Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sports unite and divide

Americans love entertainment. There are thousands of activities that can be defined as entertainment, and one of those is sports.

Our country is saturated with sports. This time of year, football dominates the sporting landscape. A person can watch a game on television almost every night of the week.

While there could be a heated debate regarding whether that is a good thing or not, there can be no doubt that sports have a major impact on our communities.

There are examples of this within our state. For example, the Tennessee Titans have established themselves as one of the best teams in the National Football League, and Nashville is reaping the benefits of this.

I spend a lot of time in Nashville, and throughout the city, the team is a great source of community pride. Situations like this show how sports can have a tremendously positive impact on a city.

This is because when the local team is doing well, it helps tear down the walls that separate people. It doesn't matter whether a person is rich or poor, white or black, or male or female. The team has become a symbol that everybody can rally around.

How often do we see this within our culture? Not very often. Our country remains fragmented when it comes to politics. Differences on social issues remain as sharp as ever.

However, when the local team is doing well, everybody puts those differences temporarily to the side and pulls together.

It's true that sports are superficial when it comes to the important issues of the day. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter who wins a football game or not. After all, it's just a game.

Still, it's nice when the tensions of the day can be forgotten for a few hours. Maybe this is just a form of escapism. Escapism can be a dangerous concept, but in this case, I believe it is good.

Like anything, there can be a downside to this if people lose perspective. In the way that a winning team can bond people, a losing team can cause a community to tear itself apart.

For an example of this, look at the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. I graduated from the University of Tennessee, and the impact the football program has there cannot be over-stated.

Revenue generated by the program funds many of the other sports in the athletic program. Additionally, millions of dollars are generated for the city of Knoxville on Saturday afternoons in the autumn.

As even casual fans know, the team has gone through a wretched season. A convincing case can be made that this is the worst season the program has ever had. Because of this and the impact the program has, there has been tons of negativity.

The final fate of Coach Phillip Fulmer caused a lot of open disagreement among the school's alumni, as well as other followers of the team.

All the negativity reached a point of critical mass when it was announced on November 3 that Fulmer would not return next year. In his comments in reaction to this decision, Fulmer said: "I love Tennessee too much to let her stay divided."

He spoke strong words with strong emotions. Fulmer has handled the situation with class, and his contributions to the program as player, assistant coach, and head coach are to be applauded.

As for the entire situation, it is a shining example of how sports can have a negative impact on a community.

Sports can be great, but handle them with care.

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