Appreciation and Humility in Sports

I’ve never been a big sports fan. I can’t explain why. My folks watched football and baseball on television (after we finally got television), and some of my siblings were big fans of team sports. But I’ve never been a big fan. A few years ago, on a whim, I watched the Super Bowl for the first time in who know how many years—maybe twenty or thirty—and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Oddly enough, I have no recollection of which teams were playing, who won, or anything else. Only that I remember telling my wife (who thought I might have lost my mind after I told her “I think I’m going to watch the Super Bowl”) that I rather enjoyed it. But I didn’t watch the next year, nor any year since. I was somewhat engaged when Boston won the World Series, but only because my wife’s sister was a fan and because we were in regular touch with her at the time. And I’ve since found baseball more interesting; I like live games, but television and even radio doesn’t do much for me. All of this leads up to my admission: though I didn’t watch it, my heart was in Boston today for the marathon. I guess I’ve been especially attached to the Boston Marathon ever since the bombing five years ago. That event touched me, like it no doubt touched many others around the world, as an unspeakably monstrous attack on civilization. But it wasn’t just that. It was the fact that so many individuals were competing against themselves more than they were competing against other people. The participants were competing against parts of themselves that said they couldn’t do it. They competed in the marathon to test themselves and to prove those parts of themselves who said otherwise wrong.

The first time I knew anyone competing in a marathon was around 1986 or 1987, when we lived in Chicago. A young woman who worked with me ran the Chicago marathon. She made it all the way through the 26.2 mile course. Though we weren’t close friends, I was wildly enthusiastic and proud that she ran, and finished. I remember thinking, at the time, that I’d like to do that one day. I never have. I almost certainly never will.

Today’s win by Desiree Linden, the first American woman to win in thirty years, was a big deal for me. And when I read that she had stopped along the course forty-five minutes in to stay with a team-mate, Shalane Flanagan, while she took a toilet break, I was so impressed with Linden. I’m glad she won. I’m glad for everyone who ran the race. I’m impressed with them. I’m a fan.

Maybe I am just now, in my sixty-forth year (hurling toward my sixty-fifty), just beginning to understand competitive sports. I remember being laughed at for my incompetence, but now that I look back on it, it’s probably the laughter that kept me from being killed or killing someone else. Not all people are cut out to be athletes. But I’m growing increasingly impressed with those who are and who behave not as kings, but as servants, when they excel. I can’t say I’m proud of impressive athletes, inasmuch as I have nothing to do with their performance, but I can and do say with conviction I am impressed and appreciative of humility when I see it.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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