I want to share something. A quote, from a conversation in season two of the TV series “Fleabag,” about pain. “Women are born with pain built in,” says one of the characters. “It’s our physical destiny — period pains, sore boobs, childbirth. You know we carry it within ourselves throughout our lives. Men don’t. They have to seek it out. They invent all these gods and demons just so they can feel guilty about things, which is something we do very well on our own. And then they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other and when there aren’t any wars they can play rugby.” That last bit really stuck with me. When men cannot fight, they play sports.
I cannot recall a time when sports wasn’t a big part of my personality. The first time I remember being a sports fan was when I was six years old. Since then, I’ve spent many weekends sitting opposite a screen for hours, watching game after game. It’s a routine I enjoy and one that provides adequate distraction from the stress and pressures of, well, life.
That was how I planned to spend the weekend of October 29th as well.
The Sunday of that weekend, however, started on a somber note, because I came across the video of what transpired in the tunnel after the Michigan vs. Michigan State football game the previous night.
When I first saw the video, I didn’t really know how to react. The truth is, I had become numb to such incidents. It worried me that something as terrible as two college students being assaulted, as well as the manner in which it happened, wasn’t the most shocking thing I’d seen that week. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing I see regularly. The relationship between sports and violence is as gruesome as it is clear. I began seeing it at a very early age: “It (sport) is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence; in other words it is war minus the shooting.”
Although a tad bit extreme, the claim from George Orwell (author of “1984”) here is not baseless, and it sounds eerily similar to the line from “Fleabag.” The connection between war and men’s sports is a strong one that has survived in many forms to this day. It is so deeply ingrained in the culture, manifesting itself in everything from the vocabulary used within the sport (war jargon such as “last line of defense” is a commonly heard phrase, to name one) to the game itself.
I, like many sports fans around the world, saw athletes as role models — as people to be inspired by — and in turn, put them on a pedestal. It is because of the violence inherent to sports, however, that most sports fans learn sooner rather than later that this isn’t the healthiest practice. While I can proudly say today that I am able to separate the crimes of the athletes I once considered my heroes from my love of sport and what I think it should stand for, the aftermath of the Michigan-MSU game made me question it all.
Why do athletes and sports groups resort to violence as much as they do? For years I’ve seen sports pundits talk about how they like seeing passion and aggression on the pitch, and I can’t help but feel like the MSU players did what they did as a way to show how much they care. At some point, somebody told these young men that this is what they should do for the sport they claim to love. They should, as the cliché goes, “be willing to die for it.” And the unfortunate thing is that society, including even the most level-headed fan, builds these athletes up to such an extent that they think they’re invincible. That anything on the sports field goes.
No, it doesn’t.
For the sports fan out there who thinks jokingly passing a racist comment in the stands is okay, it isn’t. For the pundit who sits in the safety of a studio and claims “it’s a man’s game,” it isn’t. And for every college and pro athlete out there who thinks they are untouchable: you are not, no matter how much society might convince you otherwise. Sometimes we let the things we love get the better of our emotions, and while I can sympathize with that, because that’s what makes us human, I cannot accept it.
There are elements of our lives, like sport in my case, that matter just a little bit more than anything else. These are the things that keep us motivated, happy and sometimes even sane. And whatever that thing is for you, I promise you that it is beautiful, made even more so by the people who are a part of it. But not everybody associated with the thing you love will always be in the right. I’m here to tell you: Please don’t give up on it — don’t give up on the thing you love. Fight for it. Fight for what it truly stands for. Fight for it without hands or words, but with actions that affect real change and that bring people together.
That’s what it means to fight for the things we love.
Rushabh Shah is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org