Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Sports stories that matter - by R.A. Dickey, Gary Smith & Matthew Jeffers

A topic I've thought a lot about through the course of watching, reading about and writing on sports is how much it exactly matters. I've been a fan of sports since childhood, but as time has gone on and life experience and children added to the equation, it's become more and more clear that wins and loses just not that terribly important. There's lessons to be learned through sports (many bad, but some good and I'll think about the good ones for now), shared experience that can be gained (and just like good vs bad lessons, let's focus on positive shared fandom experiences), but really me thinks that being a grown-up sports fan is about simple entertainment value. Not to speak dismissively about entertainment value as it's an important part of life, but far down the list in terms of most important things.

With this in mind, the sports stories I love the most are those that take the construct of sports and then use it to provide something of greater heft. I recently did a blog post on my favorite writing linked to in 2011 (yea, I know, it's 2013) and the six pieces of sports writing included all were in different ways about things much more important than wins and loses.

On this same theme of sports as a vehicle to a more important story were three different pieces of writing I've come across recently that stood out.

For the New York Daily News last month, MLB pitcher R.A. Dickey wrote an essay thanking New York fans after his trade to the Blue Jays. It would be a well written and nice letter in and of itself, but more than anything for me, it's a reminder of the his past and the good Dickey has tried to accomplish. Eloquently described in the Sports Illustrated cover story "Stand Up, Speak Out" by Gary Smith was the story of Dickey and Judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison using their respective platforms as athletes to bring more light on the topic of sexual abuse each a childhood victim of.

The second piece of recent sports writing on something of great import was also by Gary Smith with his Sports Illustrated column "After Newtown: Change Has Gotta Come." It's written with the same what's possible if people speak out approach that Smith used when writing on Dickey and Harrison and in this case is on gun violence and the impact that sports figures can have if they make the effort.

Finally, the last piece to note here was similar to that by Dickey in two respects, it was both only sort of sports writing and not by an actual sports writer. Posted to the Baltimore Ravens official website by Community Relations VP Kevin Byrne was "Ravens Fan's E-Mail Inspires Team" which included a message from 21 year-old Matthew Jeffers. It's not in the same vein of using an athlete's public platform to accomplish good (though at least one Ravens player has been doing this, as Gwen Knapp writes about "Flipping the Script" for Sports on Earth), but rather the idea of doing your best under trying circumstances. Winning at a competition is certainly something to attempt, but not as important as the battles that life can bring.

Really a powerful message from Jeffers and along with those from Dickey and Smith it shows well for me a perspective towards sports along with the potential for it to impact change. May be a bit of a reach to bring these pieces and ideas all together here, but nah... I don't think so.