More than “just sports”

On April 15, 2013, two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Within days, athletes from around the world had left a makeshift memorial to express their deep and abiding love for that city and its people. Their shoes, signed and dated, were intertwined with handwritten messages and letters and American flags. The message – we, too, are Boston Strong.

Sneaker memorial in Boston, May 2013.

In 2014, Sports Illustrated carried the news that northeast Ohio’s favorite son was heading back to Cleveland. The ‘Mistake on the Lake’, the joke of the Midwest, that city of lost opportunities, came alive. LeBron James’ return to his roots brought new life into a city where good things just didn’t seem to happen.

Sports Illustrated Cover

Recently, Andrew Luck, that quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, that quarterback who led them to the playoffs four times in seven years, that quarterback who decided to retire from the game he loved before it took from him the last ounce of his devotion, was booed off the field.

Andrew Luck at post-game press conference

That’s right. The NFL Comeback Player of the Year, who suffered fractures and liver lacerations, concussions and more, was booed. Off. The. Field. His classy response? A full-page ad thanking Colts fans for their support over the past eight years. His shining moment. No so much theirs.

Not long ago, an acquaintance exclaimed, “What’s the big f***ing deal? It’s just sports! There are better things to do with your time!” Maybe so. But sports has a way of bringing out the best – and as with Colts fans in that stadium, sometimes the worst – in us.

Let’s face it, sports business is big business. From swag to shirts to tickets, hometown teams make big bucks from fans. When you add in the revenue from hotels and restaurants, taxis and nightclubs, and top that off with the number of jobs generated, you’re looking at millions of dollars.

In fact, a 2018 article in Fortune magazine revealed that Lebron James’ recent move to Los Angeles is estimated to generate “2,989 new jobs, [and] have a five-year local economic impact of $396,985,680.” Most of those dollars find their way into the pockets of those who ‘have’. But a lot of them find their way into the lives of those who ‘have not’. 

Pro athletes run foundations and charities, hold fundraisers and build schools. They use their platforms to create awareness of social issues and to offer a way forward to those who don’t have many opportunities. 

But sports is about more than just the money – it brings us together as a community. 

With all the excitement of this upcoming 2019 football season, Cleveland is “jacked”. Pre-season games have had record attendance. Browns gear is flying off the shelves.

And for tonight’s home opener?  The municipal lot will be packed to the max by 7am, and fans all over northeast Ohio will pull on their orange and brown and get ready to cheer on the most exciting Browns season since, well, ever.

Back on July 26, Kelly and I attended Browns Training Camp.  We got close up views of Baker, Odell and other players. Kelly and I also competed in an impromptu 40 yard dash race. I can’t say who won. 

Kelly got a quick back massage, and we got to enjoy the excitement in the air. The crowd actually cheered when someone made a great catch… at practice. It felt great to see people of different ages, ethnicity, and  backgrounds all supporting the Browns. No political agenda, just cheering for the same cause. Time will tell if the Browns are going to be good, but on paper? And in that moment? They look great.

Sporting events are another great opportunity to share the excitement  with your partner, your family and friends. Throwing down a few cold ones, getting food or just watching together with others can be time well spent. 

Have you and your wife considered joining the same fantasy football league? Anyone can play. In fact, estimates on how many people from the U.S and Canada participate in fantasy football range from 34 million to 75 million.  

In most leagues, the computer will auto-pick if you are slow to pick or undecided, so you don’t have to be an expert.

A draft usually takes about an hour to an hour and a half. Or, if you don’t have time to sit down for a full draft – or seven – you can play week to week through websites such as  Drafts Kings or FanDuel.

And while some fantasy leagues can run pretty expensive, there are free leagues out there. 

Other sports offer fantasy options but football is the most popular. And if your wife wins? Well, there’s always next year.

Reflecting back to when Lebron James left the Cavs in 2011 for the Miami Heat, Cleveland certainly felt the impact of “The Decision” both emotionally and financially.  Watching fans burn Lebron James jerseys was surreal. Betrayal! 

When Lebron returned in 2015 there was jubilation followed by a championship in 2016.  His impact cannot be overstated. The celebration parade in Cleveland was estimated to be over 1 million people.  According to Ohio.Com, the headline stated “Cavs million-person parade crowd is one for the record books. Sixth largest sports celebration — ever”. 

But that same excitement can be found under the lights of small town high school stadiums on any Friday night, and on soccer fields filled with children on any Saturday morning. In the sun on the sidelines of a baseball field or the clay of a tennis court. 

When we take the time to actually look, sports contribute to the fabric of what makes us better together – as a people and as communities. We lean forward to catch that perfect moment, celebrate victories, mourn losses. But we do it together.

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