Like many professional endeavors, sports of all kinds have become huge, global businesses. Fans all over the world are complaining about the high costs of tickets and the astronomically high salaries paid to the players. Many people yearn for the "more innocent" sporting experiences of their youth. If you have any doubt of this, just read the comments sent in to the BBC program (or, in British English, programme) Have Your Say aired this past Sunday.
Then there's the pressure on the players themselves that manifests in many ways. And it's not just about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Other problems these players may face become amplified when they are surrounded with people who just care about money and fame, not the person who needs help. I gave some example of this in postings two years ago, The Hard Reality of Sports and It's not just steroids . . .
There is a tendency to look at times past nostalgically, with rose-colored glasses. There has always been a dark side to professional sports. It was just on a smaller scale with much less public access. And our present times can also bring us an upside to sports, on both local and global levels.
A week or so ago, Iraq won the Asian Cup in soccer, beating Saudi Arabia 1 - 0. A country being destroyed by sectarian violence had a brief moment of unity in support of their national team--a team that includes Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. Sadly, the celebration came to an end with the news of the death of 50 people with bombs detonated in Baghdad by insurgents. But at least, like the 1914 Christmas Truce between the Germans and the European Allies that resulted in the famous soccer match between the trenches, there was a moment of joy that could be shared by all sides.
In my own corner of the world, there is the story of the Oakland Royals, a baseball team started by an Oakland couple to keep their kids and others away from the crossfire of a neighborhood notoriously known for drug dealing and drive-by shootings. Roscoe Bryant and his wife Lehi had no budget or coaching experience but they managed to field two teams. Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle picked up on the story and due to an article he wrote on June 22 of this year, more than 600 people, organizations and clubs came through with all sorts of support.
Ostler wrote a follow-up column published in today's sports section chronicling the accomplishments of this organization due to that show of support from the community. The help that has come in the form of donations, contacts with local companies and links to various grants and loans has encouraged the Bryants to enlarge their dream. They now hope to be able to open a youth center.
There was one more outcome of the establishment of these teams--something no one could have envisioned. "The local drug dealers watched what we've been doing," Roscoe says, "and they formed their own softball team. So they're off the block for a couple hours every night."
Some moments of violence stopped in streets of Baghdad and in the streets of Oakland. May we find ways to string more of those moments together to create a world of peace.