No words could adequately express the deep sorrow and pain I feel for the families, friends, faculty and students who are affiliated with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Naturally, as is the case with any tragedy, my eyes became fixated on CNN interviews with members of the institution. One individual stuck out in particular with his mention of football. He said that the campus will come together at the first football game, and that each game would be a bit more special, more hyped, the players more prepared then ever before.
“Why a football game?” someone might ask. The answer is that the field of sports, in general, is a means by which to crack the brick wall of shock that layers and encircles a community still reeling from the sights they had seen on the day of a tragedy.
Sports are the reflection of a community. Whether it is a nation, state, city or town, sports are an escape, a place where an individual is free to express ideas, sentiments and culture in a common language. It represents the chance for people from different backgrounds to share a common thread.
For instance, Catalan culture in Spain during the Franco era was completely bottled, silenced under law. The one place where Catalonians could freely express their frustration and their culture was in their soccer team, FC Barcelona. With songs blaring in a banned language, the Catalans held their heads high, and in full voice with words disallowed by law, they expressed their desire for autonomy through a team that belonged strictly to and represented them.
Emotions, often unable to be expressed in society at large, are poured out into players and teams that embody a community as they wear that community’s name across their chests and over their hearts.
Teams and players are no longer just participants in a game that they love; they represent something grander than just themselves. They are physical embodiments for the societies for which they play. Each time they take the field or court, they carry with them the chance to turn all the problems that brew inside of them away, even if it is only momentarily, with relief and satisfaction, giving those downtrodden the chance to taste glory and the air at the top of the world.
Obviously, sports cannot solve the problems that our society faces at large. Of course it is unable to put food on the table of the hungry or roofs over the heads of the homeless, but what it offers is a place for personal expression akin to art, poetry, music and dance. It takes on the persona of a therapist asking his or her patients to feel free to say what they feel needs to be said, and to share their thoughts with others.
Inside Lane Stadium on the campus of Virginia Tech, a community rattled by unforeseen events will come together as a solitary body to share and watch their problems as they drift into the horizon. Football will be one of the medications prescribed to heal the ail that a community has had to, and will continue to, endure in the coming year.
Sports acts as a buffer, an escape, the momentary eclipse that blocks the world’s problems. Whether bombs are being dropped or guns are being fired in the background of a game, sports moves forwards. It reminds people of the better times, screaming that life goes on, better days are coming, and although you might feel inside the deepest canyon, there is still a chance for you to one day jump up onto the highest peak.