky, killing and displacing many people. A majority of the towns affected were rural and not affluent so the disaster would require more cash than the people could afford to shell out. As a student at UK, I witnessed myself and others grieve over the loss and trauma impacting another part of the Commonwealth. I remember seeing the news and simultaneously feeling at a loss for words and also wanting to jump in to help. But, being broke college students there wasn’t much we could do other than volunteer or offer prayers. We couldn’t fix the money issue. Thankfully, the players on the men’s basketball team’s hearts also went out to these people, and they knew a way that they could help. They approached Coach Cal and together decided to host an open practice telethon event where all proceeds would go to helping the flood victims. In that three-hour time slot, they raised $2.4 million which helped the flood victims tremendously in their time of need. They did something extraordinary with their time and talents that I still deeply admire. I had always loved sports but their actions deepened my appreciation of how impactful teams could be on the world around them.

Flash forward to August of 2023, my first month living in New York City. I knew that I wanted to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum to pay respect and honor those who lost their lives in the city that I knew I would come to love. While looking for tickets, I stumbled upon a former exhibit called “Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11.” In this exhibit, there were countless examples of how sports helped heal and bring together a nation that was deeply hurting. From the Mets vs Braves game, to New York Jets players’ decisions to play or not, to victory laps around a NASCAR race track, a wide variety of stories were shared all surrounding the idea that sports gave people the time and space to heal from tragedy.

In 2005, World Cup athletes from the Ivory Coast leveraged their visibility and encouraged their country to lay down arms amid a civil war. Soon after, a ceasefire was called. In 2013, a Boston Red Sox game brought together a city grieving the losses that occurred in the Boston Marathon bombing. In 2018, a hockey team with both North and South Korean players briefly united fans and even sparked in-person conversations between the leaders of both countries. A Thai soccer team rescued from a cave ignited a celebration around the world. Even the modern Olympic Games’ goal, according to the IOC, is to create a more peaceful and better world. And how are they doing this? Through sport. Time and time again, we see sports placed at the center of a unifying vision. 

Think about the last time you attended a sporting event. Most likely you went to the game with family or friends but were in a crowd of people supporting the same team as you. And, when the star player scored a clutch point, you high-fived, you hugged, you yelled with pride, you cried with that sea of strangers. Race, religion, socio-economic status, political party, sexuality; none of that mattered. What mattered was the celebration of a beautiful game.

In all of these, we see a common ground–sports. This is why sports are so important and so beautiful. Sports have a way of uniting people like nothing else does. Of bringing together the most unlikely of friends. Of healing wounds amidst tragedy.


Photos via Getty Images.





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