For years I have heard academia and the “culture class” say that sports are a waste of time and resources in America. Instead of building schools, we build billion-dollar stadiums, so the argument goes. The pointed question that usually follows is, why is it that a guy who dribbles a basketball for a living makes more money than a police officer or a fireman?
If you extend that analogy you could throw in music, art, and literature—if you want. I can see the hackles rising on the lovers of Mozart and Marvin Gaye, Kara Walker and Pablo Picasso, and lordy, I may have given the fans of Dunbar and Shakespeare a heart attack with that statement. After a few weeks of lockdown, I will concede that sports are not a priority, but the distraction has a value. Before you think I have lost my mind, I am not suggesting that a Lebron James’ crab dribble is anywhere near the artistry of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s ‘We Wear the Mask.’ What I will suggest is that the talents are comparable because genius comes in different forms.
No one would suggest that the dancing of Misty Copeland, who is the first African American woman promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater, is trivial or less than artistic. In that same light, many of her fans might say comparing Julius Erving's graceful take off from the free-throw line to Copeland is an insult. What it really comes down to is a matter of taste. I grew up in Washington, DC, a huge fan of the Washington Senators baseball team, both incarnations. The originals Senators who are now the Minnesota Twins and the expansion Senators that followed, who are now the Texas Rangers. I suffered through horrible years of losses, with a small transistor radio under my pillow, through the night into the early morning hours, listening to my team when they were on West Coast trips.
So here I am awaiting the disappointment of not having the latest hometown baseball team, the Washington Nationals, run out onto the field for opening day tomorrow. No immediate basking in the glory of winning the 2019 World Series Championship. No sense of pride welling up in my chest and eyes.
I think we see art as being more important because it is universal, everyone recognizes the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel and somewhere rattling around our head is the name, Grandma Moses. As an avid sports fan, I remember exactly what I was doing when Hank Aaron broke the home run record of Babe Ruth. I can tell you precisely the day, time and pain I felt when Joe Frazier won a unanimous decision over Muhammad Ali in 1971 at Madison Square Garden.
My favorite baseball player ever was the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Roberto Clemente. Mr. Clemente died on a mission of mercy in December of 1972. He headed up a relief effort, flying to Nicaragua following a devastating earthquake. His plane crashed and so did my heart. I can imagine that fans of the Beatles felt that same way when their famed frontman was murdered. The coincidence was that the most famous musical artist of his time, John Lennon, death announcement came during a Monday Night football game. It would be nice to tune into a game today filled with screams of joy or the tension of a tie score in the bottom of the ninth; sports may not be your life, but it has a life.
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